Sage Advice from Dick Dale

The advice in the video above from guitar legend Dick Dale is geared towards musicians, but everything he says applies equally well to animation artists. To paraphrase, Dale suggests, “Save up your money, create your own films, build up your following by continuously getting your work out there, learn to market yourself and sell your own films. And most importantly, never surrender your creativity to studios because you’ll get screwed every time.”

Many artists in animation have followed the path that Dale suggests, whether it’s John and Faith Hubley back in the day, modern independents like Bill Plympton and Don Hertzfeldt, or contemporary studios like JibJab and Brothers McLeod. The results: the Hubley family still earns money from films that were produced fifty years ago and Bill Plympton earns money from films that he produced twenty years ago. Which creator in the industry can say that his work still draws income 20-50 years later? Not many, that’s for sure.

The most important thing to understand is that an artist like Plympton (or the Hubleys) also works on industry projects. In fact, you’re probably not a successful independent unless you’re producing commercial work because that means that your work has resonated with the mainstream. The difference between a career industry artist and an independent is that somebody like Plympton is able to produce commercial work on his own terms. And if he’s unable to do that, he can walk away from the project because his name and reputation have already been established on the strength of his personal work. In other words, he invested time upfront in building his ‘brand’ and that brand exists independent of any studio or network. It’s unnecessary for him to compromise his creative vision while creating commercial work.

With the arsenal of cheap and powerful digital production tools available to artists today as well as all the new distribution channels, there is nothing that the big studios offer that a business-savvy independent couldn’t get on his own. It’s nice to have somebody like Dick Dale remind you of that sometimes.

(video created by Tommy Liberto, link via Boing Boing)


  • http://www.milkmoneycartoons.com Ohjeepers

    Bill Plympton has a great story about the first time he played one of his films for a crowd, and someone came up afterwards to offer him a thousand dollars to produce his next film.

    When he got home that night he thought about how great it was that someone wanted to invest in him, and then thought “Well, I’ve got a thousand dollars�. After that he just invested in himself and has reaped the benefits ever since.

    I love stories like this. GREAT clip!

  • http://www.chadtownsend.com Chad

    Dick Dale, one of my all time favorites. Great inventor too….he pioneered and invented a lot of the equipment that a lot of musicians use today. Like the different foot pedals for instance.

    Anyway, sage advice. Imagine if groups of professionals got together for the love of animation and collaborated on productions like the JibJab brothers do? it could blow the doors off of the industry. Good article Amid.

  • Paul

    Careful there, Amid. You’ll be accused of ripping off ANother website if you talk too much about creators doing their own projects without a studio backer :0)

    Seriously, it’s great advice and something we should all be reminded of regularly.

  • Bill Field

    You know a friend of mine interviewed DD and the man who invented the electric guitar, Les Paul. He says they both have this do-it-all-yourself, reap-all-the-rewards mentality which is so healthy and profitable an attitude. Thanks, Dick!

  • http://www.deptap.com Rajesh

    Great advice. And sites like deptap.com, cartoonbrewfilms, and cafepress make it easier for independents to get their products seen by the buying public.

  • http://www.afrokids.com Floyd Norman

    My partner, Leo Sullivan and I still receive royalty payments for our films made over thirty years ago. Of course, it’s not much, but you can bet we’ll never see a nickel from all the mainstream studio blockbusters that earned millions for the “big boys.”

    I remember a studio boss asking me why I worked for his company. I gave him an honest answer. He didn’t like it — but he couldn’t disagree. I said, “To make you rich.”

  • http://zekeyspaceylizard.blogspot.com ZekeySpaceyLizard

    This resonates well with your post a while ago for “KIWI!” about how the Internet is helping independents reach mainstream audiences easier.

    It’s just unfortunate that alot of the “arsenal of cheap and powerful digital production tools available to artists today” are getting bought out by larger software companies and are becoming INSANELY expensive.

  • Bob Harper

    To quote Fonzie: Exactamundo. That is the goal of many of us and we all have different paths of getting there. Soon, world domination of the Indies will occur!

  • Paul

    Can you give an example, Zekey? The ones I can think of have only come down in price, but I may not play in the same sandbox as you…

  • http://ebay-movie.blogspot.com Steve Schnier

    I agree with DD’s comments, but isn’t it more profitable to have a distributor handle your first (possibly DTV) project, make the name for yourself (capitalize on the PR) and go independent afterwards?

    Likewise, you can license your independently made productions to a distributor for a limited number of years, after which, the rights revert to you. You may only see the initial license fee, but isn’t a large chunk of money better than nickels and dimes?

    This is what I’m planning for my feature. Visit our production blog at: http://ebay-movie.blogspot.com

  • http://geritopia.blogspot.com Geritopia

    I’ve always thought you’re in a strange zone when you ask a professional “how can I make it?”. There are so many variety of paths and odd chance opportunities to exploit that cannot fit any one formula. But Dale’s comments are excellent global advice to any creative person encountering the illusion-puncturing realities of commerce.

    You definitely have to love what you do and be crazy enough to pursue it, otherwise we’d all be sensible Realtors and Lawyers. That’s an inclination that can’t be taught.

  • http://www.shamoozal.com Frank

    in response to zekey, that is a good point, but even at say, 600-1000 dollars for a copy of flash and AE, one could do alot more with that type of budget today than one could back in the day.

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot Cowan

    I could not agree more. I made 4 short films in two months when I didn’t have anything better to do and now one of the four is playing at Annecy. A small victory but a worthwhile one. The tools are at our fingertips to go ahead and make something that with enough heart and enthusiasm is 306 times more exciting than anything vast studios and budgets can provide.

  • http://scottmorse.blogspot.com Scott Morse

    Works for publishing comics and books, too. I work in animation during the day and publish on the side, and I’m a million times more rewarded by the work “I” do as opposed to anything I’ve ever done for anyone else. It’s mine to stand behind and reap the benefits of, or to takes the hits for if it sucks, but either way, I learn more and am more satisfied.

  • http://www.merks-art.blogspot.com Tim Merks

    I remember that scene from Kurosawa’s “Dreams” where Kurosawa meets up with Vincent Van Gogh (played by Martin Scorcese) and Vincent says something along the lines, “What are you standing around for, you should be painting.” I think that’s the way to live. Constantly doing something new.

  • http://vincemusacchia.blogspot.com Vince Musacchia

    Thanks for the inspiring words, Amid. You really “walk the walk”.

  • http://www.fatkatanimation.com Gene Fowler

    It all depends what your goals are in life really.

  • http://tenpoundtoons.com Mike

    Amazing clip. Even after pounding on those thick-ass strings for a couple of hours, he’ll sell the DIY ethos like it’s his job. Dick Frickin’ Dale, people.

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot

    Tim Merks – that is brilliant!

  • Paul

    Frank’s nailed it. Even if a software package costs $1000, it’s a deal if you look at it correctly. I started doing this in the days of shooting on film and painting actual cels, and my first couple of films cost me well over $1000 each in supplies, developing, editing, etc; all for one film. That money spent would do me no good for anything other than that one film project.

    Compare that to purchasing a seat of AE – once you’ve spent that $1000, you can make as many films as you want with it. That $1000 is working harder, in other words.

    Ya gotta pay to play, folks; fortunately the pay these days allows you to play a whole lot more than it used to…

  • http://demianjohnston.blogspot.com Demian

    This guy is great. He is no Link Wray but he is pretty great.

  • http://www.thisdayindisneyhistory.com/index.html Tony

    Dick Dale speaks the truth.

  • http://www.sito.org Dale’ DAWK” Mc farlane

    That was a great cheerleader rant, and I can say as a many decades-experienced multi-promotional artist, that Dale is right-on!! Jerry and Amid have really come up lately with the animators site and hope they go on to even greater ventures. Amid had featured my toon characters some years back and since then I have been commercially probing my toon art images as ‘art gallery prints,’ and hopefully animating them later, as the software is very costly and the learning curve tough for me. Besides, going your own way really gives an artist direct inspiration from the actual fans, even if you just print the characters on t shirts and sell them at cost, it’s at least a taste of what’s to come from your OWN fans and really builds a fire under any creative.

  • http://www.grickle.com Graham Annable

    Couldn’t agree with Mr. Dale more. Things are definitely changing out there and I think a lot of ‘middle men’ are getting awful nervous.

    At least that’s what I want to believe. :)

  • http://www.youtube.com/thecanollikid Tommy Liberto

    I am pulling this version because people were posting it and failing to give me credit for my creation. Is it too much to ask, to properly give credit to the person who created and provided it free of charge to the general public? Please, in the future, when you find a video that you want to post it to your page, do your research and give the proper credit where it is due. Every artist deserves credit for their creations.
    I am aware that this may be a little too late, (19,000 hits+), and this is another lesson that I had to learn, but I am not a total ass. I am reposting this video for the public, but this time I signed it. Thank you for understanding.

  • http://www.dickdale.net Dale Dick

    Would love to see artists taking Dale’s advice and seeing them getting the rewards for their own work!

  • http://www.bigdaddyanimation.com Big Daddy

    I like this guy! He’s right!!!

  • http://deleted OtherDan

    Great post!