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Behind a dancing cartoon called Horace that's become a viral TikTok sensation is a story of standing up to power, its creator says

Charissa Cheong   

Behind a dancing cartoon called Horace that's become a viral TikTok sensation is a story of standing up to power, its creator says
  • On TikTok, an animated character called Horace is going viral as a filter.
  • Horace was removed from Instagram and Facebook, but he would not be "silenced," his creator said.

On TikTok, an animated elderly man wearing a pink jumpsuit and dancing to Drake has been going viral over the past few weeks. He's part of a filter on the app that was designed by 23-year-old artist, Jackson Quinn Gray.

The character in the filter, who Gray named "Horace," has become part of a trend on the platform, as creators film themselves dancing next to the character using a caption to describe the scene as if were a type of comedy sketch. Most of the videos use the same audio, an excerpt from "Feel No Ways" by Drake.


Idk what this is

♬ Feel No Ways - Drake

The hashtag #Horace has 77.9 million TikTok views, and the filter has been used in more than 19,000 videos on the app. Creators seem to have become fond of Horace because of his distinct appearance and dance moves, comparing him to a clingy person dancing with them at a club, or a "socially awkward" person at a party.

@officialsalicerose ♬ Feel No Ways - Drake

Gray told Insider it's been "exciting" to see his filter take off on TikTok, but added that the timing of it took him by surprise — he created the character over two years ago.

@nurse.johnn Like David put this diaper on right now! Don’t let the jingle bells jingle it’s not even christmas yet. Lets go back to bed before you have another #nursejohnn #nurse #nursesoftiktok #nurselife #nurses #nursehumor #nursing #nursingstudent #nursingschool #nursetiktok #nurseproblems #medicaltiktok #medicalhumor #hospitallife #hospitaltiktoks #healthcareworker #healthcarehumor #cna #cnahumor #cnalife #travelnurse #ernurse #fyp #fypシ #foryou ♬ Feel No Ways - Drake

While users appear to be having fun with the filter as they dance alongside Horace in their videos, the character's creator has faced several bumps on the road to making him a viral sensation.

Here's how Horace became an internet megastar.

Gray initially made Horace as an Instagram and Facebook filter

Gray, a former art student based in Ithaca, New York, was playing around with 3D modeling on his laptop when he first designed Horace, posting a picture of the character on his Instagram account in October 2019.

The character initially had no clothes on and was inspired by an older man that was a model in one of Gray's undergraduate sculpting classes, the artist told Insider.

Gray said he initially saw Horace as a "tragic character," who was growing old and was "in his own world." As he experimented with animating the character on his laptop, he said he wanted to turn his art into something that people could use and interact with.

A post shared by JACKSON Q. GRAY (@jqgray)

In April 2020, Gray uploaded a clip of the character dancing and moving back and forth onto Facebook and Instagram as a filter that people could post on their stories.

According to Gray, the filter was used in more than 200,000 posts. He said he noticed users began to bring humor to it by setting Horace's dancing to music.

"It was interesting to see how the music that people set to him really changed his spirit," Gray told Insider.

A post shared by JACKSON Q. GRAY (@jqgray)

The first Horace filter was short-lived — it was removed for violating the apps' nudity policy, Gray said

A week after Gray launched the filter of the naked character, he received a message from Spark AR Hub, a platform for effects owned by Facebook, saying his filter had been removed as it violated policies on the platform. A screenshot of the message, which was seen by Insider, said the filter contained "content of an adult or sexual nature."

Spark AR's policies state that content "must not be of an adult or sexual nature — for example, nudity, depictions of people in explicit or suggestive positions, or activities that are sexually suggestive or provocative."

On May 5, 2020, Gray posted a statement on Instagram, saying, "When I made Horace, I wanted him to bring some light into the lives of everyone at home who is facing boredom, solitude, and uncertainty amidst such heavy-hearted times.⁣⁣"

A post shared by JACKSON Q. GRAY (@jqgray)

Facebook did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.

The artist redesigned Horace, using the character to communicate a message about censorship on social media

Gray told Insider it was "devastating" to see his creation removed from Facebook and Instagram. "When I released him it was such a fun and beautiful thrill for me to just see him traveling around the world and being appreciated by so many people. And then when he was cut down, out of nowhere, it was tragic, like a kind of death."

Gray decided to redesign Horace, but also created a fictionalized backstory of him dying and returning again as a new character. He did this by posting animated videos on Instagram, showing an edited montage of Mark Zuckerberg and political figures making speeches with an on-screen caption that read, "they tried to silence Horace."

Gray said he wanted to suggest, through a fictional story, that these figures tried to destroy the animated character, but he sprung back to life as a new version of himself in a pink jumpsuit.

A post shared by JACKSON Q. GRAY (@jqgray)

"I wanted there to be a feeling of lore and drama," he told Insider, adding that he wanted to redesign the character with clothes so he would no longer violate the nudity violations, but to do it "in a way that was not just acquiescing to the censorship culture of social media. Instead, it would feel like Horace is really taking a stand, and his life can't be cut short."

Gray hopes Horace will continue to bring people together on social media

When Gray, who was then largely unfamiliar with how TikTok worked, launched his new Horace filter on the platform in April 2022, it immediately took off and has now been used in comedic-style videos on TikTok by a range of influencers, celebrities, and corporations.


Join the party, kid

♬ Feel No Ways - Drake

"I'm just amazed by how funny people are on TikTok. The amount of creativity and humor can just be so impressive. So, it's been really fun to see the kinds of memes that people have created," he told Insider.


just trynna get it in late night but horace has other ideas

♬ Feel No Ways - Drake

Overall, he hopes the fact that lots of people around the world are using the filter will create a sense of togetherness and allow people to feel like they are part of something bigger. "Art is best when it's somewhat collaborative and participatory," he told Insider.

"I would love for this to be an opportunity for people to see the ways in which they can collaborate with art itself and make their own creations with it, telling their own stories," he said.

For more stories like this, check out coverage from Insider's Digital Culture team here.