You may not recognize Jae55555 by name, but there’s a good chance you’ve encountered his cartoons.

Subscribers: 36,139
Uploads: 64
Video Views: 2,583,343
Channel Type: Film
User Created: Apr 8th, 2006

Jarett Riley, aka Jae55555 or Jae Pentafive, fell in love with animation in second grade when his older brother introduced him to cartooning in it’s most basic form with a series of images drawn on sticky notes to create the illusion of movement. This simple flipbook inspired Jae to begin creating his own cartoons. It wasn’t long before he decided to turn his new-found passion into a source of income and started his own business selling original flipbooks to his classmates.

Today, Jae is a full-time animator working under his own independent production house, Cartoon Cyborg. When not drawing commissioned cartoons, Jae spends time developing an animated series called “Plungerdog.” Though his grade school dream of becoming the world’s greatest animator and receiving million-dollar paychecks may not have come to fruition — yet — he has carved out a niche for himself animating for the likes of Game Grumps and YouTube’s biggest and most controversial star, PewDiePie.

The Animation Process

We joined Jae at work on his latest PewDiePie animation via Twitch, where he frequently live streams his drawing sessions. Watching the cartoon emerge from the blank frame gave us a new appreciation for the time and attention Jae devotes to his videos.

Jae says the flexible process behind the PewDiePie animations make them especially enjoyable to create. Rather than simply animating an entire existing PewDiePie video from beginning to end, Jae takes the audio from several videos and splices it together to form a new, original story on which the resulting cartoon is based.

As Jae works, he will often live stream the process on Twitch, answering viewer questions and chatting with fans.

Jae’s custom audio edit serves as the foundation for the rest of the video. From there, he sets the pacing of the video using simple placeholder frames to mark the start of each new scene.

Once that rhythm is established, Jae starts to fill in the different scenes one at a time. “I don’t think very far ahead,” he says, “I kinda take it as it comes.”

This loose approach makes it easier for Jae to improvise and experiment as he draws: “I challenge myself. I set my own boundaries. I add my own creative gags, and no one really tells me no. It’s nice.”

When crafting his cartoons, Jae takes pride in adhering to traditional animation practices — he draws each cartoon frame by frame to achieve more organic movements. In further effort toward this goal, Jae often forsakes common shortcuts used by larger productions. “I’ve recently, this year, started animating without onion skinning, and it’s made it a lot more difficult.” Onion skinning allows you to see and trace over the previous frame so that you don’t need to constantly flip back and forth between images.

Avoiding the use of onion skinning means Jae’s cartoons take longer to create, but it also makes them more dynamic. He explains, “I feel like it slows me down a lot, but it also makes my movements more diverse.” He toggles between his current frame and the previous one to demonstrate, saying, “I wouldn’t have thought of these movements if I had seen them back a frame.” Jae also avoids tweening, rigging characters and reusing too many elements. “I really try to avoid tricks,” he says.

Still, Jae doesn’t consider himself a perfectionist: “I think one of my strengths while I’m animating is that I don’t redraw stuff that much. I kinda just move on, even when I’m not happy with it, and try to just improve on it as I go. Or just get it right the first time.” He also understands that making a profit through animation requires some compromise. “You have to learn when to limit yourself,” says Jae, “I’m really bad at that. That’s not to say, like, the stuff do is amazing; it’s just the best I can do every time — which is good for learning, but it’s bad for business.”

The key for Jae seems to have been finding the right clients. “With both the Game Grumps and PewDiePie,” Jae says, “they just kinda trust me.” Usually, the only stipulation for his commissioned work is just to make it funny. “That is the dream,” according to Jae, “if I can make a living doing that, that’s dope as hell.”

Platform Challenges

Watching Jae work makes it clear exactly how long the animation process can take. In addition to the sheer patience required to complete a video, the time involved in producing a cartoon creates special challenges for independent animators posting on YouTube. Since YouTube changed their search and recommendation algorithm to favor watch time over views in 2012, independent channels posting content that requires large time investments have struggled.

Plungerdog, Jae’s animated series about a psychedelic mushroom man and his rapidly learning dog, is still under development.

The algorithm shifted to surface channels and uploads that keep viewers on YouTube longer, meaning that even if your two minute video has a million views, it might not show up in searches as often — or earn as much ad revenue — as a similar video with a run time of ten minutes. Vloggers who can produce a new five or ten minute video everyday have no problem supplying the constant influx of content the algorithm demands, but since it’s almost impossible for independent animators working alone to produce the volume of content needed to compete in the new landscape of online, it’s much harder for animators to gain traction on the platform. It’s very difficult for animators to actually make money from advertisers on YouTube. This has led many animators to leave YouTube and look for other outlets for their work.

Jae’s recommendation is to go directly to the source of funding. “You’ll make money from people who wanna buy videos. YouTube is the most unstable route ever for an animator.” Commissions and collaboration, Jae says, are much more reliable if you can get hooked up with the right people.

Networking, the Bad and the Good

Before Jae55555 started animating for established YouTubers, he was posting mostly original cartoons to his channel. Jae’s serious effort to grow on YouTube started with his Game Grumps animations — a tactic suggested by Jae’s then-manager at Maker Studios, Vernon Shaw. The strategy works to a point, Jae says. Having a cartoon tied to a prominent channel increases the chances it will be seen by a wider audience, thus bringing your work more views.

When Maker was bought by Disney in 2014, Jae got a new manager. “After Vernon left,” Jae recalls, “it was a nightmare for me. Vernon was the only good part of Maker.” Unlike Vernon, Jae’s new manager offered virtually no support for Jae or his channel — a common complaint among creators in larger networks like Machinima and Maker Studios.

The worst of it came when Jae, dissatisfied with his new support team, attempted to leave the network. As many creators have experienced, Jae found himself trapped in a contract that could only be terminated during a very specific period that came around only once a year. Needless to say, Jae marked his calendar and ended his contract as soon as legally possible. He hasn’t looked back since: “If you’re on YouTube, it’s really unnecessary, I believe, to be part of an MCN because you’re doing things independently … unless they’re giving you physical work, you’re just giving away something that you worked on.”

His partnership with Maker Studios behind him, Jae has continued to grow his channel through collaborations with established creators, but ironically, when Jae posted his first PewDiePie animation, it actually cost him subscribers. The controversial megastar was not widely respected within Jae’s fan-base.

Jae made “Metal Milk — PewDiePie Animated” after PewDiePie put out a call for animators, but for over a year, it went unnoticed — not surprising given the volume of responses PewDiePie undoubtedly received. Still determined if somewhat deflated, Jae began reaching out to whomever he could on Twitter in an effort to get the cartoon into PewDiePie’s inbox.

Happily, Jae’s persistence paid off and eventually, fellow animator Danny Lesco, who had worked with PewDiePie previously, put the two creators in touch. Once PewDiePie saw Jae’s video, the pair struck up a deal. Jae was commissioned to produce an on-going series of original cartoons based on PewDiePie’s uploads.

Effects of the Adpocalypse

When Jae and PewDiePie started collaborating, they agreed to split the advertising revenue generated by each of Jae’s cartoons. This worked out great for the first upload — at that point, PewDiePie’s channel was raking in the ad dollars. Jae received a substantial sum for his first PewDiePie cartoon and believed he was closer to making animation a sustainable, even profitable, career.

That, of course, changed in the first part of 2017 when, just a couple of months after Jae’s first PewDiePie cartoon went up, the Adpocalypse struck. This time, it was more than just animators who were impacted by changes at YouTube.

In the wake of a mass advertiser exodus spurred on primarily by sensational reporting on a controversial PewDiePie video, YouTube changed their monetization requirements and instated an automated system meant to find and flag videos deemed unsuitable for advertisers. Many of PewDiePie’s videos were caught up in that net, and as a result, Jae’s partnership with PewDiePie became much less profitable. His second collaboration with the YouTube juggernaut returned barely a tenth of the profits of the first.

This turn of events led the pair to renegotiate the terms of their deal, and Jae’s work with PewDiePie is currently enough to sustain him as an independent animator. “The adpocalypse is super real, though,” Jae concludes, “It sucks.”

Though Jae and PewDiePie were able to adjust their deal to the new advertising landscape, the whole ordeal serves to highlight the how unstable revenue on the platform can be. Many are looking for alternatives to Adsense and other ad-based sources of income, with Patreon becoming increasingly popular. Jae observes, “Patreon is the only hope for people who are independent creators right now.” Direct support from viewers certainly seems like a promising alternative for creators struggling with demonetization.

Parting Words

Despite the inherent challenges that come with being an independent animator in the online video space, Jae had this heartening advice for aspiring cartoonists: “If you feel like you suck, you’re always going to feel like that. But the important thing is to just continue to improve.”

“To get started,” he says, “just start. Don’t think about it too much. Just get to work.”

Get YouTuber.