Carnegie Mellon University

Animal Speak

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Michael Killen on the Edge

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For starters, he's the man behind Taco Bell's talking Chihuahua and the Real California Cheese talking cows.

An alumnus of Carnegie Mellon's School of Design, Michael Killen is a man on the edge — the creator of a popular trend in marketing in which animals speak their minds.

"Marketing and advertising are in such a state of transition right now because of the Internet, but that is what's exciting for us," said Killen, who co-founded Animal, his Pittsburgh-based production and visual-effects house, with Jim Kreitzburg and Kathy Dziubek. "It's scary but filled with opportunity. That's how we're approaching it."

Killen considers himself a director, primarily. And while he wasn't the kid who brought home every furry, four-footed stray in the neighborhood, he does admit a love for animals.

"I like it when people do things with integrity and humor," said Killen. "It's a better vessel to reach people."

On the way into work one morning, Killen's desire to reach people was unexpectedly driven to a whole new level. A story was unfolding on the radio about a professional football player's participation in dog fighting, and Killen was moved to reach out to people through his company's work in an entirely different way.

He set out to create a public service announcement on the brutality of the sport from the perspective of the dogs.

"Except this time, we decided to reverse the normal process," Killen explained. "We called on an agency, instead of waiting for someone to call us. We just had to make this happen."

He and Kreitzburg discussed at length how subtle the spot needed to be. "This isn't comedy. We put great effort into making sure you believe what the dogs are saying and feeling."

The PSA is currently airing nationally and was tagged by Creativity Magazine as the third most watched spot.

Animal's size has a lot to do with the team's ability to be creative, act fast and take risks, Killen said. "We're small, we're nimble. We're not set in our ways — we can't be," he explained.

This philosophy has helped Animal garner an international reputation with clients throughout the United States, London and Japan. Their diverse customer base helps provide a healthy stream of commercials, web shorts, music videos and television programs.

Related Links: School of Design