Danny Casale, better known as Coolman Coffeedan, went viral and never looked back. The artist caught the imagination of social media art lovers, his raw and energetic illustrative style and handmade animation found a voice for people sick and tired of the negativity of the internet.
Meeting Casale for this interview I'm struck by how disarming he is for a viral artist with 2.7 million followers. There's no pretence and everything is on the table for discussion. It's incredibly refreshing. (If you want to try animation for yourself, read our guide to the 10 best animation tips and tricks.)
Perhaps it's Casale's background as a self-taught animator, a self-deprecating artist who openly says his work is "bad animation" (it's not) and who dropped out of university to pursue an idea because he had an uncontrollable urge to create anything, anywhere.
Danny Casale turns doodles into art
Casale is an artist who has carved a unique path in the world of animation and art, and then found a voice on social media, visit the Danny Casale YouTube Channel to see why he connects with people.
The artist's loose doodle style has been unknowingly honed to perfection over years. At school doodling was a much-needed distraction, sketchbooks were a makeshift canvas, his hasty scrawls a means to stay awake during tedious classes. Little did he know that these doodles would become the foundation for his distinctive artistic style.
"I don't entirely know," Casale reflects, when I ask where it all really began. "I can't entirely point to one spot, but the journey in honing in on my style was doodling in school and doodling in class, really just sketching all over my notebooks and homework. I did that to stay awake really. I was just really bored in school. These doodles kept my brain active and just kept my hands moving. Doodling kept me from falling asleep. There were hours and hours and hours and thousands of doodles over the course of elementary school, middle school, high school, college."
In class Casale intuitively honed in on his distinctive approach to art and character design. What started as simple cats and animals evolved into more detailed, surreal forms. The combination of his love of scrawls and squiggles and his lack of formal animation knowledge led to his unique animation style. This bright, loose animation is different; it cut through and caught on.
"What I didn't realise is, I was subconsciously honing in on my unique approach to art and these characters and what they look like," Casale admits. "Maybe they started out as these creatures, and then over time they got more detailed and more abstract. By the time that I started putting out my animations on the internet, it was just me, you know, not knowing anything about animation and just keeping it abysmally simple. The ‘bad animation’ as I call it, that's what caught people's attention because they just never saw anything like it before."
Embracing the label of a "bad animator" in his bio, he preemptively deflected criticism while also setting himself apart from other creators. "I always got ahead of it, where I was never trying to pretend to be a pro, I was never trying to pretend like I was on top of the world," he says, revealing: "I always said, ‘yeah, it's bad animation’. So it never – of course you get the hate and the critique – but it never really bothered me because it's this winning formula."
This colourful yet honest humility of his style enabled Casale to surprise his audience with the emotional depth and profound messages embedded in his seemingly simple animations. Behind those wiggly lines and naively drawn expressions is a poetic memo to whoever may be listening, whoever was caught expecting a jolly distraction found themselves disarmed.
Animation that packs a sucker punch
Indeed, Casale's animations pack a punch. Behind the lighthearted visuals, he delves into darker topics, touching on issues like anxiety, depression, loss, and self-confidence. This unexpected juxtaposition of simple visuals and complex emotions resonates deeply, often leaving his viewers surprised and moved by the impact of his work.
"It's like I started backwards. I didn't know how to animate at all," Casale says with a laugh. "When I went for it, I just started making noise and preaching my stories and messages, and people started paying attention, and the audience was there before any of the technique or know-how was there for me. I think it's just such an interesting world where so much content, and the best of the best content, is being thrown at us at once. We're kind of desensitised to it. We don't care if it's perfect. We just wanna feel something."
The best art has always been about ideas and subjectivity. Casale's style, characterised by simplicity and abstraction, ensures anyone who sees it can find meaning and connection. His animations act as emotional mirrors, reflecting back your personal experiences and stories.
"My style is so simple that you can't help but put your own message on it, or your own context, or your own personality or your own story," Casale explains. "The art's not necessarily telling you what to think, it's very subjective. Some of the best art in the world is subjective. Seeing how different people resonate with the same video, like Blue Dude, I made that about a mass shooting, but other people applied it to their own situations with their sick relatives or other bad things that are going on in their lives."
The power of Casale's art lies not only in its simplicity but also in how it disrupts the overwhelming negativity prevalent on social media. With his animations popping up unexpectedly on people's feeds, he offers a moment of positivity and emotional connection in a sea of noise.
"You're reading through a sea of horrible stuff or depressing news and meaningless crap, and then all of a sudden there's this bright blue character that pops up and breaks the cycle and tells you how nice you look today and how you shouldn't listen to what that person said back there, and you should stop being so hard on yourself about that thing you always think about," Casale says.
He adds: "It's such a disruption to the day to day that I think while it's the style that catches people's attention, and there's an element of nostalgia there, it leans into the Saturday morning cartoons feel, the safety of being like a child watching those types of cartoons, but I think the real magic sauce is how social media works and how I injected this art and these animations into that whole system."
Danny Casale the showman
While Casale's style and content found success on social media, recently he took it a step further by exhibiting his work in galleries, providing a unique and immersive experience for his fans. I second take when I view some video of Casale's live events as it's hard to believe this unassuming person in front of me is the same guy who rode a mini toy sports car through a crowd wearing a shades and a suede tasselled jacket, high-fiving fans.
His shows, like the most recent one at K11 Shanghai, have become pivotal moments in his career, expanding his reach to industry leaders and art enthusiasts alike. "My show at K11 Shanghai was the biggest point for my career for sure," Casale shares. "That was two years in the making, and kept getting pushed out because of Covid. And that's the biggest one so far. It was wild to meet fans that have been watching my stuff for years and see people over there interact with my characters in real life and just walk throughout the whole experience."
As his art gains international acclaim, Casale remains grounded, attributing his success to a combination of timing, honesty, and a desire to connect with people emotionally. He encourages aspiring artists to focus on standing out and making noise rather than fixating on technical perfection.
"There's no blueprint but I think people, especially up and coming artists, should feel solace knowing that it's not about your technical ability," Casale advises. "You don't have to be the best animator in the world, or the best photographer in the world, or the best poet in the world, or the best oil painter; it's not about that. It's really about everything else, your drive and your personal confidence. But also more than anything, it's the ability to stand out and make a splash and cause noise in a world that gets louder and louder and more and more noisy."
This is not a new approach, Salvador Dali nearly died to get noticed when an old-fashioned diving suit and helmet topped with a Mercedes radiator cap got stuck, Andy Warhol was a pioneer of self-publicity and in 1994 the KLF burnt £1 million, their earnings went up in smoke and the world… shrugged. That last one is a warning from history, that things can literally go up in flames as quickly as they burst onto the scene.
Does Casale take his success for granted? Not at all. In fact, he's modest and openly struggles with the thought he's, maybe, not deserving of the attention he gets. I ask, do you suffer from imposter syndrome? "Oh, every day dude, every day," he laughs, adding, "I feel like an imposter right now, sitting with you right here."
Everyone has doubts
He explains: "I was so relieved when I heard the phrase imposter syndrome a few years ago. I'm like, 'okay, cool, cool. This is a thing that other people feel too'. I think it's just constantly keeping me in check to not let my ego get too inflated. It's keeping me from not getting too comfortable. I had a big reality check a few times where I'm like: ‘None of this is promised. This doesn't just keep going and happening and going up. The universe is under no obligation to make any sense to you. And so the fact that this is happening is amazing’.“
This final comment from Casale reveals why people just seem to love and engage with his art; he's candid and taps into those emotional voices that niggle away at all of us, and his art offers a respite of reflection and positivity.
Casale's journey from doodling in school to international recognition is a testament to the power of authenticity and the emotional resonance of art. As he continues to grow and experiment, his impact on the art world and the lives of his audience is sure to keep expanding. Danny Casale, the bad animator who captured hearts worldwide, is an inspiration for artists and fans alike, showing that sometimes, it's the simplest expressions that leave the most profound impressions.