by Emily Reuben As a young reader, there has always been a wide array of reading options to suit my interests. If I wanted to read a magical adventure story, I’d pick up Harry Potter. If I was feeling more of a dystopian action series, I’d grab The Hunger Games. However the book series that kept me awake late at night reading under the sheets with a flashlight wasn’t Twilight or Lord of the Rings. It was Erin Hunter's Warriors series. When it comes to popular children’s book series, the Warriors, sometimes referred to as the Warrior Cats novels, are not only one of the most prominent but also has one of the most active online communities. The series has received numerous recognitions, including various spots on the New York Times bestsellers list throughout the years. The Warriors series revolves around four groups of feral cats living in clans. The four clans all struggle to survive and often get into bloody battles over food, territory, and engage in forbidden romances between cats from different clans. The first six books in the series detail the adventures of Rusty, a house cat that leaves his comfortable life to join ThunderClan. Rusty forsakes his given name and is given the name Firepaw. His struggles integrating into the life of a wildcat while navigating the politics among the four clans comprises the bulk of the series' first six entries. Since the original series, the Warrior Cats books have exploded into a massive collection of novels, featuring 7 series with six books each. Outside of the main series of books, 12 stand-alone books titled “Super Editions” have been released, each chronicling the experiences of a specific character in the series. Additionally, the series has spawned six field guides, a manga series, and 15 novellas. However, what makes the Warriors series so interesting outside of the sheer number of titles is the level of online involvement from fans, especially regarding fan animations on YouTube. When I was about 12 years old, I was obsessed with Warriors. I had every book, novella, and manga that was sold on bookshelves. Eventually I took my love for the series online and began interacting with other Warriors fans on online forums. It was around that time that a user posted a link to a Warriors fan animation titled Yellowfang: On My Own. While the animation has since been removed from YouTube, it had a massive impact on me and ultimately led to a rabbit hole of Warrior Cats animated content. At the time, I was impressed with the anime style the artist choose to animate the cats in and the visual effects throughout the video. I instantly fell in love with the animation and turned to the author of the video, AlliKatNya, for more animated Warriors content. AlliKatNya, now known by Alli Kat on YouTube, was one of the first big names in the Warriors YouTube community of animators. Alli MacKay, began animating Warriors fan animations in 2007 when they were only 13 years old. Alli's “Warriors of the Forest” fan-series quickly garnered a following online and inspired a massive influx of future Warrior animators to dive into the realm of animation themselves, including big names like SSS Warrior Cats, DarkKokiri, TribbleofDoom, and Flightfootwarrior. Soon, there was an over saturation of talented Warriors animators infiltrating YouTube and creating a thriving, vibrant community of animators, voice actors, and viewers. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S60zKT-M54o&t=70s[/embed] Recently, Alli uploaded a video titled AlliKatNya & The Early Days of Warrior Cats Animation (2006 - 2009) in which they detail their experiences in the Warriors animation community. After hearing about their struggles, I became curious to hear more of their perspective. For more clarity, I reached out to Alli MacKay for their insights and more detail into their experience as a young YouTube animator. “As far as I know, I was the first ever person to start creating fan animations based on the Warrior Cats series, and at the very least the first person to upload them to YouTube.” Alli said. They continued, “When I was in 3rd grade or so, I would gather my classmates to play pretend games based on the Warriors series – the other kids quickly grew out of role playing violent cats, but my interest in the books stuck around. When my classmates moved on to other age-appropriate interests, my only option for continuing to act out the stories was to animate them on the family computer.” While Alli’s work would later become more intricate and utilize stronger editing software such as Final Cut Pro, their earlier work was made relatively simple programs. There was no Adobe Premiere, Photoshop, or After Effects. Instead, Alli relied on programs like MS Paint and Movie Maker to get the job done. Alli said of their earlier work, “I started out by using PowerPoint, setting each slide to 0.1 second, and playing back 5-10 images I drew in MS Paint in an infinite loop.” Because Alli was one of the first major Warriors animators on YouTube, their work drew in tons of views, and shortly after, many other amateur animators began to make their own animations themselves using similar drawing and movie editing programs. Aside from the more professional animations that would occasionally pop up, the Warriors animation community was largely driven by young artists, and for many, served as an introduction into the world of animation creation and video editing. When I asked Alli why the Warriors series in particular was home to so many of these animators they said the following:
The Warriors books thrive on their large casts of characters, the unique cultures of each cat clan, and interpersonal relationships between characters. When a series that is so packed with characters lacks official illustrations of said characters, I think there’s a natural urge to visualize what you’re reading about...There’s a whole ton of content to choose from, given the sheer number of books in the series, so it’s ripe for fans to pick and choose which characters and story elements speak to them. Imagine if Star Trek had been a novel series and not a television series – that fandom would be exploding with people’s ideas of what the alien species and Starfleet uniforms looked like. I think that’s the core appeal of the Warriors fandom.Alli’s style obviously resonated with people and resulted in many copycat series and character styles. Alli’s visual inspiration for their Warrior designs stemmed from animator and manga artist, Osamu Tezuka, specifically his Jungle Emperor Taitei series (also known as Kimba the White Lion to North American audiences). Especially in older videos, Tezuka’s influence is present in Alli’s designs, mostly in terms of the recognizable facial structures and body shapes of the cats. After Alli’s Warrior Cats videos gained popularity and other artists used their style as influence, there was an influx of Tezuka inspired Warrior Cats within the community. When I asked what it was like to see their own Warriors style replicated throughout the community, they commented saying, “It was definitely surreal to see the influence my art style had on the fandom at large.” They continued, “I sort of denied it at first and assumed other people were just coming to the same conclusions as I was about how the characters would look, but then I started running into animations that had clearly been traced from my own!” Even small elements of Alli's designs became prominent staples in the Warriors animation community. Notably in their videos, the leaders of each clan all had a visible star on their forehead to help them stand out from the crowd. Because clan leaders are given the -star suffix to their names when they ascend to the top rank in the novels, this stylistic choice made sense and added a unique characterization to the cats. After their videos became popular, the forehead star design nearly became a permanent fixture in Warriors animations. However, like any online community, AlliKatNya’s work received as much criticism as it did praise. Negative, often mean-spirited criticism is par for the course in online discourse, and that can be a lot to handle for someone so young. “When I made my Warriors content, I was 13 years old in a rural Canadian town of 300 people (that I rarely left), so the reach my artwork had was pretty unfathomable to me. Part of me was really bitter about the number of people referencing my art, especially considering that I often saw people praising the imitations while saying ‘AlliKatNya’s art is terrible’ in the same sentence..." They said. While the Warriors series has resulted in a creative boom among young animators, there is a downside. For many young artists, having their work posted online and entering the public spotlight can have devastating effects. In Alli’s case, not only were the designs they created referenced left and right, some of the negative feedback that they received had a lasting impact.
To this day I take a lot of those [negative] comments to heart and am extremely self-conscious about my poor drawing skills. I’ve taken so many years of drawing that I doubt I’ll ever start again. Not only that, but I received several death threats and terrifying vague threats, including having my own home address sent to me via private message, urging me to “stop animating such garbage or else...To this day I’m obsessed with checking comments sections on videos and articles to get an idea of the “general consensus” of viewers... I know for a fact that this experience is not unique to me – I’ve talked with several people whose animations went viral at a young age, and I always hear the same things: the negative comments stick with them to this day, and were critical factors in their poor mental health.Though the idea of uploading fan-content is innocent in and of itself, children are especially vulnerable online, especially regarding mental health. Extensive social media usage can lead to added stress, depression, and other mental health issues. According to The Child Mind Institute, "teenage and young adult users who spend the most time on Instagram, Facebook and other platforms were shown to have a substantially (from 13 to 66 percent) higher rate of reported depression than those who spent the least time." Additionally, a 2017 study found that of over half a million eighth through 12th graders found symptoms associated with depression increased by 33 percent between 2010 and 2015. In short, extensive use of YouTube and other online social platforms can cause younger children and teens to develop mental health issues. For a popular content creator like Alli Kat who was constantly using YouTube, there was little escape from the discourse. “A lot of my day-to-day decisions, like what clothes I wear, what media I choose to enjoy, are still dictated by what others will think of me - to an unhealthy degree. I’m not proud of it and I’m working to change, but this insecurity is absolutely rooted in attempting to please a large internet audience as a 13 year old.” They continued, "In the end, this need for validation burnt me out on art all together – the pressure of making content that pleased everyone and upset no-one became too much for me, and I’m currently taking a break from film making as a result." Though Alli has stopped animating Warriors videos, they have since gone on to make their graduate film Flash Flood: A Rotoscoped Documentary which screened at some LGBT film festivals including NewFest, Inside Out Film and Video Festival, and MIX Copenhagen. Currently, Alli describes themself as being in an "animation rut" and credits that rut with inspiring their present break from film making. However, Alli does have a current project in the works. "I do have an animated film script written, and coincidentally, it’s about this very subject – how my time in an online community as a young child shaped my mental health as an adult. I’m hoping that sharing my experiences will help kids identify unhealthy interactions online and encourage them to take a step back and trust their own judgment, not just those of online strangers." Though Alli Kat has taken a step back from animation and film making, they still upload video essays on their YouTube channel. Nowadays, Alli focuses on discussing vintage 2D animation, exploring topics like origins of popular animated works like Bambi or older Japanese cartoons like UNICO. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FT84DEFLlY4 Even though their experiences ended up making them step away from animation, Alli MacKay's work still serves as an inspirational force for many people. The extent of Alli's influence did not stop at putting stars on the heads of fictional YouTube cats. Alli showed thousands of people what can happen when artistic inclination meets tenacity. They made content creation attainable in the eyes of so many who would not have gone on to develop their own artistic sides without their example. In fact, Alli MacKay's influence is what led me to start animating and voice acting in the Warriors community under the name "iamsailorminimoon." And that hobby would eventually lead to pursuing a degree in film analysis. Now, there are many takeaways from the story of AlliKatNya. Investing too much time into the internet can be hazardous to one's health. Sometimes, something you once loved and worked hard at can transform into something that leaves a lasting scar on your life. Sometimes the things we do will change us for good and not for the better. Yet there is also the possibility that one person's work can make all the difference for somebody else. If you are interested in Alli MacKay's work, you can visit their website or check our their videos on YouTube.
Sources: YouTube, New York Times Best Sellers, The Warrior Cats Official Website, Anime News Network, and The Child Mind Institute Images: The Warrior Cats Official Website, YouTube, and Alli MacKay Featured image: Alli MacKay