Creator Entitlement

A while back I tried starting a podcast of sorts, one which features just me talking about subjects in Indie Animation that I feel I have something to say about, simply intending to add to the conversation. These videos weren’t intended to be fact-checked or taken as gospel, but simply me speaking my mind and expressing how I feel about certain subjects.

Purely speaking from personal experience, which may or may not differ from others’ experiences.

But as time passed I found myself too busy to record, or I found myself with another reason not to want to speak on camera. And I miss writing.

Hence this blog becoming the middle ground – I can write late at night without bothering anyone else in the house, or not having to worry about what I’m wearing or if my hair looks alright, or having to drag out 30 lights because the room is too dark.

It’s less of a threshold but still allows me to express my feelings. So here we go.

A fair warning: I write these the way I write my stories. They’re looooong, and full of personal anecdotes and stories, so if you’re looking for short, quick-to-the-point blogs with nothing but actionable advice, maaaaybe these aren’t the blog posts you’re looking for.

So for starters, I just want to reiterate some things I mentioned in that first podcast; beginner’s advice.

It’s still a relevant subject, as time and time again I come across beginner indie animators who have no idea where to start. And there are subjects that come up time and time again, questions that get asked over and over again.

Now, other creators may have different experiences, as my point of view is that from a European trans man with mild autism and ADHD, from a middle-class income household with mostly just my dad and brother. Your mileage may vary if you come from a different position, but this is based on my own experiences and struggles. You do not need to take everything I say to heart.

I stated the above because the next thing I’m about to write is strictly from my own POV: entitlement in the indie animation community. This may feel like a weird note to start off from, but it’s the number one thing I’ve stumbled over when young creators come to me with ‘questions’.

I’m calling it entitlement because I recognise the way of thinking as very similar to one I had at the start of my journey. 

Then again, at the start of my journey, I was ten years old, so it’s somewhat expected.

Entitlement is not entirely the correct descriptor, because it’s a bit of an over-generalisation, but hear me out.

So… I’m assuming you’re reading this because you’re an indie animator, and you’re looking for advice on where to start. And you’re seeing all of these impressive productions and you think you will never be able to push your way in.

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking:

“I’m not popular enough and only the popular creators get attention.”

“I need money to create my project and I’ll never be able to make anything without it.”

“My work isn’t good enough anyway.”

These are the 3 toxic thoughts I dealt with, and sometimes still deal with – because there’s certain truth to them.

“I’m not popular enough and only the popular creators get attention.”

Unfortunately, the audience at large does only care about what’s already popular. But there’s always a bigger fish – even indie animators struggle to get noticed with the likes of Disney and Dreamworks hovering miles above them.

They hold a market that most of us simply cannot reach without joining them.

Now of course you and I are below even these popular creators, and having even just a thousand followers on social media feels unattainable for us, let alone hundreds of thousands or millions.

It’s not weird that you feel like you’re being ignored in favour of these big creators. Social media algorithms aren’t helping the small creator get discovered, they’re maintaining what’s already performing well. And that ceiling is incredibly tough to break.

I get that you want to break that ceiling. But it shouldn’t be your main priority. I understand that this comes from a place of privilege, someone who started their journey in art as a kid, and in a time where ‘social media influencer’ wasn’t… really a thing yet. I mean, the first YouTubers were just starting to build their careers, as YouTube had only been around for 6 years by the time ten-year-old me found his way to the internet. I first encountered PewdiePie when he had “only” 3 million subscribers.

…You can imagine how long ago that was. 

Anyway, I understand that times are way different more than 10 years later, and I can’t compare the experience I had back then to the pressure to be popular at all costs nowadays. I’m caught up in it myself.

And even then, it’s taken me 11 years to only start going somewhere – my socials started climbing in 2022, and they’ve been slowly growing since. No massive explosive growth – I’ve experienced what that was like on YouTube, and if it’s with the wrong content, it’s doomed to fail… as my YouTube has shrunk by almost 2000 subscribers since 2020 and it’s only just now started to slowly grow again – but I’m still happy for the minor growth I’ve received.

Slow and steady wins the race. It may be a long, frustrating road, and… you may never get there. But social media fame isn’t everything, and a talented artist should be able to find work without it, too. Just… don’t get caught up in the numbers.

And remember that someone like Vivziepop also had to work for years to get where she is now with Spindlehorse. And Lackadaisy was made by a majority of people who built a career in the animation industry – not necessarily on social media. 

There’s more than one path to “success” – don’t get lost in the Tuley woods chasing numbers and popularity. If that’s what you’re here for, I’d suggest making a different type of content that takes less effort and yields a higher success rate. Are 3 AM videos still a thing?

“I need money to create my project and I’ll never be able to make anything without it.”
“My work isn’t good enough anyway.”

These two kind of go hand-in-hand in this story. It’s a long one, so take a seat.

In 2020, I started working on an animated series based on my webcomic, Swift Spark and the Defense Five. I’ve redrawn hundreds of this webcomic several times, because I’m simply not satisfied with how it looks. And soon, I’m going to be doing it again.

Hence why I was gearing up for a Kickstarter for this animated series idea – I’m not good enough of an animator to make a pilot episode by myself, I’d need help. And I’d have to pay for that help.

In August 2023, the first half of said pilot will finally release, and the 2nd half will release later this same year. I guess that means the Kickstarter I launched in 2020 was a success, right?

Nope. The contrary. It failed miserably. 

But… then… how is the pilot almost done?

Well, I ran another Kickstarter in 2022, which got six times the support the original one did, but – no, that one failed too.

Then how did I do it? Did I hire volunteers? No.

As I said, at the start of this journey, I was ten years old. The first few years, I was a lot less concerned with social media numbers, performance, or getting popular. I was just goofing off and having fun. I learned a lot during that time, but it wasn’t necessarily targeted growth. Maybe I could’ve grown a lot more, both in skill and in numbers, if I had focused on that.

The desire to make a career out of this came about in 2016, right around the same when I started working on Swift Spark. I finally knew I wanted to become an animator, and I applied to art school the year after. This was December 2017, and I was 16.

And got rejected. The reason? ‘too young’, despite that I’d graduate high school just months later, still 16 at the time of my graduation.

I spent a year fucking about, then went to school for marketing for a year, and dropped out to pursue my passion once again. This animated series, this Kickstarter, this dream. And I hit a wall again. The Kickstarter got less than €200. I kept working on the comic, to little success, and I decided to apply to art school again, now months away from turning 20.

The verdict: I was not original enough and I lacked vision. So… what gives?

Was it time to just give up on this dream? The only reason my YouTube ever got any traction was fanart, and my original work was getting ignored. Art school didn’t want me. And I certainly wasn’t making any money off this ‘career’ I’d chosen for myself.

I refused to give up, and simply decided to forge my own path. And I believe it’s working.

Why? Let me give you a peek at the other side of the ‘wall’ I’m facing. I pitched to Frederator, and the VP that heard my pitch told me “at the age of 25, you’ll be way too famous to speak to me”. Another professional in the industry I asked for a portfolio review said that “Swift Spark could be bigger than Steven Universe”.

This Easter, during Star Wars Celebration, Ashley Eckstein looked me in the eye and said “you have a gift” when I gave her a print of an Ahsoka drawing I’d made in 2016. 

Vincent Martella said I’m a “fun person to work with” when he recorded lines for the pilot – yes, that took some effort to make happen – and wants to see the pilot become a full series.

Should I just assume all these people, people I look up to nonetheless, are just… lying? Just trying to be nice?

The folks reviewing my portfolio at art school certainly don’t seem to agree with the above, anyway. So who do I believe?

Both! Art is incredibly subjective, and each art school differs in mindset/requirements. I clearly wasn’t a good fit for these art schools. I’m hammering a bit heavy on the “not original” statements, as I received that statement from 2 different schools – but in the same breath, they mentioned I was “sufficiently skilled”.  So maybe I upped the dramatics a little to make this point. 

The point is, negative critique will likely be louder in your head than positive. And the negative criticism can be devastating, like it was for 16-year-old me who saw his dreams seemingly shatter before his eyes.

I try to listen more to the positive comments than the negative, simply because everyone’s a critic and negative criticism will come from everywhere and everyone. But don’t assume that every bit of negative criticism is simply meant to tear you down.

Nowadays I try not to think about the art school rejections, because all they had to say was “change your mindset” without any actionable advice. Sorry, but that’s… not constructive criticism, frankly!

If someone just tells you “I don’t like this”, try not to take it to heart. It’s just their opinion.

But if someone comes forward and explains why… you may disagree, their opinion may be based on misguided fundamentals (lack of knowledge on a subject, preference (aka more opinions; “I think the character should be blonde because I like blonde girls better than brunettes”, rather than “blonde goes better with the colour scheme because it brings out the colour of her eyes”), and you’re allowed to reject criticism no matter who or where it comes from.

But don’t allow it to stop you – unless there’s active danger involved, of course. Don’t put yourself in financial or medical jeopardy to pursue a dream.

And collect those nuggets of positivity, and keep them in a special corner. Write them down, record them, any way possible. Remind yourself of those positive comments whenever you need a pick-me-up.

To bring it back around to the beginning… how did I produce a pilot without a successful Kickstarter?

I essentially went through that entire story above, and came to the realization that creating is more important than some perceived level of prestige. I’ve decided to apply the KISS method to my pilot – Keep It Stupid Simple.

This may mean it’s not the pilot I wanted. It’s more simple, more small scale, within the boundaries of what I’m capable of – and even those boundaries expanded as I worked on this, as I’m finally able to work with the camera in both Storyboard Pro and TVPaint, I learned how to storyboard (mostly) properly, and in general I just got So. Much. Faster. When it comes to animating.

It doesn’t mean there’s no money involved – I simply chose wisely where to spend it. I did freelance work and worked some retail, and used that to save enough to produce a pilot – about $6000 was spent in total.

I did the writing, the storyboards, the animation, the backgrounds… and hired help for the voice acting, music, and sound design. This allowed me to get top-tier talent in these areas, and it shows.

Once again, I get that this comes from a place of privilege, because not everyone may be in the position where they can work freelance or retail and save $6000 in 3 years. I had $2000 going in, and for the other four I worked my absolute behind off. But this was what worked for me.

Of course this does come with my background – I’ve been drawing for eleven years and animating for 7. I created several animated shorts before tackling a pilot.

So WHY did I call this segment ‘entitlement’ at the start? I had to answer these three questions first. The reason I’m calling it entitlement is because some indie animators seem to only want to keep complaining instead of finding ways to deal with these questions. And I was very much the same. 

I kept just telling myself “I can’t make this pilot without doing a Kickstarter because it won’t look like a TV-ready pilot!” until in 2022 I said fuck that noise!

Who said it had to be a TV-quality pilot? That’s what I wanted. But what you want isn’t always the same as what’s achievable.

I recently spoke to an indie creator who really rubbed me the wrong way. They were working with another indie animation studio that recently shut down due to malpractice (no it’s not the one you’re thinking of, this one was smaller), and whilst talking to me, this person was simply going on and on about how they were only with said studio to try and gain popularity off of it.

They were trying to coax the people at this studio to work on their project, and that’s why they partnered with the studio. They spoke ill about the studio’s owner behind their back, and acted like they were superior.

They complained about not getting any traction with their own project, because everyone ‘ignored them’, when they had never talked in any of the servers they were a part of (I know, because I was part one of them).

So I tried to encourage them to do so – to engage with the community. Cue the same thing they did in my DMs – just asking people to work on their show, for free, without any introduction, followed by complaining no one responded to them.

When I told them off, and tried to explain they could try doing things differently – giving my own experience as an example, they called me a bully and tried to lie about me to mutual friends.

I’ll reiterate it again in case you’re reading this, because you know who you are – I was trying to give you advice on how to proceed without needing a team, and you simply went on about finding excuses why you couldn’t.

And then there’s the owner of that studio, about whom I’ll make a quick comment, too. They asked me to do storyboards for them. The salary was below minimum wage (as in, less than $3 per hour), and they seemed to take personal offence when I told them I don’t encourage anyone to work for less than minimum wage. I advised them not to expect television-quality boards and animation for the pay they were able to offer, and then turned it around as though I was demanding industry standard pay. I recently heard that they paid more to other artists they hired at this studio, in fact, more than I was asking for. So ultimately I think it’s a case of “how dare you actually read this contract and ask questions” rather than… not having the funds to pay.

Once again, we all want the TV-ready pilots. We all want to make a Lackadaisy and a Helluva Boss and rake in thousands of dollars in merchandise. 


Or… do we just… want to create?

Personally, I just want to make something I’m proud of. I told myself for years “I can’t draw backgrounds”, and just… never tried. Because I can’t do it, so why bother?

Until I tried, and I realized my backgrounds, albeit with some cheating here and there (perspective rulers and TONS of Sims 3 screenshots to trace to get a feeling for the perspective), my backgrounds aren’t half bad.

Would I put them in a portfolio to submit for a job? Hell no. But are they good enough for this one-man proof-of-concept pilot I can use to try and get people behind my idea later on? Yes!

Nowadays, I get why I was so stubborn, because ADHD and Autism together make for an… interesting person. Even on the lower end of the spectrum.

I used to think in problems rather than solutions. And in a lot of cases, I still do. But if you refuse to look past that, you’ll never get anywhere.

 Am I popular? No. Am I famous? Not by a long shot. Does that qualify me to talk about this and give advice? Hell if I know, or care – I’m doing it anyway. I don’t care if you think any of this is good advice or not, it’s just me giving my two cents based on my own experience. 

So to wrap this up, this is what entitlement in the indie animation scene means to me, and these are red flags when it comes to interacting with you as a creator in my eyes.

  • You’re refusing to learn.
  • You’re refusing to do things yourself (and learning how to do them if you can’t do them yet).
  • You’d rather make excuses why you can’t do something than try.
  • You expect things from others without offering anything in return (doesn’t always have to be money).
  • You’re jealous and envious.
  • You use others in the community as a stepstool towards popularity or connections.

Creating something is scary, and I get the frustration that comes with getting ignored as a beginner in favour of the shiny, professional productions. But don’t let the silence discourage you. In fact, as a beginner, it’s better to get ‘ignored’ rather than become famous overnight, as if you fail to meet people’s perceived standards, there’s one thing they’re good at – spewing hate.

It’s better to work on something quietly, in your own little space, where you and your project can grow together, rather than to be thrown into the limelight before you’re ready and to be torn apart by the lions of the internet.

And as for the “well Yoda said” crowd – Yoda was telling Luke to work hard so he could eventually get his X-wing out of the water, or to stay certain he couldn’t do it & just leave it there. Luke wasn’t even trying, he was just saying “I can’t do that, that’s impossible”. If you start off with that mindset, it’s already over.

“You must unlearn what you’ve learned” – you must rid yourself of the mindset that you can’t do it. You can’t half-ass something, assuming you’ll fail anyway, and then say “well, told you – I tried.” No, you didn’t.

You have to give it your everything, your best shot, and… probably fail. And then try again, and fail again. And again. Until you succeed.

You can try and fail, or you can try (and keep trying) and succeed. And even if you still fail after a hundred attempts, that’s okay. It’s the mindset that matters.

If you can’t do it one way because you keep bumping into roadblocks, try to find ways to do it differently.

If you can’t animate but can draw, make a webcomic. If you can’t draw but can write, write a novel. Or a script, and find an artist.

If you can draw but can’t write, find a writer!

Sometimes, people are looking for collaborations. Just get on social media and meet people. We don’t bite. It’s tough, and may make you uncomfortable, but that’s the only way you’ll grow – which is one thing I learned from my art school rejections. Staying in my comfort zone got me nowhere, but as soon as I started venturing outside of that safe space, things started to change.

And I guess this blog is also a way of me thinking in solutions rather than problems. So… I have all these issues preventing me from making videos… I guess I’ll just express myself in written format instead!

To sum up my advice from this whole blog:

  • Building an audience does not happen overnight, despite what you may think to perceive with other creators.
  • Social media isn’t the only way into the industry. Animation isn’t the path to social media fame if that’s what you’re after, anyway.
  • Stop listing reasons as to why you can’t do something, and start finding the reasons why you can. Make a list, and read it every time you doubt yourself. Start thinking in solutions rather than problems.
  • Don’t think every bit of criticism is a personal attack, and don’t take every negative comment to heart. Unless someone is trolling or harassing you, try to engage with them and see where they’re coming from. Don’t feed trolls.
  • Don’t expect people to do work for you (for free) you wouldn’t be willing to do yourself (for free).
  • Relentlessly advertising your own content isn’t engaging with a community. Don’t use others as a stepstool to build your own reputation.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help, be willing to learn, be inquisitive.
  • Don’t be jealous or envious of what you perceive others to have. You don’t know what struggles they’re hiding.
  • You don’t have to spend money in order to produce animated content and you don’t have to produce TV-quality animation, as long as you’re willing to put in the work yourself.

But don’t get me wrong – there’s much to be learned by the audience we’re dealing with, as well, which is what my next blog post will be about. And if anyone wants me to go more in-depth on a topic I briefly touched upon in this big, long, essay about entitlement and how to avoid it, feel free to message me on Twitter.


Swift Spark Blog #1: It Started Somewhere

A while back I expressed my interest in writing a diary-like series of blogs, going through my thoughts and feelings from my years developing Swift Spark. Things have
gone incredibly fast since 2016, all things considered. Three years ago, I
never would’ve imagined I would have animated an entire pilot episode by myself.
I still have a long way to go in my career, but even the prospects of it
getting picked up this fall are making me giddy like the kid I was when I
started this journey. But that’s for a different blog post!

Read More