The name Andrew Grantham might not ring a bell, but you have likely viewed, delighted at, and shared his work online. He is the guy behind the Talking Animals channel on YouTube, home to viral videos like Ultimate Dog Tease (you know, the one with the pup who asks: "covered it with what?"); Re: Cats Talking, Translation, which lets us in on an illuminating conversation between two TV-watching felines; and the self-explanatory Talking Beaver on the Highway.
While putting words in the mouths of animals is an Internet staple, Grantham has taken the art to a new level—his particular brand of comedic writing, voice characterizations and clever editing combine in a way that seemingly reveals a dog or cat's innermost self. As a result, Grantham's videos have gotten hundreds of millions of views ("Ultimate Dog Tease" is up to nearly 144 million at the moment), allowing the Canadian, who used to work in advertising, to dedicate himself to running the Talking Animals channel full-time, and he is on his way to taking the brand beyond the Internet. He has a film deal with Paramount Pictures, and just this summer he signed for representation with William Morris Endeavor and The Collective, the entertainment management and production company known for guiding fellow YouTube sensation The Annoying Orange to television and other platforms.
Here, Grantham, who works out of a studio in Sudbury, Ontario, applying storylines and voices to videos of animals submitted to him by fans, takes Co.Create through the process of constructing his popular videos and talks about what makes them go viral in such a big way.
First and foremost, the animals have to be moving their mouths and in a more natural way than they would if they were given peanut butter or something because that just looks fake. The more expressive they are, the better, especially if expressions change throughout.
There should be a lot of movement, and it should be well shot, and well lit, and it should be in an environment where it looks like the animal is being well cared for. That is important. Anything where the animals look sad, I don’t want to promote that kind of thing.
I take all my videos to Starbucks, and I sit there with the sound off and watch them all and just imagine what it is the animals might be saying, and if something starts to click, then I’ll take it to the studio and start dubbing on voices. Usually, it’s in a random way where I might even start in the middle and then write the ending at the beginning and write the beginning at the end.
When you sit down and really pay attention, especially with the sound off, to the expressions of an animal in a video, it’s almost like a story emerges without even trying. If not, it’s the wrong video. It literally does take 1,000 videos to come up with one.
I always make the cats, especially Jupiter the white cat, smarter than us. They’re masterminds, and they know how to get their own way. I don’t see them having a cutesy-like voice or an Icanhascheezburger-type voice. I guess some of them are grumpy and snarky, but pretty much all of them seem to be smart, with the odd exception. Kona is one of the white cats on some of the videos, and he’s eager but not so smart.
I feel like the cats have more complex personalities than the dogs do. The dogs are very much eager to please, and they seem to be easy to trick, at least the characters I do. I don’t know about in real life.
I do all of the voices except for one, which was done by Ricky Gervais. I don’t actually have any formal training. I’ve played with audio and doing voices since I was a little kid. I used to make up fake TV shows and ads when I was about five or six and never really stopped doing that all through childhood. When I did work in ad agencies, they were generally smaller ones, and you did wear a lot of hats there. So I ended up doing video work and music for the videos and started doing the voiceovers for them as well.
I don’t try and put on silly, crazy cartoon voices, and I try and make my face the shape of whatever the animal is. If it’s a big jowly dog, you hang your lip out, and that sort of thing. Everything that the animals are doing on the screen, I’m actually doing in my studio. So if they’re running around in a circle, I will stand back from the mic and run around in a circle while doing the line. There have been scenes where the dog is singing while running out the door or something like that, so that’s what I do—I just stand there, and I sing, and then I run right out the door. If a dog has got his head in the toilet, I stick my head in the garbage can while I’m doing the voice.
I’m probably too detail-oriented, and that’s what makes it so long between videos. I think where I’m the pickiest is when I select clips. That’s what really takes the longest amount of time, to go through them all and find the ones that are really going to work. I’m so picky with them that I can tell by the time I start working on it that it’s definitely going to end up online.
I guess the pickiest part, though, beyond selecting the clips, is the little fine-tuning tweaks of placing the audio so it matches the mouth movements right down to the frame. I zoom right in and adjust those over and over for hours and play it back over and over again until it looks like it perfectly matches, and if it doesn’t, then I’ll go back and re-perform the whole thing, and then do it again.
Generally, once I’ve started a video, I work pretty hard until it’s done. The majority of the videos on my site, once I start the actual work, I don’t stop until it’s done. So they’re all done within one day, maybe two, except some of the ones where I have to put in a specific message for someone like Pets Add Life that has to give their feedback. [Grantham has done videos like Dog Wants a Kitty promoting the adoption of shelter animals for PetsAddLife.org.]
It pretty much 100% based on the content. No amount of getting your tags right and your thumbnails correct and paying for promotion and all that kind of stuff is going to make a huge difference. I think that’s one of the challenges for people who are trying to do marketing virally. When there is a committee involved, the content itself gets watered down to the point where it’s no longer going to be viral, no matter what you do to it, no matter how you promoted it, because it’s had too many hands in there, and it’s watered down, and it’s no longer edgy or different.
I started out just browsing YouTube and finding the videos myself and getting really informal permission to make a video and post it, but then the realities of working in the world of intellectual property set in, and I had people who then changed their minds later. I couldn’t sleep after that happened because I’m really just trying to make people laugh and have fun in the process.
So I really had to tighten things up and operate more like a business and get a lawyer and a proper license agreement done up so that people can’t come back later, change their minds, and then bully me. I never wanted to do that, but I guess that’s the reality of the business.
Now, I have people submit their videos to me because of that one that had to be removed, and since all the videos come from people who are deliberately going to my channel and submitting them specifically for this purpose, I really don’t have to worry about people changing their minds.
I love it when people share my videos, but the proper channels to share them are there—the share button that will embed the YouTube video on a site or on Facebook or wherever you like. Then I still get the view counts and everything. But there are a large number of people out there who will download the videos, take off the branding, put their own logos on them and re-post them, trying to sell stuff with them, a get-rich-quick scheme or something like that. That I just don’t stand for, and I go, and I get these taken down on a regular basis.
If I didn’t protect the IP, Talking Animals wouldn’t exist because it would just be throwing videos out there for everyone to copy and take credit for. No one would know where they came from.