The Midnight Gospel is the latest creation from Adventure Time show-runner Pendelton Ward in collaboration with podcaster Duncan Trussell of The Duncan Trussell Family Hour. It’s a trippy sci-fi series that can’t be compared to any other show. Each episode revolves around the main character, Clancy, going to a new planet in a simulated universe and interviewing one of its inhabitants as the world around them crumbles. These apocalypse ideas range from zombies to max security space-prison riots, some even more surreal than I can explain.
But what I noticed on my first viewing is that the show draws inspiration from elements of Internet culture. The show is essentially a Reanimated of Trussell’s podcast. A “Reanimated” is the product of creating animated visuals for preexisting media. Although animators at traditional studios have been animating characters to quotes from movies for decades, Reanimateds are an art movement of their own born out of Internet culture. These aren’t just character tests, they’re the polished product.
History of Reanimateds
To find the origins of the Reanimated movement, it was clear I had to look on NewGrounds. For the uninitiated, NewGrounds was the hub for animations, games, and art made in Adobe Flash back in the mid to late 2000s. Back in the day, most of their artists were teenagers who just made dumb stuff for fun, but the site would evolve into an incubator for some of the most revered web animators today.
But the origins of this movement go back to the early days of NewGrounds when low production values were the norm. Nearly all of these artists had no formal training or education on copyright law, and thus had no aversion to remixing other’s work. The earliest Reanimated I could find was “Falcon Punch Re-Animated” by UberCream and Indbro.
Only a few months later would the first Reanimated podcast be uploaded to NewGrounds, “Dv — Train Tracks” by LazyMuffin on NewGrounds from Jan. 1, 2009, which animated a clip from the Distortedview podcast.
Eventually, some of the more popular animators on NewGrounds would move to YouTube to expand their audience and turn what was just a hobby into a full-time job with YouTube’s advertising programs. Many of these animators saw success on the new platform including Egoraptor, RubberRoss, PhsycicPebbles, etc. However, soon the landscape of YouTube would shift, leaving no room for short videos that took months to complete. The name of the game was +10min videos published at least weekly. The old NewGrounds animators reacted in different ways to this. Some went into traditional media, others started “let’s play” channels, a style of video where a host plays video games and makes entertaining commentary on what’s happening.
Egoraptor, aka Arin Hanson, created a let’s play channel with co-host Jon Jafari, later replaced by Dan Avidan, called Game Grumps. After creating a few Reanimateds himself for the channel, fans of the show started creating Reanimateds themselves. Egoraptor began paying artists for the rights to their Reanimateds using his larger audience to get better monetization from the video, allowing him to pay the artist more than if they posted it on their small channel. For a long time, Game Grumps Animated was the source of some of the most creative animation on the platform.
Over time, people got more ambitious with Reanimateds and began to collaborate with other animators to create unique retellings for their favorite stories. Unlike “Dv — Train Tracks” which was a collaboration between a few friends, Reanimateds would become huge community-driven collaborations with hundreds of contributing artists. “The Mama Luigi Project” from 2017 had over 227 contributing artists and reanimated an entire episode of the “Super Mario World” TV show.
On Nov. 29, 2018, 3GI released Shrek Retold which — while using original audio and some artists who chose to use live-action footage to retell their segments — is a feature-length Reanimated of the entire Shrek movie. There’s even an all new scene in the Reanimated version that wasn’t present in the original. It’s a trippy retelling of Shrek’s tale best watched with friends. It should not be judged by the standards of traditional American cinema, as it is not a product of traditional American cinema. In my mind, it’s the pinnacle of the Reanimated movement.
The Midnight Gospel as a Reanimated
I love that The Midnight Gospel is bringing this art movement to the mainstream. The show has received critical acclaim for its trippy nature and insightful interviews. Many critics’ reviews that I have read fail to give a good comparison to other media because they’re unfamiliar with the Reanimated movement, and yet they love the idea of animating visuals for podcasts.
The show isn’t the best representation of the movement because it lacks the changing art styles that allow every artist to leave a distinct fingerprint on the final piece. On the other hand, Shrek Retold is a bit long for someone who isn’t familiar with the style. I think The Midnight Gospel is a very interesting take on the movement, appropriating elements from the Reanimated movement while adapting others for a broader appeal.
However, something that I didn’t think of when I first came up with the idea for this article was not just The Midnight Gospel’s merits as a Reanimated, but the show’s potential to propagate other Reanimateds. Since the show’s premiere, fans have started creating Reanimateds of The Duncan Trussell Family Hour in the style of The Midnight Gospel. I think this is a great innovation and opens the gate to so many more artistic works.
Creativity doesn’t come from originality, but rather from how you remix what you have around you. This has been true since the dawn of civilization and persists into the digital age. However, what the digital age did change was the ease of creating copies, and thus enabling more people to be creative. And because creating copies is easier digitally, Internet culture, which exists entirely in a digital world, has embraced the remix more than the contemporary art world. The Midnight Gospel has done a wonderful job of not only adapting this style of remixing for traditional media but also creating opportunities for remixing itself.