"OCTOCAT ADVENTURE NUMBER ONE WHAT ARE YOU DOING OCTOCAT?"
"(incomprehensible mumble) FINDING MY PARENTS."
On March 13, 2008, YouTube user RANDYPETERS1 submitted his first video, a 43-second scribbled mess called OCTOCAT ADVENTURE 1. It looked like the frames of the video were created, sloppily, in MS Paint, and the voice-over work was frankly quite terrible. The story was about a red octopus with a cat face named Octocat, who, for whatever reason, was looking for his parents.
The sequence of events makes little sense. After declaring his mission, Octocat opens a black box, out of which sprouts a black, tree-like shape that quickly fills the screen with its branches. Octocat flees into a new frame, entirely devoid of background. He has a cup of tea and relaxes, and then we find our hero standing on a hill, screaming "I WILL FIND MY PARENTS, AUUUGHHHHH!" The sound and video both loop as we are treated to a closeup of Octocat's anguished face.
The description RANDYPETERS1 gave for the video was:
"octocat looks for his parents who are lost i hpe he can find them! "
Anyone who was intrigued by the childish art and bizarre story went on to explore RANDYPETERS1's Channel page, and found that he was a 14 year old from Chicago who enjoys making movies on the computer. It would seem that Octocat was destined for obscurity. Then Anonymous
came upon it.
A link to the video was posted on 4chan's /b/ board, along with comments making it out to be the greatest film of the generation. 4chan recognized how awful the video was, but saw a hint of redeeming virtue in the heartwarming story. Being essentially a community of trolls trolling trolls trolling trolls, they embarked en masse to YouTube, rating the video with 5 stars, favouriting and subscribing to it, and leaving long comments that examined the video in depth. A classic example of these scholarly critiques was this one, regurgitated dozens of times by multiple users:
" Octocat truly represents the perennial Sisyphean challenge many of (us) face in todays quixotic world. We are presented with a dichotomy of love and angst for our betrothed, and through the euphony Octocat provides for us, we experience a synaesthetic immersion into a sensory and olfactory world of experience. Live on my archetype, and ignore the apologists. "
These comments became perhaps more of an attraction than the video itself. After a few weeks, the fun of Octocat lay, not in its should-have-been-worthless artistic direction, but in the intellectual game of coming up with the comments and reading meaning into the video that simply didn't exist. Another:
"notice that when asked, Octocat's immediate response is not that he is "looking for" his parents, but that he is FINDING his parents. To Octocat, his success was never in question. It was only a matter of time. That is the kind of positive thinking we need in today's jaded, apathetic world. I have come away from Octocat Adventure 1 refreshed, invigorated, and ready to confront adversity with confidence only Octocat could inspire in me. What a role model. What a man. Fight on, brave cat!"
"This - dare I say it - perfect piece of cinematography, is clearly a window upon the life of a child in our modern world. As worldly prices inevitably rise, more and more children are left to grow up at a much more rapid rate than ever, with both parents striving to create an income in this cruel, capitalist world. In a similar vein, an allusion is made towards the ever rising level of divorce within married couples and the lack of focus upon the child's welfare and the obsession with the self."
Other opinions ranged from genuine enjoyment to angry confusion at the incredible praise. 4chan ran with the creation, making fanart and tribute videos.
The Continuing Saga
As the number 1 at the end of the title hinted, there were more videos to come. All told, there are five Octocat videos. OCTOCAT ADVENTURE 2 through 4 were similar to the first. Octocat comes across a yellow floating head, three doors leading into mirror dimensions, and some chicken (which he eats). At one point a blue worm tells him he has no parents, causing him to go berserk and smash its head with a rock in a shocking display of violence. Part 4 signalled the end of the tale; Octocat watches as his parents fly by in a black balloon shaped like his own head. YouTubers held their breath (for two months) in wait of the conclusion. Does he find his parents?!
The Wizard Behind The Curtain
There is no Randy Peters. There never was. The video OCTOCAT ADVENTURE 5 FINAL went up on September 7th, and shocked the thousands of faithful fans with a stunning reveal. The amateurish scribbles? Done on purpose. The ridiculous story? Planned all along. In the fifth and final part of the series, the giant black balloon grows legs and chases Octocat through the settings of the previous installments, a sequence that came dangerously close to breaking the fourth wall. When Octocat goes through one of the doors to the other dimension, the perspective on the video ROTATES 180 DEGREES, which knocked viewers off their chairs. This was a video that was drawn in MS Paint or some similar program; perspective changes, especially accomplished in a sweeping orbital shot, are completely out of place. When the virtual camera finished its rotation, the scene had changed to flawless 3D animation. Those watching who were still capable of rational thought by this point were quickly realizing they'd been had.
Octocat flies into the air in the face of his giant doppelganger and screams, distorting the very reality of his world. The sky shatters. Twice. The "camera" vibrates violently, simulating a handheld camera in a war zone. The art style has changed completely. Blood spurts from Dark Octocat's ears, and his head explodes. The art direction of this sequence is heavily influenced by video game cinematic cutscenes. If you look closely at the black balloon, you can actually see tiny hit point numbers falling off his bloated form.
We soon find that Octocat's parents did not survive, and the last half of the video shows him walking through abandoned towns, forests, and snow-swept tundra. Sad piano plays as the spirits of his parents watch over him from the clouds.
Artist David O'Reilly was the mastermind behind Randy Peters and Octocat. He admitted that Randy was not real, but maintained that Octocat was not a joke. The point of the series was to prove the usefulness and value of YouTube and the Internet as a exhibition for any artist. No matter how poorly done the videos were, the touching message still got through, and thousands of people saw it through. In his words (from his blog):
"...you’ve all proved one vitally important point: audiences don’t need polished, slick animation to find a story engaging. They are happy to follow the worst animated, worst designed and worst dubbed film of all time, and still laugh and cry and do all the things you do watching a so-called “high end” film."
Granted, a large proportion of the comments were jokes themselves, but I suspect many of the users who were posting those comments harboured fond feelings of Octocat. I admit that I enjoyed both the tongue-in-cheek comments and the video series.
O'Reilly is not restricted to scribbly videos, as is evident about halfway through OCTOCAT 5. His work is deeply rooted in geek culture, especially concerning the Internet, and he often references aspects of those cultures that are overlooked. For example, he treats electronic glitches with the same sense of humour that many gamers share, as evidenced by the short video (which I highly recommend) "RGB XYZ", found on his website. Also available is Octocat merchandise, which I will be stocking up on.
I did suspect Octocat was fake, but there was something endearing and innocent about it, and I identified with whoever was making them. David O'Reilly was joking around, but even knowing that, somehow it still seems sincere.