Danny Casale: animating cultural understanding
Published: Jun 27, 2024 01:56 PM
Danny Casale Photo: Li Hang/GT

Danny Casale Photo: Li Hang/GT

Danny Casale, also known as Coolman Coffeedan, born in October 1995, is a prominent figure among Generation Z. His surreal, humorous, and seemingly rough animations have garnered millions of followers on various social media platforms.

Casale has created seven viral animated videos covering topics such as the Flying Tigers aiding China, the China-US climate cooperation, pandas as friendship ambassadors, the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway, China's green development, and ping-pong diplomacy.

On Wednesday, Casale shared insights with the Global Times into his creative journey, the inspiration behind his successful 2017 animation Snakes Have Legs, his perspective on AI's role in the creative process, and how his artistic works promote cultural exchanges between China and the US.

Out of interest

Born in a quiet township in New York, Casale was a "creative" child. "There wasn't much to do, so I tried to make up my own fun. One of the things that I did was I drew a lot," he recalls. According to Casale, he would draw whatever he could get his hands on, including paper, homework, and school notes.

Casale's online creation journey began in 2007, but it was in June 2017 that he shot to fame with his animated short, Snakes Have Legs, which featured a simple, hand-drawn style, telling the story of an animal who believes snakes have legs after having learned it on the internet, despite the reptile being clearly legless. The animation emphasizes the concept of "stop being dumb on the internet." This blend of humor and deeper meaning resonated widely, making the video viral and establishing Casale's unique storytelling style.

"I kind of accidentally discovered that style and maybe even created something a little new that the internet and social media hadn't seen before. Because of my voice and what I wanted to say and put out there into the world. That's what made the animation reach and resonate with so many people," Casale told the Global Times.

Casale called himself a bad animator: "I don't want to claim I am a great animator. I just want to maybe make you laugh or smile or make you think about something that you weren't thinking about before"

Due to limited equipment, he just used pen, paper and his computer to create the software back then. Despite many artists feeling threatened by AI today, Casale views it as just another "tool."

"Just like YouTube was a new tool in 2006. I look to AI as a new tool that is available to me. I could either be scared of it or not be fond of it, or I can embrace it and figure out how I could use it to make my work better, tell more stories, and reach more people."

Bridging cultures with animation

Since his rise to popularity on YouTube in 2017, Casale has created several animations about China, including topics like the Mombasa-Nairobi Standard Gauge Railway.

"The railway was particularly interesting to me. When I first heard about it, I was amazed by how it considered the environment and the well-being of people and animals. The structures were built high enough so that animals like giraffes could cross underneath comfortably," he shared.

"That's my favorite project that I've researched," added Casale.

Casale's work often presents a different image of China compared with what some Western media depict. For him, animations like Snakes Have Legs, just focus on "human, neutral, and non-political" themes.

In 2023, Casale held an exhibition in Shanghai, his first solo show in China. Reflecting on his trip to Shanghai, Casale said he had nothing but the best experience.

"And when I walk around here in Beijing, everyone's very kind and sweet."

He encourages foreign people to visit China. "Many people around the world may also have certain thoughts or stereotypes about New Yorkers or even Americans. If you go there, eat a slice of pizza, listen to someone playing the saxophone on the street, and see people having a good time, it just changes your perspective. Having that personal experience in a place that may be very foreign or new to you is invaluable."

In promoting cultural exchanges between China and the US, Casale emphasizes the importance of "openness." "Allowing yourself to be open and to learn something new. Hearing people out and listening to their stories is crucial. It helps you learn more and opens you up to new information that you didn't have before."

Looking ahead, Casale plans to continue his unique style. "My animations are friendly and peaceful. I aim to create content that is wholesome, anxiety-reducing, and comforting. The visuals may be simple, but the messaging is often more complex and deeper."

"The best learning happens when you're entertained, and you don't even realize that you're learning. My main priority is making sure people have fun. And if you happen to learn something in the process, that's even better," he remarked.