I recently had the opportunity to host and co-curate a screening of films from the pre-Youtube era of Newgrounds.com (along with Kirsten Lepore, Nicolas Ménard, Tom Mannino (Evilzug) & Tom Fulp, the creator of Newgrounds). The screening took place in November 2014 at The Cinefamily as part of the Animation Breakdown festival. Many thanks to Jeanette Bonds for supporting the idea of the screening and making everything happen behind the scenes. I’ve collected my favorite films from the screening along with my introduction to give some overall context:
Newgrounds.com was the first site on the Internet that allowed anyone (and everyone) to upload animated content. During the early period of Newgrounds (2000–2005) everything was created using Adobe (then Macromedia) Flash, an animation program. Since Flash has not changed aesthetically in any significant way (or really, in any way) since the early 2000s, these films might appear more contemporary than they actually are. So it’s important to remember that a lot of the films included below are over a decade old. The Internet was a really different place back then too, and a lot of what made Newgrounds so groundbreaking is taken for granted today. So imagine it’s the year 2000.
You probably still had a 56K modem. Streaming video wasn’t a thing yet, so there was no Youtube, no Vimeo. You’ve Got Mail was a relatively new movie. You downloaded music on Napster. And on April 6th, 2000, Newgrounds.com, a curated entertainment site run by a college student named Tom Fulp, launched the very first automated Flash Portal that allowed anyone to upload their content to the site and have it instantly publicly viewable. The Newgrounds Portal was a true democracy, with users voting on what the best movies/games were for the day, week and all time. The #1 movie in the Portal, which would likely garner millions of views (a huge number considering how much smaller the Internet was), could be made by anyone.
The barrier for entry was almost completely eliminated. All you needed was a computer and a copy of Flash (which was also made considerably easier thanks to early software pirating). A person could make literally anything and get instant feedback from their peers (as long as the file was under 5MB).
A community rapidly formed with a unique cross section of artists, from professional animators to random teenagers teaching themselves Flash. Over the next few years, an outsider animation language developed, partly informed by Internet logic and memetic humor, partly inspired by traditional cinematic language, and partly inspired by itself, meta-contextually referential to the community and medium under which the work was being made. An incredibly diverse range of work flourished in the Newgrounds portal, from the filthiest humor to the deadly serious drama, and from the artistically experimental to the completely inexplicable.
And the best part was that nobody was doing it for any real reason. Newgrounds lived on the Internet, it rarely crossed over with the animation industry or the independent film festival scene. At the time, there was no way to personally make money off your film with ads. Almost nobody used their real names, so the fame you got from Newgrounds stayed (for the most part) online. These were films being created by the community for the community. Getting posted on the front page, or being given an award, this was the only currency that mattered. It was the purest creative community I’ve ever been a part of. These days, a lot of these lines have blurred, which isn’t a bad thing, but it definitely makes it harder for this pure of a community to exist, for a language to develop independently and parallel to other trends in media.
The list below is in roughly the same running order as the screening. This grouping of films is highly subjective, and does not represent what was necessarily the most popular or most significant films being made on Newgrounds at the time. It’s just the ones we liked the most.
- Badgers by Weebl (∞/2003)
2. Charlie The Unicorn by TypeQueen (3:41/2005)
3. The Last Two Men on Earth by Sick Animation (2:52/2004)
4. From My Room by Neanderthal (3:20/2001)
5. B&W Drama Theater #13 by AlantheBOX (6:35/2003)
Alan is one of my personal favorites from this screening. One of the most prolific, creative, artistic and experimental animators on Newgrounds, it’s worth exploring his other films, especially one night in my room.
6. Work It! by Evilzug (3:47/2001)
This is the film that started it all for me. This was the first Flash animation I ever saw. I was a 14 year old freshman in high school. Soon after seeing it, I joined a forum that Evilzug ran called Pizortal. The Pizortal group had a lot of creative projects going, including a collaborative sci-fi (or cyberpunk, if you weren’t already impressed) story and lots of animation talk. Evilzug himself visited San Francisco about a year later, and I forced him to hang out with me for what was for me an incredibly cool afternoon (and for him, probably an incredibly awkward afternoon). Zug helped put together the list of films and we reunited at the theater, over 10 years after our initial meeting.
7. Karma Ghost by billyblob (3:43/2001)
8. Awesome Reach (Halo) by Egoraptor (:52/2010)
This film is the most contemporary of the group, and definitely not pre-Youtube. Egoraptor just felt like too big a part of Newgrounds history to leave out, and this film of his happens to be my favorite.
9. All yor base r belong 2 us by Bad-CRC (4:10/2001)
10. Grenade Dancer by synj (:30/2001)
11. Bitey of Brackenwood by Chluaid (4:09/2004)
This is the first episode in the Brackenwood series, definitely worth checking out.
12. Burnt Face Man (ep 1) by Doki (1:19/2004)
Although we didn’t include it in the screening, Doki (or David Firth) is probably best known on Newgrounds for his Salad Fingers series, which is worth checking out.
14. There She Is!!! by SamBakZa (3:26/2004)
15. B by StrawberryClock (∞/2001)
16. Starwars Gangsta Rap by PyroPimp (3:13 /2004)
17. Potter Puppet Pals by Trapezoid ( 1:26/2003)
18. Dad’s Home by Sakupen (3:30/2004)
19. Windows Noises by clownstaples (3:09/2004)
20. Red Diamond Dragon Club by Sick Animation (2:03/2004)
21. The New Guy by leftfootfirst (1:30/2005)
22. Animator vs. Animation by Noogai (2:00/2006)
23. I Will Beat Pacman by Mockery (2:31/2004)
24. How It Will End by AlantheBOX (5:50/2004)
We were lucky enough to have Tom Fulp in person for the screening, along with a number of other prominent Newgrounds artists (including the elusive, legendary StrawberryClock). Tom told me none of this work had ever screened in a theater, let alone in an animation festival context. It all held up incredibly well.
During the Q&A, a question was asked to Tom about what he was most proud of during his time on Newgrounds. He answered that he was most proud of the 15 year-old who picked up Flash for the first time, taught themselves how to use it, and transformed from a consumer of content to a producer of content. This was very much the case for me, and I imagine for many others. Newgrounds remains of the most creatively inspiring places on the Internet, and no other site or community has had a bigger impact on how I approach my filmmaking.