The Secret Life Of The Maltese Animator Who Went From Frans Il-Ħamallu To Netflix Shows
He's also on first-name basis with PewDiePie
Frans il-Ħamallu has been a staple of crude Maltese humour for nearly a decade now, with many YouTube videos garnering as many views as the population of the entire country. Mostly short clips with NSFW jokes peppered in, Fran's videos have become cult legends when it comes to Maltese animations.
After a two year hiatus, another Frans il-Ħamallu randomly popped up last week amidst the shit-storm that was this election campaign. But while many people think that's where the story behind a successful Maltese animator ends, it actually barely scratches the surface.
The guy behind Frans' videos over the years signs off as Danny Lesco, but we've just learnt how far he's come from the years of short videos about ġbejniet moxxi.
"I've been animating since I was 15," Danny said in an exclusive interview with Lovin Malta. "I started Frans nine years ago, and I spent most of that time working on it for free just getting a couple of freelance projects here and there locally." Four years ago, he opened an entirely new YouTube channel, HerbalToons, where he decided to target a more wide, international audience.
Now 29 years old, Danny still uploads videos via HerbalToons, which now has 40,000 subscribers from all over the world and a total of 12 million views. His most viral videos form part of an ongoing series he's dubbed Biggest Fan, a series about characters who are obsesses with their favourite superheroes. The series only has four short episodes, but they've all gathered more than 1 million views each. The most famous of the lot, Mario's Biggest Fan, actually has over five million views!
Thanks to his channel's quick international success, Danny has worked on videos for a long list of extremely popular channels, including Smosh, FaZe Apex and the most subscribed YouTuber (by far) himself, PewDiePie. "I've spoken to Felix multiple times," he says of the internet celebrity, casually referring to him by his first name. "He's an amazing guy and a very nice fellow; one of my favourite people I've worked with." The two PewDiePie videos he's worked on alone, as expected, have a total amount of around 8 million views.
If you think that would've all been enough, however, you'd be wrong again.
"I eventually got connected to studios in Los Angeles, and ended up animating a pilot episode for a series called Paranormal Action Squad," said Danny. "It's the first ever YouTube Red animated series to be made, and it got green-lit and already aired a season on YouTube Red." The series was actually written and created by Michael Rowe, who has previously worked on widely popular comedy shows like Futurama, Family Guy, Becker and 2 Broke Girls.
Danny also animated another pilot episode for the same studio which is currently being sold to different networks, and he's also working on another project which will soon be pitched to Netflix.
The most impressive thing about this all is that Danny has managed to achieve all of this while still back at home in Malta. "Eventually I'll probably move to Los Angeles, because that's where the contracts are," he said. "I had a couple of offers to go work there, but I've worked from here and found no problems so far. Malta is so much cheaper and the power of the Internet is just amazing."
Even with all the recent successes literally piling up on top of each other, Danny hasn't forgotten his roots. "Frans never left my heart," he confessed, "but I was struggling with a Maltese-only channel. I was about to quit animation because it wasn't sustainable at all, and now I'm working for TV shows. You can see why I had to move on from the Maltese channel. I still try to upload something on it when I find the time, but that's becoming even more and more rare these days."