Local artist Trent Shy has cultivated a distinctive brand of dark, cinematic comedy that has earned him plenty of international notoriety and respect. Remaining modest, Shy describes himself simply as a stop-motion animator “that watched too many horror movies as a child.” 

Shy specializes in claymation and, at times, you’ll find the artist animating himself into his nightmarish stories, as he did with The Animator. That insanely popular piece was completed live on Instagram as Shy chatted with fans and answered questions. It was eventually expanded to a trilogy that has won a number of awards and just hit 100 million views on YouTube.

In recent months, Shy has transitioned into a highly sought-after craftsman of high-priced NFTs. He told the City Paper that this was a welcome, though unexpected, twist on his already unconventional career path. 

“I was a chef for 10 years before I ever started animating,” Shy said. While he enjoyed this role and learning about the culinary world, he always knew in his heart that it wasn’t where he wanted to be. At the time, several influences gave him hope.

“I watched a lot of behind the scenes footage from movies like Nightmare Before Christmas, Coraline and James and the Giant Peach,” he said. “I would watch time-lapse videos of the animators working on these movies and think about how I wished I had a job like that.” 

Since nobody told him he couldn’t, Shy went for it, even though he has never had any formal arts education. Not surprisingly, converting his big dreams into a sustainable income was no easy task. 

“My first couple years were rough. I got a gig with MTV and had one of my videos hit a million views on YouTube, but it wasn’t enough to live on. So, I actually took a two-year hiatus and went back to being a chef because I wasn’t making enough money with my animations.” 

For many would-be artists, that might have been the end of the story, but Shy persevered. 

“I decided to give animating one more shot, and that’s when one of my animations went mega-viral and hit 25 million views in just one week,” Shy explained. “Everything changed after that. Suddenly, all of my videos were getting millions of views and all kinds of opportunities began coming in from big companies.” 

In spite of hard-earned success in the field, Shy still sees himself as being in the process of mastering the art form. His techniques are continually evolving.

“I’ve had a lot of stop-motion animators ask about the trick to becoming a better animator, and the answer is that there is no trick,” Shy said. “The fastest and best way to become a better animator is by animating a lot. I’ve gotten a little better with every animation that I’ve done. I’m always experimenting.” 

All of Shy’s on-the-job practice paid off when the opportunity came along to sell his creations on burgeoning NFT marketplaces. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are items sold and authenticated using technology that backs the Ethereum cryptocurrency ecosystem. In layman’s terms, since NFTs can hold value, they can be traded, sold or held onto as an investment of sorts.

Shy breaks it down like this: “It’s a digital collector’s item. You can watch any of my animations online for free, but if you purchase it as an NFT, then you have a unique item. I’ve sold all of my NFTs as editions of one so far, so if you have the NFT of the animation, then you have the only one in the world.” 

Since another Charleston artist who goes by Beeple sold a collage of his digital art for $69 million in February, people have continued to clamor for digital art, and Shy couldn’t be happier about the demand. “I started by just dipping my toes into the NFT market and ended up making $30,000 in a little over a week. After that, I turned 100% of my attention toward NFTs.” 

Shy admits that he is not sure what the future holds, but he said he has already achieved his happy ending. “I decided pretty early on that if I could just do well enough to get by and be able to work full-time at home surrounded by my family.”

Follow Trent Shy’s animations on Instagram, @trentshyclaymations.