Welcome to YouTube Millionaires, where we profile channels that have recently crossed the one million subscriber mark. There are channels crossing this threshold every week, and each creator has a story to tell about YouTube success. Read previous installments here.
Most of us grow up watching the occasional nature documentary here and there.
But not all of us end up making the next generation of documentaries.
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And Dylan Dubeau didn’t intend to, either. Making videos about animals is something he “fell backwards into,” he says.
Unlike many of the channels we’ve featured for YouTube Millionaires, Animalogic isn’t operated by just one creator. It’s run by Blue Ant Media, a Canadian broadcasting company headquartered in Toronto. Dubeau, who went to college for radio and broadcasting, was working at Blue Ant when a local TV show, City Wildlife Rescue, put out a grant that would pay a media company to make a digital complement to its cable episodes. Dubeau co-created the idea for Animalogic, Blue Ant won the grant, and things went from there.
These days, Animalogic doesn’t need to rely on grants. The channel produces four different nature series: the core Animalogic, dinosaur-focused Paleologic, plant-focused Floralogic, and the self-explanatory World of Birds, all of which are presented by female scientists and science enthusiasts. Running the channel (and putting together its first full-length documentary, Animalogic Presents: Strange Creatures of the Arctic) has become a round-the-clock job for Dubeau, but he found some time to sit and talk with us about recently crossing one million subscribers.
Check out our chat with him below.
Tubefilter: Let’s start with you! Where are you from and how did you end up on YouTube?
Dylan Dubeau: I grew up in Toronto. I’ve been here my entire life. My dad used to work for Canon, so I was always around cameras and stuff growing up. I’m 30, so I was a teenager when YouTube was becoming a thing. So I’ve always been very interested in that, always very interested in the platform. I went to school for radio/television arts, but that always felt very out of reach to actually have creative control over things you work on.
Tubefilter: Gotcha, yeah.
DD: YouTube has always been super fulfilling to me, because like, you could be the camera guy, you could be the director. And so I’ve always been interested in that. I had a few different projects, and then with Animalogic, it sort of came out of…I work at a company called Blue Ant Media. It’s a Canadian broadcasting company. And we had an opportunity to do, as part of a fund, to do a digital component for a TV series. It was a show in Toronto called City Wildlife Rescue.
And then it sort of blew up from there. We did 10 or 12 episodes for the fund, and then an audience somehow developed. I still don’t really understand. Then it snowballed and we are lucky enough to be able to keep doing it.
Tubefilter: You’ve done hundreds of videos by now, so how did that evolve internally? What was the point where you decided, “Hey, this is a thing we should keep doing”?
DD: It was sort of like, I don’t know, like those guys who have those wood chopper fairs or they run on logs, because we’d get one fund and it would be doing pretty well, but, you know, it’s expensive to make stuff. And especially early days on YouTube, the monetization just wasn’t there and it took a long time for it to make money out. It was great, but it took a long time to get to that point.
So it sort of kept going and we would get another fund and then that would go through and then there’d be like a rocky period where you don’t have anything, and then you get another one. I’d say, when did I feel like it was a thing? I’d say like 2018, maybe 2019 was when it was like, all right. We got a comment from someone on YouTube like, “Oh, glad you’re back!” Because we went on hiatus for a couple years. “I used to watch you when I was in school!” And I’m like, “How long have we been around that someone’s nostalgic for us? This is very strange.”
Tubefilter: How have things changed from the beginning of the channel to now, on the production side?
DD: When we started it, it was all in a studio. I had never shot animals before—uh, filmed animals, I should say. Always a dicey word when you’re asking to go out on shoots. So it was all in studios, a lot of stock footage and silly animations and stuff. Then we realized we had an opportunity where we could make this a proper show and figure out how to actually make nature documentaries and how to find animals and stuff. That was a huge learning curve.
That’s probably the biggest way the channel’s changed, is just, it’s a lot more frequent. We do one a week, and we have different shows with different hosts so we can manage everyone’s time. In a lot of ways it’s gotten a lot bigger, even though it’s largely still a YouTube show.
Tubefilter: What’s the split between using stock footage versus your own footage nowadays?
DD: It’s sort of a mix. It depends on the subject matter. So when we’re choosing what we want to do, it’s what can we actually go out and shoot. You see behind-the-scenes on like BBC Earth and stuff where this camera guy waited six months for one shot. I’m like, “Well, we can’t afford that.”
So it’s a mix of finding what we can actually film—in COVID that’s been particularly difficult, because we’ve been trying to stay within Canada.
But yeah, a mix between where we can actually go out and see, and then also what we think will be successful. So some episodes, like we just did one in July of baboons in Ethiopia, and we didn’t film anything. We made it just because we thought it would do well. So we’ll do that.
Ideally I like to shoot as much as possible, but depending on the subject matter, it’s not always possible. Episodes where we’re out in the field, like it’s 90% everything we’ve shot. And then studio ones, it’s a mix sometimes. Like we shoot at a lot of zoos, which is helpful. A lot of them look kind of janky, but the nicer zoos you can get really nice enclosures and it looks wild.
Tubefilter: I’m thinking this is going to vary wildly based on whether or not you guys are filming your own stuff, but how much time goes into the average installment?
DD: Post-production, if it’s a fairly straightforward episode, around eight minutes, we’re at like four or five days, depending on the series. The actual shooting…When we go out, we’ll go for a week or two, depending. We were in Australia in 2020, in March, right at COVID time, and we were supposed to be there for a month. We got called home at the two-week mark, which was a bummer.
With those, it sort of depends also on, when we’re there, how many animals are also there. So Australia’s amazing. We would do five episodes in a day because it’s like, “Oh my god, there’s fur seals. There’s a kangaroo. There’s snakes.” Stuff like that is a lot easier. We were in the Yukon in the winter, and Alaska, and stuff’s just a lot harder to find, so you end up getting less episodes per trip.
But usually we’re shooting about a week per episode, I’d say.
Tubefilter: So you mentioned having a radio/broadcasting background. Are you passionate about animals, necessarily? How did you arrive at creating this particular idea for a show?
DD: I mean, I grew up like everyone else watching nature documentaries and stuff. I was always super into it, but that was never where I thought my career would go. I sort of like fell backwards into it. And now I’m very happy that that’s where I ended up, or have ended up so far. This is necessarily the end of what I want to do. But it definitely wasn’t my number one thing growing up, it was something that I liked a lot and then have learned to like a lot more. It’s just such a fascinating subject matter.
Tubefilter: How have things stablized on the financial front?
DD: Definitely a lot less reliance on grants, which is great. I don’t know how familiar you are with grants in Canada, but over the past five years it’s drastically reduced what’s available to people, especially for digital stuff, which is a bummer. But because of the grants, we were able to create a stable business that is profitable. Like it’s not like making crazy money or anything. I know some people on YouTube are, but it does quite well. And even with no grant support it’s a viable business. We’ve done Snapchat and TikTok expansions, and we have some direct sales partnerships.
We’ll always try and get grants because who doesn’t like free money? And the ability, because once you have that cushion, you can do more risky things. More experimental things. Whereas if you don’t have that coming in and everything you earn is what you’re spending, you really want to make sure stuff’s gonna work.
Tubefilter: That was something else I wanted to ask. How risky do you feel like you can be? Do you guys worry about trying something kind of off the cuff? Do you feel like you have flexibility to try new things?
DD: So we have four different series now. Four that we’re actually producing. So we’ve got Animalogic, World of Birds, Paleologic, and Floralogic. And from my perspective, they’re all basically the same show. They just happen to be about birds, plants, dinosaurs, and living animals.
That’s sort of as risky as we’ve been, because the format is still very…If you watch an episode of Paleologic, it is the same format as an episode of Animalogic. It just happens to be everything is dead. And same with the plants. It’s a very similar format, it’s just it’s about botany. So in that respect, that is kind of risky.
I’ve always said in my advice to people doing YouTube—not that I’m following this—is like basically do one thing and never change, because people subscribe for one thing. But that’s also limiting and can be challenging to repeat that. We haven’t do done too many format breaks where it’s something completely different. We haven’t experimented with that in part because we’re producing so much content that it’s very difficult to take a step back and think like, “Okay, what would this big dream project be?” We’re kind of always like, what’s the next thing? What’s the next thing? What’s the next thing?
Tubefilter: What draws you to a host? Do you pick experts in their fields, or just someone enthusiastic and good on camera?
DD: A bit of both. Lately it’s been more experts. Tasha, who is like the greatest—if you watch Floralogic—she’s the greatest onscreen talent I’ve ever worked with. She’s not a botanist or anything, but she’s a big plant nerd. She has something like 600 plants in her house.
She actually, we were casting and we were looking for people and she reached out and was like, “Hey, I wanna do this.” We watched her tape and were like, yes, amazing. So with her it was more like an enthusiastic person who has enthusiasm for the subject matter. With the other hosts, we looked more for authority, which I think is good because it obviously gives the channel authority on the subject matter, which is important.
The challenge on that side is you’re working with people who don’t have a lot of camera experience. So you end up doing a lot more like work with them to get to the point where they are very good on camera. Whereas I feel like it would probably be easier to just cast actors who might be interested in something than to go the other one. But that’s not what we’ve done so far.
Tubefilter: Are you full-time on this?
DD: Yes, full-time Animalogic. It’s a very small team, and we all do different things. I schedule everything and manage everyone’s time to make sure everyone’s working on different things. Book writers, choose what episodes we’re doing, work with our producers and a project manager to manage all the clients and sales and stuff to make sure everything’s going out.
Then a big part of it is I work. I shoot everything, do all the analytics stuff. So like screening that and logging that and seeing what’s there to like, what stories we can pull out of that. And then working with our close production team on the notes process to go from a script to a finished product.
Tubefilter: What does your average day look like? If there is such thing as an average day.
DD: Average day, if I’m on a production, I would get a cut in the morning from my editor. Then I watch it like 10 times and go through and be like “this is good, this is good, change this, do this.” That can be pretty time-consuming. After that, I’m just reading scripts, making any notes on scripts, sending that back to our writers…Yeah. I’d say that’s what the day would look like. And then looking at the forecast for the future of what we’re doing in six months.
Tubefilter: Is that how far you’re planning episodes out for each series?
DD: Some of them are a bit tighter. Anything we can shoot on location, we got a bunch of stuff. We have 10 episodes in the can right now for Animalogic, so we know what those are gonna be. Floralogic is a bit…we don’t shoot as much because a lot of it is very specific to find. They’re not necessarily around here. So those, we do probably a month out, maybe a month and a half. We shoot three or four the same time. So we’re about a month or maybe two months out on Floralogic. Then on Paleologic, we’re a couple months out, because that’s in the studio. We don’t have to do anything. The only challenge with that show is we wanted to not show any bones.
Tubefilter: Oh really?
DD: Yeah. I watch a lot of paleo stuff and I always find when they go to a museum and film dinosaur bones, I’ve never interested. It just seems so distant. So now the challenge has been, for some of them we’ve commissioned these hyperrealistic sculptures of the different species we’re talking about. We take those out and do toy photography, and people are always really into that. There’s toy photographers on Instagram who are really cool. So we do that with the different models and different spots so we don’t have to do animation or anything more expensive like that.
Tubefilter: How much attention do you pay to setting yourselves apart from other documentarians on YouTube?
DD: We definitely watch the competition. So PBS Eons is obviously the biggest paleo show on the internet, and when we were first getting into paleo, I was really worried about covering the same subject matter and retreading the same water. Now I just like, I don’t know, I don’t really care. There’s so many people doing so many different things that we just have to do what works best for us. I would preferably not cover the exact same thing that they’re doing, but also people want to hear about megalodons. So we’re gonna have to talk about megalodons.
Tubefilter: You mentioned being called back from Australia by COVID. How else has COVID affected your production?
DD: Oh, yeah, that’s been very challenging. I don’t think we were as affected by other people because we’re a small production, so we were able to get going again pretty quickly. When it first hit, we were in Australia, off Tasmania, on a small island called Maria Island. I got a call from my boss like, “Hey, you have to come home. There’s this thing called ‘coronavirus.’” And I’m like, “Dude, there’s four other people on the island with us. We’ll be okay.”
So it was this fairly dramatic extraction, and then you couldn’t go anywhere or see anybody. So we, with our hosts the other thing is a lot of YouTubers are self-shooting. They know how to do camera stuff and they can do everything themselves. None of our hosts are camera people. So Danielle, we had to ship a bunch of cameras and lights and a backdrop. She had to set up and shoot by herself in her apartment. And like she’s never run a camera before. She’s done some vlogging, but she’s not a camera person. That was the biggest hurdle.
And then also, and in a way it was like—this is the most depressing thing—but I have to call in via Zoom to direct talent on camera. Directing through a screen is just the worst way to do it. So I’m glad I don’t have to do that anymore. We were able to start going out…we did stuff in the summer of 2020, like in Muskoka. And then we were lucky enough to go to B.C., because that was in the fall, the first wave had like passed and so cases were low and we were allowed to fly. So we did B.C., which is pretty great.
Like I said before, we’re trying to stay in Canada in part because it’s just easier to get around, especially with all the crazy flight delays we’ve been hearing about and stuff. So we’ve been doing a lot of Canada stuff. We were in Manitoba last year. The Yukon, Alaska, and then we were in Grasslands National Park just a few weeks ago to shoot it. There was nobody there and it just reminds you how little tourism promotion happens for places in Canada. I only heard about it because I was looking at where to film stuff in Saskatchewan.
Tubefilter: Not a lot of documentarians focus on how rich Saskatchewan is in terms of our wildlife. And Canada as a whole, really.
DD: Yeah, like I was not sold on it until I learned about pronghorns.They are the second fastest land mammal in the entire world after cheetahs.
Tubefilter: I didn’t know that!
DD: Yeah. I know! And it’s like a Canadian—I mean obviously they’re in the States also, they don’t care about borders, but they’re a Canadian species and I’d never heard of them.
Tubefilter: So that inspired your Canadian passion.
DD: Oh yeah. There are so many other places in Canada I want to go, like the Whalesback Islands and the Nunavut area, and get the narwhals. That’s like my personal dream at the moment, to get the narwhals.
Tubefilter: Do you and the team have any plans for the next year or so you can talk about?
DD: We have a full-length documentary we’ve been working on, Animalogic Presents: Strange Creatures of the Arctic. That’s what we were shooting in the Yukon last year. It premieres Monday, Aug. 1 at 8 p.m. Eastern on BBC Earth in Canada. It’s also on BBC Earth via Prime Video starting Aug. 1. In the U.S., it’s available on MagellanTV.
And then I want to get more into, I like doing the long-form stuff, so I’d like to do both [long-form and short-form]. We’re hoping to do more long-form stuff, maybe this year or more likely next year. Not really sure what’s gonna happen then!