Far too often, I come across windy rants paired with irrelevant clips, iMovie title sequences, and celebrity commentary lifted from a DVD or TV interview. There’s some notable exceptions, chief among which is KaptainKristian.
KaptainKristian is Kristian Williams, a former film student who dropped out of film school when he "realized everything they were teaching was available online." He took to video blogging after being frustrated by Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice earlier this spring. How the film’s tone clashed with the entire cinematic history of the character bothered him. He sat down and began to assemble a short video on one of the character’s cinematic high points: the Fleischer & Famous Superman cartoons.
"I didn’t really do a lot of preparation before creating the channel," Williams told me. He modeled his work off of other well-known essayists such as CGP Grey, Tony Zhou, and the Nerdwriter. One thing that he had noticed was that there were few commentators on animated filmmaking. In March, he launched his first video Superman - The Golden Age of Animation, and waited to see what happened.
The video took off, earning almost 370,000 hits to date, propelled by places like Neatorama, Gizmodo, and Nerdist. The response made Williams step back and consider "doing these visual essays as more of a career and less of a side project." He set up a Patreon account, which he told backers would free "up time to research the material." He met his initial goal to put out a video every two weeks, and began working on his second video.
This time, he took up a slightly different story. Rather than look at a single cartoon, he looked at Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and the larger influence that it had on cartooning and animation in the last couple of decades through shows such as Space Ghost: Coast to Coast, Aquateen Hunger Force, and Sea Lab 2021.
Williams noted that he is picky about the topics that he works with. "I only choose topics I have a great deal of respect for." He shrugs off the occasional accusation that he's just chasing after popular nostalgia-laced topics. "Of course the things I’m passionate about [are] things that had a lasting impression on me growing up, so if that’s 'nostalgia baiting' then so be it."
Each video takes about two weeks for Williams to assemble. While the process varies from video to video, he typically starts by extensively reading and watching the material he’ll be critiquing. Throughout the process, he "[asks] questions and then [digs] through archives and interviews trying to answer those questions."
He then animates the segments, puts together a script, records the VO, combines everything with bits of the source material, and finishes by uploading the completed video to YouTube.
Williams' work has attracted some attention from high-profile outlets. Following his work on an essay about the X-Men, IGN reached out and commissioned a video of another superhero, Spider-Man:
Despite that, he noted that he's turned down other offers to create new videos outside of his channel for Time magazine and Disney. While he got some extra publicity for the IGN video, he noted that he preferred to work on his own channel.
Over the last couple of months, Williams has covered an impressive range of topics, from the color choices on the costumes of the X-Men, to Pixar’s storytelling techniques to how Futurama’s creators worked science into their cartoon. He’s gained a following of 118,049 subscribers and over 3 million views. When he published an essay on Batman: The Animated Series, series stars Mark Hamill and Kevin Conroy tweeted out their approval.
But one of his favorite videos is no longer available. He analyzed Bill Watterson’s motivations for his classic comic Calvin and Hobbes by examining his art and stories. Due to some ongoing copyright issues, the video needed to be delisted.
Even unseen videos play a role in Williams’ craft. Williams noted that he learns "something new with each video and that’s what drives me to produce more." Furthermore, he finds the entire process of creation interesting, and "seeing how hard everyone works to grow a piece of art is incredibly motivating ... [and that] the process deserves as much appreciation as the end product."
Like some of the essay channels that inspired him, Williams’ work is detailed and focused on an innocuous aspect of filmmaking and makes the case that these features are central to our enjoyment. Each of his videos have been an enlightening and thoughtful performance that digs deep into the animation world.