For as long as he can remember, Chris Bennett always felt a call to pursue a career in animation. Many others have followed a similar path, typically guided by their own inner monologues. For Chris, his inner voice belonged to a trash-talking toucan.
Today that very same voice is speaking to audiences around the world through Alfred & Poe, the animated online series that Chris created in 2013. The web series follows the hijinks of high-strung toucan Alfred and lazy sea turtle Poe, two roommates who, from the confines of their living room, share a similarly agitated view of the world. After the debut of the first episode, the show was sold to YouTube channel/comedic empire Smosh (18 million subscribers and counting), which now distributes the show to the 1.6 million subscribers of its Shut Up! Cartoons sub-channel.
Though Chris felt driven by his need to share his vision with the world, the success of Alfred & Poe was something of a shock to him. After moving from his home of London, England to the U.S. to enroll in Full Sail’s Computer Animation degree program, he graduated in 2006 and began traveling across the globe, eventually settling in Brisbane, Australia. And while he did find some success in freelance endeavors as well as a full-time gig, he found he needed another outlet for his own personal expression. And so Alfred & Poe began as an after-hours endeavor in his home.
“Nothing was going to stop me from animating,” Chris says. “At first I was really just happy to have made something that I thought was funny. After we finished the first episode, I had a list of people who I was big fans of who I wanted to just see the show, and Smosh was first on the list. They responded really quickly, and things started to accelerate. Fortunately I was able to quit my full-time job so I could just focus on the show.”
As the show’s lead writer, sole animator, and the voice of Alfred, Chris certainly has had a lot to focus on. Working as part of a small team, he estimates that an average episode takes about two months from start to finish (though they often will work on multiple episodes at the same time). They’ve created a complete 10-episode season for Smosh, with a second one potentially in the works.
“Our relationship with Smosh has been a fantastic partnership. They’ve never stopped us from doing what we want to do,” says Chris. “They’re one of the biggest things on YouTube ever, so it’s such an honor to work with them.”
It’s no secret that the Internet has helped to level the playing ground for content creators of all kinds, and Chris is quick to recognize the opportunities that the YouTube platform have allowed for his vision. “I remember a time when if you wanted to make cartoons, you needed to successfully pitch a show to Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network – not an easy feat to say the least,” he says. “Now there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t make what you want and put it out there. Make good stuff. Show people your stuff. Good things will happen. I believe if it’s good enough, you’ll get noticed, even if it takes a while.”
And while Chris has a few show concepts in development, Alfred & Poe will always hold a special place for him. “It feels amazing to have watched the show become what it is,” he says. “For me, in my head, seeing this take off checks off a massive life achievement. It feels great.”