‘Hazbin Hotel’ and YouTube’s animation renaissance

In this week’s review of Hazbin Hotel (which is amazing and you should totally watch it), I say that the show represents the unofficial start of what I like to call the “YouTube Animation Renaissance”.

Now there’s a good chance that a lot of you have no idea what I’m talking about which is fair enough.

Still, I think its important from an artistic perspective so I want to talk about it and it’s my column so you can’t stop me.

First, some context. The name “YouTube Animation Renaissance” is a pretty on-the-nose reference to the Disney Renaissance, the period between 1989 and 1999 that is considered the golden age of classic Disney animation following a period of intense stagnation.

The films released during this ten-year period included classics such as The Little Mermaid, Aladdin and The Lion King and all earned considerable commercial and critical acclaim.

So what does this have to do with Hazbin Hotel or YouTube?

Well for that, we’ll have to go all the way back to the distant year of 2005 when YouTube was first founded.

The first ever video uploaded to the site was a short clip of co-founder Jawed Karim at the San Diego Zoo and the first wave of videos followed a similar home-movie style.

It wasn’t long, however, before people began to explore the creative possibilities, and that included the ability to showcase independent animation.

During this time, the animation side of YouTube strongly mimicked the internet culture of the time. A lot of it was simple and revolved around the sort of random self-referential humour that evolved out of early online message boards and forums.

Nowadays, however, animation on YouTube is exploding. There are a whole host of channels dedicated to animation with the biggest ones having millions of subscribers.

I tend to split them into two very broad groups.

The first group are the channels that create more traditionally theatrical animations. Vivziepop, Hazbin creator Vivienne Medrano’s channel, is one such example. Two of my personal favourites are Dead Sound, whose work draws much inspiration from the works of Lovecraft and Guillermo del Toro, and DeadlyComics, whose adorable and often ridiculously sweet short films are a complete mismatch with their name.

The next category of animators use their animations as a prop for a more vlog-focused style. Videos from these creators often involve them talking their viewers through events in their lives or topics that interest them while their animation provides visual accompaniment. Jaiden Animations and TheOdd1sOut are probably two of the biggest channels in this group but there are plenty of others.

A lot of these channels have been running for years, though, so why am I saying that it’s only now that the “renaissance” is starting?

Simply put, it’s because Hazbin Hotel is easily one of the most ambitious animation projects to emerge out of this community and is certainly the most notable.

Until Hazbin the YouTube animation community focused almost exclusively on short once-off projects with the single artist providing all the work. These artists not only drew the animations, they were also the voice actors, directors, editors, etc.

Apart from the occasional collaboration with other artists, animation on YouTube was an almost entirely solo affair.

Long Gong Gulch is another example of a upcoming feature-length animation that has come out of the YouTube community

Hazbin, meanwhile, is being run almost like a traditional television pilot with a full production crew behind it. While it isn’t the first animation project on YouTube to attempt a more professional approach (it isn’t even the only one coming out this year), it is the one that has received the most attention and for better or worse, is the face of this new phase of the indie animation scene.

The success of Hazbin Hotel marks a transition from the smaller scale of the past to larger, more sophisticated work. Obviously, artists like those I mentioned earlier in the article are not going away.

On the contrary, I think they’ll still end up producing the bulk of animation on YouTube for a long time.

However, I also think we’ll be seeing a lot more projects like Hazbin in the future, that is full-scale professional productions that deal with in-depth narratives and themes that will no doubt push the independent scene to new heights.

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