The Ultimate Animal Dub The addicting works of Andrew Grantham, voice of the “Talking Animals Channel”
Feb 20 2015
Just about anyone can talk. But it takes special skill to get folks to listen. If you’ve haunted YouTube at all, among the zillions of animal videos you’ve seen some critters that speak. They’re cute, but even puppies and kittens get stale after awhile, and the talking variety are usually not so entrancing as their creators probably intended.
Then, there is the work of Andrew Grantham. For good reason, his “Ultimate Dog Tease” was YouTube’s #1 Video of the Year in 2011, and he has produced a steady stream of animal dubs that are hilarious, touching, and addictive.
What has made his work so special?
As the magazine Fast Company observed in 2013,
“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.”
It’s all in the personality
That is the key point. It’s not just a matter of dubbing. It starts with the personality, the acting. Although he has six cats and a dog of his own, Grantham begins his process by reviewing a thousand or so videos of other people’s pets. Pet owners have sent him innumerable candidates, not all of which meet his production criteria, and it can take more than a week to review a couple thousand. He tries to find one that “speaks” to him. Says Grantham: “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.”
In Grantham’s world, dogs tend to be simple and eager to please. Cats are smart and manipulative. Guinea pigs are hyper. And then there was there was this b****r welcoming people to Canada in a very laid-back way … amid speeding traffic.
(The real-life b****r was apparently being rescued from his predicament. Unlike some imitators, Grantham is careful not to use videos where animals are being mistreated, nor do his made-up scenarios suggest that they are being mistreated. He considers it important that the animal is clearly in a caring environment and does not look sad. Maybe a bit frustrated, but not sad.)
Although Grantham says he doesn’t effect any particularly crazy, cartoony voices, he does have a collection of effective voice types, and for animals that have become regulars in his pieces, their voices are consistent. Another key to his animals’ appeal is that the animal is the star of the video; Grantham is more the straight man. Often, imitators’ videos will have the human do most of the talking and moving along of the story line … not nearly as endearing.
In a rare guest appearance, a particular Guinea pig is voiced by Ricky Gervais. The animal is resigned to always having a bad hair day. But he notes that the non-visual nature of voice acting cuts both ways. In his words, “People on Twitter hear my voice, but I don’t have to show my face.”
How so many animals found their voices
Before getting into this specialty, Grantham worked in web development and a small ad agency environment. Small agencies typically call on all hands to fill-in at various jobs, so, having done voices since he was a kid, Grantham sometimes did video production and voiceovers there.
In 2007, he put words to a couple of cats ostensibly watching TV: “Cat Talking, Translation.” Since then, that video alone has been viewed more than 37-million times. He eventually quit his agency job.
But Grantham’s new career didn’t take off immediately. It was a year and a half before he set up his YouTube channel. He also set up a site to sell related merchandise (e.g., T-shirts and buttons). The advertising profits from his YouTube video views are his, but all the profits from his online store go to the Nova Scotia SPCA. And he has done promotional videos, such as Dog Wants a Kitty for PetsAddLife.org, encouraging the adoption of shelter animals.
By 2011, his work was being discussed on major talk shows and all sorts of publications, and he had begun to think of Talking Animals as his “actual job.”
And by now, in addition to winning YouTube’s Gold Play Button for surpassing a million subscribers, Grantham has twice been a Webby Award Honoree. Last month he was made an official Webby Awards judge. He’s been a writer/performer for a series on Nat Geo Wild, and has movie projects in the works. Also among his credits, he’s a segment producer for Discovery Family, and for the Canadian TV comedy show “This Hour has 22 Minutes” (CBC/DHX Media).
His work is also sometimes ripped off. When people remove his branding and post his videos as their own, which happens regularly, he gets their copies taken down. “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,” he said in the Fast Company interview. He has also become more careful about his own source material. Originally he would just get “informal permission” to use people’s videos, but after some people changed their minds, he switched to a more formal acquisition process. “I really had to tighten things up and operate more like a business and get a lawyer and a proper license agreement,” he said.
The importance of being genuine
How does he go about turning the raw content into such viral gems?
Once the “story” emerges, generally while sorting through videos at Starbucks with the sound off, he heads to his Sudbury, Ontario, studio and starts ad-libbing, building the script in a random, non-chronological fashion.
He performs very much in character. For a jowly dog, he’ll hang his lip out. If a cat opens his mouth real wide, he gets that sound by widely opening his. (For example, you can hear it in “Talking Cat Turf War.”) And if the animal goes way off-mic, so does he. “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,” he said. But there are limits – when a dog sticks his head in the toilet, Grantham sticks his in a garbage can.
The time required is unpredictable, but once he starts working, he says he keeps at it till done. He clearly takes great care in aligning the audio with the animals’ mouth movements, but he doesn’t edit the video. “The only way that you can have something that looks genuine, is if it actually is genuine,” he says.
By the time he’s done, it all seems perfectly natural. In fact, some of the original videos are available on YouTube, and watching them can be a surprising. It’s almost disappointing to remember that the animals don’t actually speak – so much drama has been added by Grantham’s imagination.
Official website: https://www.youtube.com/talkinganimals
These animal “outtakes” demonstrate why professional behavior is so important in our industry: https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=H3lHpF5Aj0Q
MEMORIAM: In 2011, one of his principle players, a cat named Jupiter (“Jupie”) (whose real-life human partner lives in Pennsylvania, along with Jupiter’s co-star, Kona) had a life-threatening illness in 2011. Viewer donations helped finance medical treatment, and Jupiter recovered. But Jupiter recently succumbed suddenly to another illness.
POSTSCRIPT: Although the quality of Grantham’s Talking Animals work is hard to match and imitators usually fall short, there are some other wonderful animal-dub videos. Sometimes someone mistakenly credits them to Andrew Grantham. These other works deserve mention in their own right. However, it seems that none of their creators are so prolific, nor so specialized, in the voicing of animals.
Dansons la capucine. This a charming production, in French, by
Faireset. Animal videos are a subset of Faireset’s repertoire. Many of them are small fantasy stories told in (pardon the expression) pantomime.
Cats Playing Patty-cake, an English-language version of the above video, with a different script, by a different producer, Justin C. Elliot (et al?). There is no attempt at all to lip-synch.
Henri 2, Paw de Deux. This is strictly voice over, not lip synch, but we must mention it for its personality: