Kevin Kelly writes an interesting essay on artists developing a core audience as a way to finance their work. The problem for animators is always how long it takes to produce something new. It's far easier to build a fan base if you're releasing material weekly or monthly than if your new film is an annual event.
In any case, I think that this model has potential and there are people who have worked in animation (such as Dean Yeagle or Michel Gagne) who have built up fan bases that enable them to produce personal projects. It would be great to see somebody managing to finance actual films (no matter how short) this way.
(Kelly link via The Comics Reporter.)