A few years ago, as Jon Favreau’s team remade The Lion King as a showcase for photoreal cgi, an animator in the Netherlands was taking the story in the opposite direction. Just before Favreau’s feature went wide theatrically, Cas van de Pol released a Youtube video that retold Simba’s tale in two minutes of highly caricatured silliness.
In other words, van de Pol had subjected the Disney classic to the Ultimate Recap format that would help make him a Youtube star. The video went viral — it has passed 49 million views — and drew a greater following to his channel, which he’d launched in 2014 to post parodies of games and cartoons. He has since uploaded dozens of comedic “recaps,” of everything from My Neighbor Totoro to Spongebob Squarepants. Each one is viewed millions of times, and his channel has over two million subscribers.
Building and sustaining an online following has always been a fraught matter for artists. Monetizing it, even more so. To find out how van de Pol got to where he is and how recent changes in Youtube’s policies have affected him, we sent him a few questions by email …
Cartoon Brew: What is your background as an animator — what were you doing before you launched your Youtube channel?
Cas van de Pol: I’ve actually always been doing Youtube! I did study animation in school but pretty much learned everything I know either at home or during internships (at the studios Klomp! Animation and Frame Order).
I remember having a huge Minecraft phase that got me into making Youtube videos. I had a whole channel dedicated to Minecraft animation done in Adobe Flash, which I then abandoned when I lost interest. Then in  I started the channel I’m still running right now. After graduating I had already built up somewhat of an audience, and I decided to give full-time Youtube a test run for a year, which I then ended up continuing.
When and why did you start uploading your recaps? Did you have a strategy from the start for growing your audience?
The Ultimate Recap format started with my Avatar: The Last Airbender cartoon in late 2018. I had no intention of it being a series but just wanted to do a cartoon about Avatar. Then when I made The Lion King one, which did really well, it sort of became apparent that this could work with pretty much anything.
I actually finished the Lion King cartoon a month or so before the 2019 remake would premiere in theaters and decided to save it until it did, which is sort of strategic!
How do you choose what to recap? To what extent do you factor in what has done well for you in the past?
I’ve noticed that I mostly make cartoons about stuff that I feel nostalgic for or just really love: the Brother Bear and Lilo & Stitch ones, for example, weren’t topical or trending when I made them. Right now I’m working on the recaps with fellow animator Junaid [Chundrigar], who also has influence. He’s big into Marvel so we’ve started doing the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe in order of release.
I do take what’s popular into consideration. When Frozen 2 came out I planned to have a Frozen recap done. When no inspiration strikes, I sometimes do have a look at the top-grossing animated movies list, but I don’t think you’ll see me doing a recap cartoon of the Minions any time soon.
As well as Youtube, you have a presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. But your biggest following is on Youtube. Is this the only platform you’re monetizing at the moment? Do you plan to build up your following across platforms, or does it make sense for you to focus on Youtube? And why?
Youtube is the only place I can monetize at the moment and also the only place where I sort of understand the algorithm. I have no idea how I would discover new stuff on Instagram, but the Youtube home page usually pushes interesting videos to my feed. And it’s actually the place where most of the people also click on my videos.
I do love posting character designs and backgrounds from the Youtube cartoons to Twitter and Instagram. So focusing on Youtube indirectly also builds up additional art and content that I can then share across all platforms.
Youtube’s policies governing revenue have changed since you first started posting (e.g. COPPA). Has this posed much of a challenge for your brand?
The COPPA ruling has been the most challenging for me, because I like my cartoons to look child-friendly, just visually pleasing. I want them to look appealing, but they aren’t made for kids.
Right now you have the option to say your videos are “made for kids” or “not made for kids.” When your videos are “made for kids” you lose all personalized ads, which I believe is around 90% of the ad revenue. You also then also lose all comments and ability to add your video to a playlist. Which sucks.
I’ve probably had around ten of my videos (which each take around a month to make) be automatically set to “made for kids.” Probably because Youtube’s bots only recognize the visual style. In most cases I file a dispute and they set it back to “not made for kids,” but it’s still a big pain and I still have a mini heart attack each time it happens. I have to contact @TeamYouTube on Twitter pretty regularly.
Are you an animator who has built success on internet platforms and want to tell your story? Drop us a line.