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Niles North High School | Skokie, IL

North Star News

Niles North High School | Skokie, IL

North Star News

YouTube animation “GRUFF” highlights success, support of indie animation on platform

Julian Curi
Thumbnail for “GRUFF,” a short, paper animated film on YouTube, featuring characters Abuelo, Bo, and Hazel

“GRUFF | A Short Film by Righteous Robot” is a nine-minute YouTube animation project that was released on March 1 and has since gained immense positive feedback from the YouTube animation community. With visuals made almost entirely out of paper, GRUFF showcases an extremely unique type of animation, following in the well-received footsteps of publicly available indie-animation projects on the YouTube platform.

The animation tells the story of a small Hispanic family and its gruffly voiced and seemingly dismissive grandfather, Abuelo. Bo, the young girl of the family, wants Abuelo to notice her and play with her, but Abuelo just sits on the couch and watches his Westerns all day. Hazel, Bo’s mother and Abuelo’s daughter, explains this to her daughter by telling her a story of a superspy (Hazel herself). This spy just wanted her Papa to say something about all the incredible work she was doing and the recognition she received from it. But it would always end the same: Abuelo would respond with a simple “Hmm… Mm hm,” while putting his hand over Hazel’s. She eventually became distant from her Papa, until he had a medical emergency, making her realize how much he cared about and appreciated Abuelo, outspoken or not. The story ends on a very sad but reassuring tone: Hazel’s family mourns the loss of Abuelo’s death, but the family begins smiling together again when they watch Abuelo’s favorite TV show, a Western, called “Gruff.”

Some people don’t say the things we want. And some people don’t say much at all. But when you run from the quiet, you might miss what they’ve been saying all along. Some things don’t have words, so we have to be close enough to feel them.”

— Joey Marie Urbina as Hazel in GRUFF

GRUFF, while one of the lesser-known recent YouTube indie animation projects, has gained massive positive reception. As of March 21, the YouTube video has over 4.4 million views and 640,000 likes, with its creator’s channel, Righteous Robot, having 1.36 million subscribers. This project can also be found on IMDb with a rating of 8.2/10 stars from 118 reviews.

“The animation looks absolutely beautiful, and the fact that it’s made with paper is honestly outstanding,” junior Jacob Rapoport said. “I’m truly impressed with how it was made. [Other creations] are very unique cases because they were made to be monetized, for the purpose of creating shows, because they started out as pilots for a full series. This is a short film. Honestly, I hope the creator’s work is funded, because it seems like they’re doing a great job, I feel like this might now be turned into a whole franchise, and honestly, I hope it doesn’t. It works really well as a nice, short, simple story. I really hope it gets the support it deserves. Watch it. Do it, now. The message is very wholeseome and uplifting, it has a very beautiful story and animation, and people should watch it, immediately.”

The animation of GRUFF is quite distinctive; while computers are used to assist with visual effects like lip-syncing and green screens, every character has multiple unique paper models, kept together with things like metal skeletons and magnets, that give each character a unique look. The animation is not necessarily limited to one dimension either; instead of being animated in 2D or 3D, it mixes the two types through the use of differently constructed paper models, in something the creator, Julian Curi or “Righteous Robot,” calls “2.5D.” Curi goes into the behind-the-scenes details of GRUFF in the YouTube Shorts section of his YouTube channel.

“YouTube” and “animation” are words that, together, once made people think of (often child-friendly) storytime animators like Jaiden Animations, James of TheOdd1sOut, Adam of SomethingElseYT, and so on. However, the past five or so years on YouTube have changed that association to one of animated passion projects from individual creators and/or non-national animation companies. These projects include The Amazing Digital Circus, the Helluva Boss series, Lackadaisy, Piemations’ Sheriff Hayseed, and most notably Hazbin Hotel which gained an Amazon Prime series in January. All these projects took months or years to complete and have gained overwhelmingly positive reviews since their initial public releases and then some; GRUFF is no exception, having taken three years to complete and appears to have almost no negative reviews or critiques.

However, it is important to note that GRUFF will most likely not be a series, as it is not Curi’s plan to make GRUFF into a TV show or even a series. While disappointing given its quality, many of his fans are knowledgeable and understanding in this fact while still being highly supportive of the short film and its creator.

“I connected with this story,” Applications Trainer and Esports Club sponsor Damani Brown said. “Definitely, the art was solid. It reminds me of a Disney movie. It reminds me of Wallace & Gromit or some of these older stop-motion animations; it’s like seeing a live Paper Mario. The colors were really stand-out-ish [too]. It’s a fantastic creation because it highlights the power of human creativity. That’s the strongest thing that I’m getting out of this: it’s people driven and I love that. I just truly hope we don’t lose the human part of creative works like this. It’s so easy to just use artificial intelligence to just build video content and voiceover work. [In the future,]  we are going to get more indie work, but not necessarily more quality indie work.”

GRUFF is one of those new animation projects that doesn’t just bring more light to the YouTube animation project community, but brings a new approach to it entirely. Never before has YouTube seen such a well constructed, positively received, and generally impressive piece of work in such a unique style. Unlike the works of Vivziepop or Glitch Productions, GRUFF demonstrates a new visual medium of storytelling that, when done carefully, can capture the attention of millions. Not only that, but it exists on its own, as one video, telling a short story that doesn’t need nor was ever planned to continue as a full-fledged series. Though, perhaps in due time, GRUFF’s creator may follow the footsteps of his series-animating predecessors and release some merchandise of his characters to promote such a popular, singular passion projects.

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About the Contributor
James R Prizant
James R Prizant, Asst. People Editor
James "Jimmy" Ryan Prizant is a junior at Niles North. In his free time he enjoys bowling, scrolling and chatting through socials, and listening to '80s music on Spotify. He one day hopes to have a job relating to mental health, writing, or bowling.

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