Thanks for the kind words and your question.
Nobody I know is making a living solely from their own films. At this point, within independent animation we don’t really have a system in place to do this. I’m not even sure what that system would look like. Thankfully there are funding bodies like the NFB and the IFB that are supporting short format work through funding schemes, but it’s important to note that anyone working on a funded project is in the minority.
You’re right in saying that shorts are often seen as a portfolio piece or as a stepping stone to something else. Especially amongst graduating students where a short can be a showcase of sorts.
There is a whole other side to short film where people are creating shorts because they have something to say and want to communicate with an audience. Often these filmmakers are working on commercial projects and personal projects at the same time. Essentially the commercial work funds the personal work. Often people are commissioned to create a commercial project because of a short or personal project they have made already.
In the past this might have been seen as ’selling out’ and that term carries pretty negative connotations. But today I don’t think it’s all that relevant. You can do both.
Some of the most well know short filmmakers today are doing music promos, commercials etc. as well as their own work. Even feature filmmakers are doing this. They might not announce it to everyone but theres countless examples out there.
Of course some people choose to not work within commercial animation. They have day jobs, work part time, they teach or work in areas completely unrelated. They create their work at night and the weekends etc. It’s just a choice and I think it’s equally respectable.
Charles and Sean from Late Night Work Club actually touched on this whole subject in their new podcast Movie Buddies. The first half is about Avatar but the second half broadens out to discuss independent animation. The whole thing is great. http://moviebuddiespodcast.tumblr.com
This is such a huge area but I hope this goes some way towards answering your question.
Shorts/Features/Animation/Live Action, whatever.. it’s all film. Personally, I don’t want to be solely a short film maker. I want to explore whatever I’m creatively interested in at any given point. Be that in animation or in a totally different field. On the whole I just want to make good work.