It's been a whirlwind few months for Ed Skudder and Zack Keller, creators of the popular animated web series Dick Figures. When we first met, they were at the Los Angeles Animation Festival gearing up for the fourth season of the YouTube smash hit. At that point, the show, which centers on two stick figures named Blue and Red, had just hit 100 million views. Now, they're quickly approaching 140 million views as they close out the season.
But there's more. The fans — and there are a lot of them — have been clamoring for something bigger than episodes that usually clock in under the four-minute mark. They want a Dick Figures movie and they will be getting that, probably by next spring.
This isn't just the movie they wanted, it's the one they funded. In the middle of working on the show's current season, Skudder and Keller launched a Kickstarter campaign that raised more than $313,000 in pledges at its conclusion last week. Right now, it is the most successful campaign for an animation project in the fundraising platform's history.
Turning to Kickstarter was necessary to get the Dick Figures movie off the ground. Skudder and Keller don't work alone. They make the show, which airs on YouTube via Mondo Media, through animation studio Six Point Harness. They have a small team that churns out one new episode in about two weeks.
By animation standards, they work with a small budget and quick turnaround, but it's still a costly endeavor. Getting Hollywood producers in on the action wasn't feasible. The duo already tried that and said that, while executives seemed impressed with their numbers, they didn't quite understand the show itself. The idea of two stick figures getting into misadventures as they riff on Internet memes wasn't the big studios' idea of a hit. Maybe some things are best left to flourish online.
Dick Figures: The Movie landed on Kickstater with a much larger audience than many other projects in need of crowdfunding, but the creators also set the bar higher than your typical animation project. While they did ultimately succeed, they didn't enter the project thinking that this would be an automatic win. “Ed and I had a lot of deals that looked like they were going to happen but fell apart,” Keller says. The knowledge that even the most promising opportunities may not come to fruition kept the two motivated to make this work. “We pushed it every day,” he continues. “I was nervous the entire time.”
Where Hollywood didn't necessarily understand the show, some fans didn't understand why Skudder and Keller needed the to reach $250,000 goal they set on the all-or-nothing fundraising site. “A lot of fans thought that it was Zack and me doing it for fun, for free, when in fact it costs thousands and thousands of dollars,” Skudder says. “When we asked for $250,000, people automatically stood up and said, 'What are you doing? It's a scam. Stop robbing us.'”
The duo responded with a video that shows exactly how the Kickstarter money would be spent and gives some insight into what it takes to make a cartoon. They also broke down the numbers to show how more pledges means a longer movie. (Ultimately, they raised enough to make a film that's between 40 and 45 minutes.) That helped the project earn support, although not everyone changed their tune. “We definitely lost a lot of fans because there are people who were, like, 'This is free, we shouldn't have to pay for it,'” Skudder says.
Naysayers aside, the Dick Figures campaign illustrated some of the best qualities of Kickstarter. The most popular pledge amount was $15, enough to get a DRM-free download of Dick Figures: The Movie and behind-the-scenes content, so smaller donations definitely help. Also popular were $50 pledges, in which backers would receive a DRM-free download of the first four seasons of the show as well as all the corresponding soundtracks. Keep in mind, those four seasons are already available to watch online for free.
Kickstarter isn't just about raising money, and Skudder and Keller are well aware of that. Their campaign brought in new viewers and more press for a show that, while popular, has existed under the hype radar. “I think that's equal to the amount of money,” Keller says.
“We had to be way more involved with people watching the show, making sure the world had an accurate picture of what we're trying to accomplish,” says Skudder. “It was cool to just get to know our fans better.”
Dick Figures: The Movie likely will be released next spring, but don't look for it on theater marquees. Skudder and Keller indicate that, while they're still ironing out the distribution plan, the movie will be released online, most likely involving a paid download. Kickstarter backers will be the first to see Dick Figures: The Movie. Don't fret if you missed the campaign, though. Pre-orders have already begun on the show's website. Says Keller, “Everyone who is a Dick Figures fan is going to be able to see it.”