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Worthikids Serves Up New Benchmark for Indie Animation with Bigtop Burger

A wiry, purple-eyed demon tumbles out of a rusty pipe and into a ravine. Lightning strikes, revealing two ominous silhouetted figures looming in the background. Slowly the demon turns around, its lip quivering in abject terror. 

“Niles, what shall we do with this one?” says Frasier, sinisterly. “Is eternal damnation too harsh?”

“Perhaps a half damnation?” answers Niles.

The video is called “Frasier and Niles Become Demon Lords,” and it’s one of many animated shorts from the Worthikids, a YouTube channel which boasts an impressive 600,000 subscribers at the time of writing.

“What cruel and unmerciful god put Frasier and Niles in charge of punishing the sinful?” asks commenter Riley Melbourne. 

That god’s name is Ian Worthington, the east coast based animator behind Worthikids. And while he can’t condemn the unrighteous to endless suffering, his slick, hilarious and wholly unique slate of shorts have made him a staple in the world of independent animation.

“I started doing animation in my early teens doing sprites, pixel art sprites, because me and my siblings were making Game Maker games, really simple games. And so I would study these really nice sprites. I mostly just ripped sprites but I tried to draw them myself eventually, and that kind of got me started on animating,” said Worthington. “Eventually I got Adobe Flash CS6, or, my dad got it for me. That’s when I started doing reanimations and the really old stuff on my channel.” 

What was initially a hobby gradually evolved into regular freelance work, most of which involved animating and drawing backgrounds for animated music videos. But it wasn’t until the success of the Star Wars-themed short “Palpatine’s Journey” that Worthington made Worthikids his full time focus. 

“It was sort of ‘Witches on Tinder,’ although that didn’t make a ton of money but it got a lot of views. And then ‘Palpatine’s Journey’ made a bunch of money and I was like ‘aha! I can do it now!’”

Equal parts charming and totally insane, “Palpatine’s Journey,” which has garnered over 10 million views since its release in December of 2019, hits all the right notes in terms of what make’s Worthington’s art style so effortlessly appealing. 

“I did a lot of SpongeBob fan art as a kid. I had a ‘how to draw SpongeBob’ book so that’s infused in my brain. And Garfield,” said Worthington. “And ‘One Piece.’ I’m very inspired by Eiichiro Oda’s art… and a lot of Rankin/Bass.”

The idiosyncrasies of Rankin/Bass films were a major influence on Worthington’s “Hatbox Troubles” short. Worthington used the animation software Blender to replicate the signature jankiness of the company’s late 60s stop motion holiday specials within a 3D animated environment. The short caught the eye of Adult Swim, who commissioned Worthington to create a bumper using the same style. 

 “A person at Adult Swim reached out and [said] ‘I really like the Hatbox Ghost one, could you do another like that? said Worthington. “That’s where ‘A Night Like This’ came from. They had specified that they want one in that style and they wanted one in a more normal 2D style.”

“At the beginning of 2020 my resolution was ‘no freelance 2020.’ Palpatine has come and he’s saved me and now I can focus on the channel. And then Adult Swim of all people are like ‘hey we want to pay you to do an ad’ and I’m like ‘dang it!’ Because of course I can’t say no to that since it’s such a cool opportunity.”

The collaboration with Adult Swim resulted in two bumper shorts: “A Night Like This” and “Doorbell.” Following their completion, Worthington focused energies towards Bigtop Burger, an ambitious multi-part series of shorts cobbled together from the remnants of an older pitch.

“I got reached out to by a department at Netflix, this was years and years ago, and it was just some guy who said ‘hey I’m a fan of yours [and] we’re doing this program where people are pitching kids shows. Do you want to come up with a pitch?’ All I could think was ‘well I love SpongeBob, and I really like Tim Curry’s Pennywise,’ so I was like ‘you know, maybe there’s a McDonald’s joke there.’”

“The pitch didn’t work out and I ended up just sitting on the idea, thinking ‘eh whatever, I’ll just let that go to waste.’ And then several years later I [said] ‘I want to make longer form stuff [and] I want to make stuff with more voice actors.’ That was after I started focusing on my channel full time so that was something I could do.”

Bigtop Burger follows eccentric clown Steve and his three young employees Billie, Penny, and Tim as they try to sell burgers out of a circus themed food truck. Its five episode run began on June 1st of last year with the release of the first episode, “STOVE” and ended in August with “GREASEPAINT.” Worthington explained that its production was helped in a large part by a streamlined approach to animation.

“It was this big experiment. I had this idea in my head that if the characters were 3D but their faces were drawn on, then the viewer would kind of look at the face and they would kind of tune out the rest of the body.” 

With episodes scripted, Worthington recruited a handful of fellow animators as voice actors. Collaboration with them was entirely remote however, since the COVID-19 pandemic was in full swing by that point in production. 

Lindsay Small-Butera (left), Tim Batt (center) and Ian Worthington (right) in Bigtop Burger.

“The pandemic was happening. Everyone had a lot of free time, but at the same time everybody is very stressed. So you’re not getting replies super quick since people are kind of distracted with life stuff. I was very stressed out waiting for people to respond but it all worked out.”

Each episode of Bigtop Burger begins and ends with “Up,” an irresistibly groovy track written and recorded by Worthington himself. This isn’t an anomaly, as music is an integral part of many Worthikids shorts, including ‘Wire,” a brand new short centered around a blistering original song.

“‘Wire’ started in June 2019, I had just started recording voices for ‘Witches on Tinder’ and I was feeling inspired and ready to just run with an idea. I wanted to animate an action scene, [and] an image of a free falling guy in a suit popped in my head and I ran with it.”

“My main musical inspiration was BOOGIE by BROCKHAMPTON, but with more of a Nu Metal vibe,” said Worthington. “I was also going for a slight Dark Knight vibe with the high Hans Zimmer-y strings. It was a lot of ideas smashing together and my hope was that they’d form into something more unique.”

Bigtop Burger fans can expect a new season of clownery this coming June. 

“In the writing process right now for season 2. I’ve got the whole thing mapped out in my head,”

“The only hint I’ll give is Season 2 is mainly centered around a food truck expo.”

Stills courtesy of Ian Worthington


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