Fifteen years ago, while working on Metalocalypse and seeing countless pieces of art from the show every day, animation studio Titmouse’s co-founder Shannon Prynoski found herself wondering what kinds of creative ideas her employees were thinking about when they weren’t solely focused on work. As animators themselves, Prynoski and her husband, Chris — Titmouse’s other co-founder — knew firsthand what it felt like to be firing on all cylinders from 9AM to 5PM while still nurturing passion projects that only lived in their heads. They understood how draining shifts between those modes could be.
But Shannon also knew that there had to be a way for Titmouse to give its staffers an opportunity to flex their creative muscles — something that could be liberating for them personally and enriching for the studio organizationally. Titmouse’s annual 5 Second Night exhibition has evolved quite a bit since the idea first came to Shannon all those years ago, but the core concept has remained intact: Titmouse employees are given a paid day off to produce five-second-long animated shorts, which are then screened together at shows attended by other staffers and members of the public.
The scale of Titmouse’s 5 Second Night has grown over the years, and some of the shorts have gone on to be developed into full pitches for series-length projects. But when we spoke with the Prynoskis recently ahead of this year’s 5 Second Night on March 31st, the duo emphasized that, more than anything else, they still see the showcase and the tradition of putting it on annually as an opportunity to empower and inspire their colleagues.
Even if people weren’t necessarily “bored” drawing endless illustrations of Metalocalypse’s death metal rockers, Shannon Prynoski did wonder if they might have felt stifled and was curious what other artists at Titmouse could dream up if given the time to create something just for themselves.
“What do they do that’s, you know, not Metalocalypse?” Prynoski recalled thinking to herself. “I was curious what they do in their own time. I’d see their portfolios when we first interviewed them and first hired them, and I wanted to see what they could do if they had a day to just do whatever they want, and have the freedom to do it.”
Each year, Titmouse gives employees about a month’s heads-up that another 5 Second showcase is coming — a signal that the company will be temporarily shutting down in order to give anyone who wants to participate in an entire paid day off to focus on producing at least five seconds of footage from soup to nuts. As some shorts have gotten longer over the years, some artists have taken to planning theirs out as soon as showcases are announced. But Chris Prynoski explained that, as ambitious as some of the 5 Second projects can get, the showcase itself is still primarily meant to be a chance for everyone within the company to express themselves however they feel most comfortable.
“It’s a day where we let the animators do whatever they want,” Prynoski said. “Not even just animators — all employees; it doesn’t have to be an art-related position. But it’s a day to take time to do something creative. Some people have teamed up, and others have really, really tried to have, I think, a little healthy competition trying to make the most entertaining films.”
In the showcase’s earliest days, the Prynoskis recalled, it was common to see shorts going for pure shock value by featuring exploding heads and genitalia. But in time, shock gave way to a focus on “fancy,” more complex shorts in following years, which ultimately fell to the wayside as people realized how difficult it was to produce those kinds of projects in a single day. No one idea or style has come to dominate the 5 Second Nights as a whole, Chris said, but looking back on them, you can see “the changing tastes of the artists, and things that they’ve realized from experience in previous years.”
Despite it having long since become An Event™ that draws the public in, the Prynoskis still feel like the most substantive thing they both get out of 5 Second Night is being able to see people really lean into their strengths. And for all the hype and attention that can come with being put in the spotlight as part of 5 Second Night, Chris Prynoski wants the showcase to remain just that: a showcase of talent.
“We’ve had some get into festivals, and some, we’ve identified as things we want them to develop and pitch,” Prynoski said. “But that’s not the requirement, and this isn’t meant to be like a development generator. We actually encourage people to try not to do something as a pitch like that, because then it does become just work.”
While tickets for the 5 Second Night in LA are sold out, tickets are still available for screenings in New York City and Vancouver.