US animator encourages global visitors to explore China firsthand
Published: Jul 01, 2024 10:00 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 Gen Zers. His surreal, humorous, and seemingly rough animations have attracted many fans, garnering him millions of followers across various social media platforms, including Youtube, X, Chinese lifestyle-sharing microblog Xiaohongshu, and video platform BiliBili.

Casale has made several viral animated videos covering topics related to China such as the Flying Tigers, China-US climate cooperation, which has boosted many foreign viewers' interest in China.

"I think the reception for those videos was pretty cool. There were a lot of fans, especially on TikTok in the US who said, 'I never thought you would make a video about [the] Flying Tigers' or 'I never thought you would make a video about the history of [the] giant panda or whatever.' It was cool to see how that resonated with so many people," Casale told the Global Times. 

Casale, who just finished his trip to Beijing, suggests international visitors experience China in person. The animator also shared insights into his creative journey, the inspiration behind his successful animation Snakes Have Legs in 2017, 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 town in New York, Casale has always been "creative" since he was young. "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 recalled. 

According to Casale, he would draw on whatever he could get his hands on, including paper, his homework, and school notes. 

His passion for drawing led him to create his first online video in 2007, but it was the 2017 short animation Snakes Have Legs that catapulted him to fame. 

Snakes Have Legs features a simple, hand-drawn style, telling the story of an animal that believes snakes have legs after having learned it on the Internet, despite the reptile clearly being legless. 

The animation emphasizes the concept of "not believing everything that you see on the Internet." This blend of humor and deeper meaning resonated widely with audiences, making the video go viral and establishing Casale's unique 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. That's what made the animation reach and resonate with so many people," Casale told the Global Times.

Calling himself a "bad animator," Casale said that "I don't want to claim I am a good animator or 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 when creating Snakes Have Legs. Despite many artists feeling threatened by AI today, Casale views it as just another "new 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 

Since his rise in popularity on YouTube in 2017, Casale has created several animations about China, including on 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 to what some Western media outlets depict. For him, animations like Snakes Have Legs just focus on "human, neutral, and non-political" themes.

"I only hope that people enjoy it and maybe learn something that they didn't know before," Casale said.

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

"When I walk around here in Beijing, everyone's very kind and sweet. I will continue to be an advocate to my artistic friends and other friends to join me to come to China in the future." 

He also encourages the international community to visit China. "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. The visuals may be simple, but the messaging is often more complex and deep."

"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.