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Devon St. Arnaud calls himself a “bad animator,” but we don’t buy it.
St. Arnaud is the 24-year-old, Alberta, Canada-based artist behind YouTube channel GingerPale. “GingerPale” is the name of the original character that helms said YouTube channel–a blue-hoodie-clad little guy St. Arnaud came up with as a way to tell stories without making them about his own personal life.
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St. Arnaud’s channel became a thing way back in 2014, after he found a home among the community of animators who frequented iconic early 2000s website Newgrounds. He and thousands of other users congregated to swap Flash-based games and animations, and when YouTube became a thing, it was only natural for animators to start putting their stuff up there, too.
St. Arnaud had been fascinated with animation for years. He found out about it in grade school, thanks to a classmate who did a project on it. He was an avid doodler, and upon seeing that animation “just” meant drawing “a bunch of the same thing over and over,” his interest was piqued.
Of course, it’s not that simple–but for a while, it seemed that way.
After St. Arnaud found likeminded animation enthusiasts on Newgrounds, it wasn’t long before he started making his own little animations. But doing short oneshots about random topics left him feeling “a little unfulfilled,” he says.
Around the same time, YouTube’s storytime genre was exploding, and the animation community had picked up on it. For some artists, this meant making videos about their own experiences. But St. Arnaud didn’t want to make videos about his own life. So he created GingerPale as a vehicle to tell stories.
These days, St. Arnaud has found himself firmly in the “edutainment” space. He tends to delve deep into random topics–like, for example, the weird histories of popular soda brands–then condense what he learned into four- or five-minute comedic animations that are mostly-ish educational, sometimes with a couple jokingly fake facts thrown in for flavor.
Longer animations have tended to be St. Arnaud’s bread and butter. They take a lot of time and effort, and often don’t take off immediately after he posts them, but they have long tails, and his collection of around 50 long-form videos can pull in hundreds of thousands of views and 10,000 to 20,000 new subscribers a month without him uploading any new content.
That isn’t to say he’s not uploading new content, though. He’s recently begun uploading 10- to 30-second animations to YouTube Shorts, something that’s helped boost his channel from between 600,000 to 900,000 views per month to, last month, 4.5 million. He see Shorts as a way to drum up views for his channel overall–and based on his upped engagement, it seems this strategy is working.
We’ll let him tell you all about it below.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Tubefilter: So for someone who may not know anything about you, tell us where you’re from and how you got started in art.
Devon St. Arnaud: I’m an animator from Edmonton, Albert, which is in Canada. I got started when I was younger. I’ve always played games, and I drew lots of doodles and stuff then, and then getting into high school I was starting to think about what I wanted to do afterward, and I was actually looking to go into engineering.
Tubefilter: Oh really?
DSA: Yeah. But in my last year of high school, I was starting to enjoy art more and more as a hobby, and starting to do it in my free time a lot more. I was thinking about applying to art schools, and actually applied to one in Vancouver, but I didn’t get in. But I figured I could still take drawing classes at the U of A—University of Alberta. So when I went there, I took a lot more drawing classes, and I kept doing animation on the side, that’s how I got into it. I’ve just always been doing it.
Tubefilter: How did you get into animation specifically?
DSA: Well, in the days of Newgrounds—a very popular website in the past, I’m sure you guys know that—it was always playing lots of flash games and things like that, and just seeing all kinds of animations on there. When I was younger, it seemed like you could do it with all kinds of programs—Stick, Pivot, Animator…
Actually, I know where I was introduced to animation. When I was in grade three or four, we all had to do a project a year on any topic you chose. A girl in my class picked animation, and I was like, “That’s all you gotta do? You just have to draw a bunch of the same thing over and over? That sounds easy.”
When I figured that out, I started looking online for a bunch of different programs, because it seemed kind of simple. You start making flipbooks—that’s where you start. Then with Newgrounds and stuff coming in, it really promoted the use of Flash, that program, and it took me a long time to start getting into Flash because every animation program is very intimidating when you first look at it. There’s a lot of hotkeys to understand, a lot of different terms.
It was in high school that I managed to finally sit down and try and get some done, and I was just trying to do little game parodies, but then I felt a little unfulfilled by just always making these one-off cartoons about something else. I never really got to speak or do my own voice-acting. So that’s why I started using GingerPale.
Tubefilter: What programs do you use currently?
DSA: I use Audacity for audio, Adobe Animate CC (so just an updated version of Flash) for animation, and Vegas Pro 15 for editing. That’s pretty much it.
Tubefilter: Do you do all your own voice acting now?
DSA: Most, but I do get friends coming in sometimes. I’ll get the odd person kind of featuring as a character, or maybe narrating over a certain part.
Tubefilter: How did you end up on YouTube? Was that a natural transition, to go from Newgrounds to YouTube?
DSA: I didn’t even start on Newgrounds. I just watched a lot of that stuff, and a lot of those creators were…not necessarily synonymous with YouTube, but you saw and played a lot of that stuff growing up. So then, when you wer eon YouTube, you were looking for the odd animation channel you could find. By the time I was trying it, there was a lot more animation on YouTube.
And it wasn’t my first time on YouTube! I had started when I was a lot younger. I had made a channel where it was Club Penguin music videos and those kinds of things. I guess after a while I thought, “I’m just gonna try and make things.” I’d found a couple channels that inspired me to try a couple different genres. That’s really what brought me onto there and actually got me trying to do it.
Tubefilter: How art changed for you over the course of the time that you’ve been on YouTube? Has your approach changed? Have you streamlined things?
DSA: Oh, that’s tricky. The stuff I used to do, it used to be game animations, and I would just put a couple soundbites together and add a couple little sound effects, and then just animate over it, and maybe you find music and stuff after. When I used the GingerPale character, I was actually just drawing stuff in Photoshop and using those frames and dragging them into Vegas Pro and like changing between those. Then I went back to Animate CC and…how do I explain this?
I guess I had this goal when I first started doing the GingerPale videos. It was like, every video I did, I would try to do something new so that I could learn something. I was just trying to learn something each time. So I was getting a lot better at just working with the program. And then I was trying to make GingerPale look a little better, and then I was starting to do backgrounds, and I was getting faster at each of those things. But every time you pile on a new skill, now it’s every scene, you want to make a nice-looking background, so you might need it from two different angles.
It’s weird. It’s become easier because I feel like I’m a little more comfortable with what I can figure out and what I want to do, and I’m not as limited, but it’s also become harder because there’s a bigger checklist of things to tackle.
Tubefilter: The better you get at something, the more you realize how much room you have to improve still.
DSA: Yeah, always.
Tubefilter: How did you come up with GingerPale the character?
DSA: There was a big boom in the storytime animation community, but I knew that wasn’t necessarily the angle I wanted to take on the channel. I don’t necessarily talk about my own life stories or my own experiences. I try to show them through other topics, or just other things I’m interested in.
So I didn’t want to make a character that was just a cartoon version of myself, or another human, or a white blob guy. There’s already a lot of those. Plus I thought it would be a little more fun to kind of have a little OC—a little original character. I wanted it to be something that was kind of cute. Innocent but menacing. I always liked little hooded characters because they can pull that off. I was playing lots of League of Legends. I like those little minions, shy guys. You can’t really see their facial expressions. I don’t even know if they’re good or bad.
Tubefilter: “Innocent but menacing.” Quite the tagline. Where do you start with a video? Do you have a list in your head where it’s like, “Here’s things I’d like to make”? Or do you come up with things spontaneously? Where do you start with your process?
DSA: It’s kind of all over the place. I have a notebook that generally I just try to write down all kinds of ideas in, or doodles. Sometimes it starts with a little comic, like storyboarding, and sometimes you have even just one doodle and you’re like, “I could do something with this.”
Or it’s a bunch of notes. I was eating cereal one morning and I just decided to go through every single cereal and write down, like, do I like the way they market? Do I like their mascot? And just tier-list them. Where would that go? That’s one that’s been sitting on the back burner. That’s a video that could be done.
Sometimes it’s just all these notes until one of ’em really clicks for you. Then with skits, sometimes I’m sitting on a call with some friends and they make a couple funny jokes and you try to form it into a skit.
Tubefilter: This might be an answer that varies, but for every 30 seconds or so of animation, how much work goes on behind the scenes? How much time?
DSA: Yeah, this one is a little tricky. It depends, the longer a video gets. The hardest part for me is often planning, because that’s what can get me motivated to keep going through the project, and it just makes things a lot easier.
But if I were to make a video that’s just 30 seconds long, I could probably do that in a day. But if a video is four or five minutes, then I start budgeting it out. I go, “Okay, let’s make 30 seconds a day.” I’ll try to do 30 or 40 seconds a day. The longer the video gets, you can start to reuse some backgrounds and things, if the scenes are taking place in the same place.
But you also have to plan for that. So then there’s extra time making sure that when I make this background, keep in mind that I have to be able to use it for another scene. Otherwise you need to draw a completely new one.
I would say normally for 30 seconds of animation, including doing the audio, editing, everything, it would probably take like two days from start to finish, to make it so I’m happy with it.
Tubefilter: Do you remember what video of yours was the first one take off?
DSA: There were kind of two. The first one that ever did significantly better than anything was the first time I did a collaboration with my friend Nevercake, That was just because it was the first time I worked with somebody and did something together, so it brought in a new audience.
Collaborating is always really important, especially because animation has a hard time being discovered. You can’t necessarily follow trends as quickly as someone else who isn’t drawing out every scene.
The other video I was thinking of was What is the best fruit?, that did really well. That was spurred out of just having the classic question of “are tomatoes a fruit or a vegetable?” I’ve always really loved tomatoes.
So I was like, okay, prove why it is a fruit and then tell people why it is the best fruit. And then end on some sort of joke, which was just, what would happen if you ate way too many tomatoes? You’d have all these problems. I don’t know why that one did so well, maybe because it might have appealed to a larger audience. It was a little more generic.
Tubefilter: People have opinions about tomatoes.
DSA: Yeah. And that’s the thing, a lot of people have had that conversation.
One more that did well was Pop Culture. That one I think just did well because a lot of people drink pop and they have their own tier lists in their heads of what they like, what they don’t like. And then they have this really cool history. Pops used to be medicinal. It was just writing itself. All these pops had dark histories where they were lying about what was in them, or they had drugs, like everybody knows about Coca-Cola. Pepsi claimed it was a brain tonic and Mountain Dew was only created during prohibition to cover alcohol. I found that pretty interesting.
Tubefilter: It’s cool that you have an almost educational bend to a lot of your stuff.
DSA: Yeah. It fits in “edutainment” because sometimes I purposely throw in—and I hope people notice this—sometimes I purposely throw in something that is completely wrong. Just as a joke. And I’m like, “Uh, I hope this comes up.” Otherwise they think it’s real.
Tubefilter: Did you have a specific moment where it was like, “Okay, I can maybe actually make this YouTube thing happen as a career”?
DSA: Yeah, I was in my second year of university, and it started doing a lot better. I think it was maybe the first time where—you know, obviously, if you’re gonna commit to it, you do need to be making money from it. So I think it was the first time the views were coming in consistently and the growth started to happen consistently.
I mean, don’t quit your job or quit school when you hit 10K subscribers, but that was where it starts to have natural growth. As long as you are posting consistently, it’ll grow every time you post, and then around 100K it’s like, okay, well now YouTube’s given you a button. At this point, you’re probably making enough that you could do this as a job, and it has this growth still happening. Each month, if you’re able to make a little bit more, that’s where it’s this tipping point.
I don’t remember what my channel size was at the exact time, but I remember I was in the third year of university and I, uh—this isn’t the best thing, but I stopped. I just couldn’t focus, because it was like, “I just want to go home and work on this. This is what I want to do. I want to catch this while I can.”
Because with social media, there’s obviously a lot of formulas and stuff behind it, but I didn’t understand it very well. I just went, “Well, I gotta keep working so that it can keep growing and then I can do this.” So I kind of took a leap of faith and it paid off to drop for a bit. I can always go back. You can go back to school at any time, but if your channel’s starting to do well, you should maybe give it some attention.
Tubefilter: We hear from a lot of people that they were worried to drop out. Almost everyone says it was a dumb decision in hindsight, but it still paid off for them.
DSA: Yeah, I don’t think it’s an absolute gamble, trying for YouTube. I think a lot of people say, “Oh, I just got lucky,” and there’s some luck, but there’s also working with other people and being a part of a community, you have a kind of guaranteed audience in front of you. If you can make a good handful of videos, I’m sure one can appeal to some of them, and you can start growing. I just don’t think it’s as risky as people think.
But you do need to jump on it, if you see a bunch of growth. If I’d sat back and finished school, I probably wouldn’t have been able to put out as many videos. And I already don’t have very many videos, so it would’ve been a little tricky.
Tubefilter: Going by your viewcounts, it’s clear you have a consistent audience coming back to you.
DSA: I think it’s because, well, again, you can’t really follow a trend or what’s currently going on on YouTube with animation as easily. Especially if you’re trying to make four- or five-minute videos as your main, meaty content. It’s hard to quickly write up a script, make sure it works in the animated world, and then put it out. By then it’s been over a month, and [the trend] has passed over.
So instead, you can make videos that have pretty decent longevity, hopefully. Making them a little more generic and always viable. You might not get those initial pushes as much, or big attention coming in, but they don’t age that bad.
Tubefilter: What has your growth been like? You’re at 1.5 million now—was there another difference, when you hit one million subs? Have you noticed any difference in the growth of your viewership and your subscribers? Has it picked up? Is it steady still?
DSA: It’s pretty steady. My goal is to be more consistent, because if you post consistently, the growth is just rapid and accelerating. But even when I am not posting as much, there’s still growth. You can get 10,000 or 20,000 subs and you know, you haven’t posted in two months. Once you hit a certain point, people are still coming back and watching your videos, and people have been subscribed for a long time. I think YouTube still wants people to come check it out, and it’s still showing [my channel] to people.
But definitely if you’re able to post once a month and especially with YouTube Shorts, that has been helping like crazy, because it’s a completely different stream of audience coming in.
Tubefilter: So how has Shorts worked out for you?
DSA: It’s good, they’re really nice. It’s refreshing content to me, because they only have to be under 30 seconds—generally I try to aim for 10- to 30-second Shorts. It’s a little weird because you have to work in a vertical space, so if you’re drawing out characters, it’s hard to have a back and forth because when you’re in landscape, there’s lots of room for them. But in portrait, you kinda have to cut to different people if you want to do a conversation. So I’m still trying to figure that out, but my goal is to have one of those come out a week.
That way I can kind of take a couple days and try and make a bunch of those and then release them on a regular schedule. That way there’s still activity and people are still coming to the channel. But Shors are especially important around when you’re posting a video—like a main, normal YouTube video.
Tubefilter: We spoke to someone else who said he considers short videos a commercial for his long-form content.
DSA: Yeah! They’re a big growing tool because if you think about TikTok and stuff like that, and then you look at the views YouTube gets and the views TikTok gets, it’s a little unfair, because the videos are so much shorter and the UI is just swiping up, swiping up, new video, new video. On YouTube, you get more of a choice of what’s popping up, with thumbnails. With Shorts, it’s YouTube’s TikTok, and it is passing a lot more people through a bunch of different types of content. So if you have some poppy colors, you have a chance for them to stop and watch it. Maybe click on some more.
Tubefilter: What’s been your favorite thing about making art on YouTube?
DSA: My favorite thing about being on YouTube in general is community, and being able to meet tons of people. The other thing I learned early was the best part of this is meeting so many like-minded people. There’s so many people where you want to figure out a way to work with them and make something together. That aspect of, not even necessarily having to collab—though collabing is very fun—but just getting to know all these other people where it’s like, “I watch your videos, this is great.”
For art, it’s just nice that on YouTube, you’re making content, putting it out there, and it’s there forever. As far as I know, hopefully in 20 years I can look back and see all the stuff I’ve made, and see a progression in it. That was my original goal on YouTube, just learning how to animate and try to be better at it. So that’s what I’m trying to do. I’ve seen some progress already, but like you said, the more you learn, the more you learn you don’t know.
Tubefilter: I like the idea of it being a sort of archive of your growth.
DSA: I think YouTube generally should be started as a hobby, especially if you’re doing something like art and animation. It’s a good place to post it and get some feedback too. And then if it grows, I think you can try and work it into more than a hobby. And then you have an archive!
Tubefilter: What do you have coming up in the next few months? Do you have any kind of plans, any cool projects that you’re planning for?
DSA: Again, my main goal is I would like to just try and get consistent videos out this year. There was a lot going on in the past couple of years, and I think the most important thing is just getting a good schedule going in the short run, because that can help lead to a lot more. I have a couple videos planned out and then I’d like to stay on top of Shorts. I feel like I’m still in a pretty crucial growing moment on my channel, so it’d be very important for me to take care of it and make sure I’m being consistent and am putting out content on a decent schedule, because that’s your job. That’s what you gotta do.
Tubefilter: Is there anything else you think is important for readers to know?
DSA: Just…the way I look at YouTube, it’s definitely a place where if you have a hobby and you want to document it, it’s good. It can be a portfolio if you’re an artist, and it can be a good alternative to just playing video games all the time. Try recording a video game once in a while. Try editing it. It’s fun. I like it. It’s good.
St. Arnaud is managed by Odd Projects.
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