It’s a rare occasion when an independent animator and cg artist appears on a late night talk show, but Mike Winkelmann, aka Beeple, isn’t your average animator.
His latest piece, “Human One,” an animated installation conceived as a nonfungible token (NFT), sold for $29 million last week at a Christie’s auction. His earlier NFT, a collage of his work called “Everydays: The First 5000 Days,” sold earlier this year for $69 million. The prices of these pieces place him among the most successful living artists, including Jasper Johns, Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and David Hockney.
The success of these NFTs also landed him an appearance last week on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon where he discussed how he went from earning next to nothing for his artwork to becoming an art world superstar:
However one may feel about NFTs, Beeple’s success is a watershed moment for independent animators and digital artists, proving that a market exists for quirky personal animation. Long before Beeple’s work became associated with NFTs, he was making work for himself and sharing it online. In fact, he’s been making daily art pieces (many of them animated), mostly in Cinema 4D, for the last 14 years.
If anything, Beeple’s story should serve as a reminder that often it’s not the work that’s lacking, but rather the delivery mechanism by which it’s consumed. Most independent animators produce short films, which rarely return big profits (and certainly not millions of dollars). Beeple was in that same boat as countless other indie digital artists, but his embrace of technology allowed him to reframe the work he produces and to reach a new audience that otherwise wouldn’t have cared for his work.
In the last few years, animation has increasingly become a common currency of the tech world – the recent hype about the “metaverse” is another good example – and animation artists and filmmakers have a first mover’s advantage in these realms since the technologies are so deeply rooted in the process of animation. Those, like Beeple, who choose to embrace new tech may discover rich rewards on the road ahead.