Butch Hartman, 53, the most prolific creator of Nickelodeon animated series, announced via Youtube that he’s leaving Nickelodeon this week after 20 years with the studio.

The video in which he makes the announcement, posted below, has been trending on Youtube over the past day, and has garnered over 450,000 views in less than 24 hours:

Hartman, like 99% of the creators who work for networks, doesn’t own any of the shows or characters he’s created over the years for Nickelodeon. His creations – The Fairly Oddparents, Danny Phantom, T.U.F.F. Puppy, Bunsen Is a Beast – are all property of Nickelodeon’s parent corporation, Viacom.

But there’s one thing that Nickelodeon doesn’t own, and that’s Hartman himself. Over the last few years Hartman has used his notoriety as a Nick tv show creator to develop his own online presence, in the process becoming a brand unto himself. On Youtube, he’s amassed nearly a half-million followers, in addition to hundreds of thousands of other followers across Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And he’s achieved all of that in a relatively short span of time; in July 2016, he had less than 5k Youtube channel subscribers.

The way in which Hartman communicates and engages with his fanbase is instructive for any creator. He uses his channel to build a direct personal connection to his fans, and he’s unafraid to be himself in his videos, casually dropping biblical scripture and motivational advice into his videos.

He also gives followers an opportunity to participate (or the illusion of participating) in his decisionmaking process. In the latest video, when talking about a new project he’s developing, Elf Detective, he asks his viewers, “Wanna see me self-release this and just put it on here to share with you or should I sell it to a company? You guys let me know.”

Most importantly, the direct line that he’s established to his fans gives him control over his narrative, assuring that his side of the story is at the forefront of the discussion. He explains in the video, for example, that the decision to end Bunsen is a Beast, his latest series, after just one season was a personal choice. “That was a hard decision to make to walk away from a show like that because it was going so well,” he said, “but like I said, I just knew it was time. There’s just things that you have to do in life that are beneficial to you, beneficial to your family.”

Hartman has a clear advantage over other artists in his transformation into a public figure, and that’s that he’s had professional experience as an actor. He’s clearly more comfortable in front of a camera than a typical animation artist, who may prefer to lurk behind-the-scenes and let their art speak for them.

But whether someone chooses to becomes a public figure or not, the important takeaway for an artist here is to not let a company define your brand. They may own your ideas, but they don’t own you, and even someone who’s been as insanely successful with a single company as Hartman understands that working for an animation studio isn’t a lifetime gig. By having taken the time to develop his online presence, Hartman has ensured that his post-Nickelodeon projects will have a shot at visibility.

Latest News from Cartoon Brew