Search form

‘Natural Habitat Shorts’: Like ‘Ranger Rick,’ But for Adults

Brennan Brinkley, Nicole Low, and Tyler Kula’s series of 3D shorts, all under 1 minute, throw various anthropomorphic animals - always cute, sometimes quite naughty - into contemporary human situations that play off fun facts about that specific animal, now playing on YouTube and other socials.

When considering possible inspiration for adult animated comedy, children’s storybook characters as wholesome and pure as Winnie the Pooh and Frog and Toad may not top everyone’s list. But for Brennan Brinkley, those exact stories form the foundation of what he refers to as his “Ranger Rick for adults” series, Natural Habitat Shorts

“We wanted it to be like if we introduced capitalism to Frog and Toad,” explains Brinkley, who serves as director, animator, character designer, and a writer for the shorts. “These animal characters have to do taxes, and someone has to pay child support, but all in this cute pastel setting.”

Created by Brinkley with fellow Florida State University animation program graduates Nicole Low and Tyler Kula, Natural Habitat Shorts is a series of 3D animations, all under one minute, that center on putting various anthropomorphic animals into modern, human situations that also play off fun facts about that particular animal star. 

The episodes can be found on YouTube, Instagram, Tik Tok and Twitter; situations featured include a bat as a grocery store employee screaming (or, using echolocation) to find which aisle the acorns are in; an opossum mom “emptying her pockets” and putting her younglings onto an airport security conveyer belt; and an owl turning its head 270 degrees to tell the people sitting behind them in the movie theater to hush up. 

In the caption of each video, you’ll find the fun fact about the animal which inspired the short.

“We knew a surprising amount of animal fun facts to come up with ideas for videos with these characters,” says Low, the show’s writer, storyboard artist, character designer, and background artist. “And our videos, like the mother opossum at the airport, that came from all of us being in airports all the time and seeing something funny we could do with an annoying situation. Then we found the animal to fit into that scenario.”

She continues, “Our ideas either come from funny facts we know about these animals first, or they’ll come from wanting to create a relatable video about being a human. Those are our two formulas.”

Of course, not all Natural Habitat’s videos are so tame. Some of the animations have chipmunk harassment, frog sex, crow murder, rats with tickle fetishes, small animals eternally trapped in porcupine quills, and dead opossum parents. It might be unsettling, if it wasn’t for the colorful, chibi-like animation style.

“We wanted there to be a lot of irony in the design,” notes Brinkley. “There’s irony in the fact that they're 3D but they look 2D. And there’s irony in the fact that we want it to feel nostalgic and like a storybook, but there are also frogs having sex on an open mic night stage. It’s really not for kids.”

The idea for Natural Habitat began during Brinkley, Low and Kula’s sophomore year of college. Brinkley had designed a group of animal characters and used them to make a short film called Monster in the Woods. The film was about a bunny (the same bunny model now used in Natural Habitat Shorts) who discovers a seemingly terrifying monster in the woods. In the end, he discovers it's just a dog looking for his toy rabbit.

Brinkley hadn’t planned on doing anything more with his characters. But after the trio of friends graduated, became roommates, and went on to work in advertising, they found themselves revisiting Brinkley’s animal animations in an attempt to quench an unnourished creative thirst. 

“It was just the creative frustration of making things like beer banners for Facebook and Instagram,” says Brinkley of their former advertising jobs. “We were like, ‘We need to do something that made us want to pursue this career in the first place.’”

Kula, another writer on the team as well as a previs artist, adds, “These were just such well-designed characters. We had to put them to use. It would have been such a shame if we hadn’t.”

The videos’ sketch comedy style was initially inspired by short-form cartoon comedies popular on YouTube back in 2009, such as Lamas in Hats. Using After Effects and free 3D software Blender to create their shorts, Brinkley says he wanted to be able to create animated cartoons that felt hand-drawn and nostalgic but still made use of a more modern medium of animation. 

“I saw it as a challenge to be able to take this very new medium and have it come off as simple and traditional,” he says. “Now, I’m actually animating animal characters for a mobile game company for my full-time job, and I definitely think working on Natural Habitat helped me get into that.”

The Natural Habitat team produces a video every two weeks on Thursdays and recently partnered with the independent animator javadoodles on a crossover video that featured one of Natural Habitat’s bats staring at a cup of hot chocolate while the drink proceeds to tell the bat a story about writing to Santa to build a time machine. Inevitably, the bat picks up the drink halfway through the hot chocolate’s story and takes a sip, eliciting screams from the hot chocolate.

The team has also worked with voice actors like Sarah Natochenny, who has voiced for Pokémon’s Ash Ketchum – as well as some 30 other Pokémon characters – since 2006. Natochenny voiced the owl in a Natural Habitat Halloween episode, which is also a continuation of previous videos where the full-cheeked chipmunk, Mouth, is harassing one of their rabbit characters.

“I mean, her voice was our childhood,” says Brinkley. “Hers and Veronica Taylor's. So, it was insane when she reached out to us saying she’d love to do a video. You can tell she has voiced for Pokémon, because she really channels it in her animal voices.”

While Brinkley, Low and Kula have enjoyed creating their short sketch comedy animations, they are looking for opportunities to expand their series’ potential and dive into longer-form storytelling. 

“We’re talking to a lot of different places right now that are interested in pursuing longer-form TV shows with us,” says Brinkley. “But it’s tough to say when. I don't think we always realized how slow the industry is. But it's been really exciting because, one way or another, whether it’s with studio funding or crowdfunding or just by ourselves, we're going to do it.”

But the challenge with translating their shorts to long form is checking on the continuity of the shorts, naming the characters, staying up to date on the adventures each animal has been on so far, their relationship statuses, and reasons they may be suffering from injuries. 

“Our audience certainly keeps track of it,” notes Low.  “We had one of our bunnies in a wheelchair for one episode, and people were like, ‘What happened to him?’” 

Brinkley adds, “The best way I can describe it is sometimes we’ll do something similar to Tom and Jerry, where you’ll see the same character design used but as if they’re a different character. Since the characters are 3D, and we have to model them and rig them, we've reused characters a lot because it's just quicker. But we’re thinking that maybe we’ll release some sort of timeline to explain what happened to the bunny.”

In the meantime, while Natural Habitat fleshes out the details of what their future long-form endeavors will look like, they are plotting new animals to introduce into the mix, such as a funny and violent Canadian goose, a capybara, and elephant shrew. 

“We're just trying to be very careful about every decision we make,” says Kula. “It’s our baby, especially Brennan’s when it comes to the animation, and these characters mean a lot to us. We want to do right by them.”

Victoria Davis's picture

Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She's reported on numerous stories from activist news to entertainment. Find more about her work at