Têtes à Claques, or Tac.tv, has rocketed to become one of the top 20 entertainment sites in Canada. Find out how this quirky animation site is trying to attract English-speaking fans with a new version using the same unique sense of humour.
Digital Journal — Can a French-language video site reel in English viewers? That’s the million-hit question facing Têtes à Claques
, a humourous animation website soaring to success in the Canadian province of Quebec. Now, the creators are bringing their oddball characters to the English-speaking world, unveiling its English version last week with 12 short videos. The French version has 116 clips.
is one of Quebec’s most popular websites: the French version averages 1 million unique visitors each month and, according to comScore, it’s among the top 20 most visited entertainment sites in Canada. So what’s so appealing about this site?
Take a look at any clip on Tac.tv and you’ll see how the animation is wildly different from the norm on Teletoon’s Adult Swim, for instance. Real human eyes and ears are superimposed on dolls and clay figures, giving an eerie lifelike vibe to these toys. The short clips focus on everyday situations and the sketches can often so irreverent you might end up scratching your head, waiting for the punchline. But the sharp wit is embedded inside the dialogue, where farting frogs and annoying fathers serve up the laughs with delicious timing.
“It could be a Quebec sense of humour, but I truly think it’s universal,” says creator Michel Beaudet in a phone interview with DigitalJournal.com, speaking from Montreal. He goes on to say his characters differ from those of Robot Chicken — the closest animation comparison— because Tac.tv doesn’t focus on celebrities or retro cartoons. Rather, the videos are popular because everyone can relate to the quirky situations.
Beaudet’s eyes and ears add an expressive quality to the dolls in the French version. It was the sort of experiment Beaudet wanted to try in 2006, when his work in the advertising industry percolated some new ideas. “In the ad world the creative process is very labour intensive with endless focus groups and concept approvals and I just wanted to create something fast, that didn’t cost a lot,” he recalls.
Bruce Dinsmore, who voices the English characters, says some of the French phrases from the Tac.tv characters have made their way into Quebec lexicon. “Look at how the catchphrase ‘C'est pas amazing?’ has taken off,” he says. “It’s just a testament to Michel’s dedication to this art.”
Already, the videos have been compiled in a French-language DVD. With the English version just finding its legs, Dinsmore doesn’t rule out another take-home product. “Since the French DVD sold so well, who knows? And maybe this is the type of animation that could work well on TV.”
Beaudet stresses the importance of a Web presence, no matter how the company evolves. “I don’t mind a treatment for TV, but there has to be a strong Web component no matter what, because that’s what brought us to this level.”
Every week, Beaudet will upload a new English clip. So far, the 12 English videos on the site have been translated from the French version. Dinsmore explains the voice-acting process: “There are four clips per session, and we do a session every other week. We jam on what voices would be appropriate and we spend some time tweak a few things to fit the English clips. On this short intense day, my head is put into what we call ‘the guillotine’, which is a padded vice so I can’t move. The camera shoots my eyes and lips close-up for around four minutes. We do a lot of different takes so by end of the day our brains are fried.”
Dinsmore gets paid for his work through ACTRA, thanks to the advertising dotting the website. On the French clips, Beaudet says pre-roll ads run for 15 seconds before a video begins. He also worked with the U.S. brand Vertigo candy to create a Tac.tv-style campaign, featuring the same animation style.
What advice would Beaudet offer other video sites looking to garner the kind of popularity Tac.tv has earned?
“Don’t listen to people who say you can’t accomplish your goals. If you have a great idea, be creative and find a way to make your product special so you can get attention.”