This cute spider is the success story of one artist's brainchild becoming a successful property in its own right.
Household names in the CGI character field usually come via the big brands of Pixar and Dreamworks as opposed to independent creators; as a medium in itself it can be especially hard to monetise, whether in the CGI field or more traditional areas of animation.
Changing all that is Lucas the Spider, the brainchild of American animator Joshua Slice which has managed to not only bring its creator viral fame, but that Holy Grail of a big paycheck without selling one's soul.
It all makes sense when examined closely - we have a cute character voiced by a kid, as based on something less than conventionally attractive. It appears in short videos that can be easily consumed and shared while on the go, with YouTube as its main home of operations. Add some Hollywood-level graphics courtesy of the Maya program and it's no surprise that Lucas has managed to rack millions of views for each of his videos. All this, in the space of merely half a year.
"Creating the character was meant to be a fun project to pass the time," Joshua tells Digital Arts from his studio in California. "I remember when (3D graphics software) Maya 2017 was announced saying the Arnold renderer would be the new default, and right away I thought, 'In a few years you're going to start seeing individuals produce content at feature levels.' A few years later I did just that with Lucas the Spider."
"I'd been looking at popular web comics, wondering why that idea couldn't be adapted for animation - instead of a few panels, making 30 seconds of a fun clip. Technology and resources have become so accessible and efficient that if you have a good idea you can make something of it."
"I never intended it to go viral like it has, though," Joshua continues. "Even the merch range started off with a few t-shirts and it's since blown up. I just wanted a creative project to work on. In short, I just wanted to make a cute spider."
While clothing is one tried and tested way of making money from intellectual property, Joshua has now upped the game by creating a plush toy based on the lovable arachnid. Inspired by similar projects made from meme superstars like the This is Fine Dog, Joshua has teamed up with merch company Teespring to create a Lucas plushie, with 40,000 units pushed in the space of just ten days. The expected $1.2 million to be raised from its 30 day pre-sale period will go towards charities and a college fund for Joshua's nephew Lucas, who voices the fuzzy critter named in his honour.
Lucas the Spider has more staying power than your average internet flavour of the month, it seems, but the idea of the plushie wasn't an immediate one for Joshua. A CGI artist by trade, he naturally gravitates more to the cutting-edge, with a 3D printed toy being his first instinct.
"I've done 3D printing before where I've taken a 3D character, printed it out as a grey plastic model, and then painted over it," Joshua explains. "That didn't seem like it would work for Lucas the Spider because of all the hair. It would have felt too much like a porcupine. From there, I had the idea to make a plush because it would be more cuddly."
Being a one-man band more used to doing animation work for Disney on the likes of Big Hero 6 and Zootopia (reel embedded below), Joshua, like most digital creatives, wasn't a world expert in getting his baby into the hands of eager customers. "Back when we had fewer fans and supporters I was planning to follow the example set by the This is Fine plush and launch a Kickstarter, but hadn’t worked out the details of how I would manufacture and ship individual orders."
"As we explored creating a Lucas the Spider plushie, we started working with Teespring to sell shirts. When it came time to make decisions on how to move forward, Teespring was able to build us a Kickstarter-like pre-order page and function as our distributor. It all worked out in a very serendipitous way!"
Surprisingly, despite such success, Joshua has no plans to give up his day job soon, with him continuing at Disney Animation to complete upcoming Disney sequel Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-It Ralph 2.
"Funnily enough, it's a movie about Ralph going to the internet; this year has been very serendipitous indeed," Joshua laughs. "There's a special joy that comes with being in a creative work environment striving to make great movies. It's not something from which I'm ready to walk away. How I move forward with both passions of Disney and Lucas is yet to be determined, but as long as I focus on the things that bring me creative fulfillment, I trust it will all work out."
Joshua's sentiments also chime with his advice to other creatives looking to make money from their endeavours. "Focus on projects that inspire you," he says. "Keep working on the things you love and success will follow in some form or another. The minute you start worrying about making money, it's no longer a passion project and starts to turn into work."