Strange Success

How this 27-year-old Facebook star found his calling as Ralph the Rex

Anybody can dress up in a T-Rex costume and make a funny video. But only one guy has been paid to do it by the NFL, Whole Foods, and the Toyota Grand Prix.

He's Daniel Hale, aka Ralph the Rex.

Hale is a shy 27-year-old who had to buy a costume for an office party, so he chose a dinosaur to be completely hidden.

Daniel Hale first wore his now famous dinosaur costume to an office party.
Jeniece Pettitt | CNBC
Daniel Hale first wore his now famous dinosaur costume to an office party.

The LA-based former golf pro lost his job working for the PGA, leaving him with lots of time to create crazy videos.

And when he started to gain millions of followers, Hale sought business advice from his uncle, James Hetfield, the lead singer of Metallica.

Yeah, it's a crazy story.

It all started in October 2015, when Hale's workplace was having a party. "I hated dressing up for Halloween," he said, "so I figured I'd put something over my face." Hale chose a T-Rex costume online that cost about $100. Inside the costume, he came alive. "I feel more like myself when I put on the costume."

He named his character Ralph the Rex. "The name Ralph came from my dad," Hale said. Growing up playing golf, his father told him if he ever hit a ball out of bounds into someone's backyard, "Tell them your name is Ralph Jones."

It became a family joke. "'Hey dad, what should I name this pet?' 'Name it Ralph.'"

Ralph the Rex filming a video on the streets of LA with his friend’s Jurassic Park Jeep.
Jeniece Pettitt | CNBC
Ralph the Rex filming a video on the streets of LA with his friend’s Jurassic Park Jeep.

Not long after the Halloween party, Hale lost his job. "I decided to start making videos since, you know, people have pages for their dogs and other animals, why not a T-Rex?"

Hale, then 25, had no experience in film or production, but he and his sister started creating hilarious short stories of Ralph the Rex trying to survive in a human world. "First video ever was me running in my living room, and I ended up hitting the fan."

Everything changed that Christmas, when Hale brought in his brother-in-law and a couple cousins to create a pack of dinosaurs. Together, they made a video attacking Christmas decorations, before Hale's father chases them off with a flagpole.

Between two Facebook postings, the video gained more than 40 million views.

"We couldn't believe it," Hale said. "It was a shock."

Somehow a celebrity (or two) had seen the video and began spreading it around. Next thing Hale knew, companies were approaching him to buy the rights to the videos. "We decided to see if we could make it a business."

Hale insisted on only licensing the videos and maintaining ownership. He credits his uncle, Hetfield, for encouraging him to hold out for better terms. "You don't want to sell your soul necessarily when someone offers you something," Hale said.

For example, Hale was originally offered a contract with a YouTube partner to split revenues 70-30 in the partner's favor. "I waited it out a year, and now I have a contract that's 70-30 in my favor."

The success of the videos was soon followed by requests for personal appearances. The first came from the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, which wanted Ralph the Rex to judge a bikini contest. Race officials put him up at a local hotel, and Hale convinced one of the Grand Prix models to put on another T-Rex costume and have a pillow fight with him in his room for a video.

"I told her, 'Just don't hold back, go for it!' And she put me in my place with the pillow fight."

It turned out to be his most successful video ever. "That one exceeded about 60 million views."

Following that came jobs making social videos for NFL Thursday Night Football, a local Whole Foods opening, and BarkBox, a dog treat delivery service.

In 2016, his first full year as Ralph the Rex, Hale made between $25,000 and $30,000 through licensing, merchandise sales, YouTube revenues, and money providing links to T-Rex costumes on Amazon. "I know it's not a huge number, but to do that out of a costume, and start out from zero, has been something that I've been proud of," Hale said.

The day we visited him, Hale was creating a video for Hostelworld in Hollywood.

Ralph and his dinosaur buddies were paid to film a commercial for Hostel World.
Jeniece Pettitt | CNBC
Ralph and his dinosaur buddies were paid to film a commercial for Hostel World.

"I'm getting $500 for this video," he said, money he has to split with his crew. "The most I've been paid is $3,500 when we went to Colorado for three days."

It's come at a price. Hale has suffered a concussion making a video, and he lost "a little chunk out of my foot" during a video where Ralph is trying to skimboard.

Ralph's most popular videos highlight life as a T-Rex trying to do normal human chores, like taking out the trash or wrapping a Christmas gift. Hale has given his character a unique "happy clap," and Ralph shuffles joyfully as he walks.

Hale believes it's these details that will keep Ralph from going extinct in a world of pretenders.

"My goal is to do this permanently, have it be a global brand," Hale said. As sales of merchandise ramp up along with an app and emojis, Hale is augmenting his income working at a local golf course one day a week. He's also interning for the Los Angeles Rams as he works toward a masters degree in sports management.

Most importantly, he's trademarked the name Ralph the Rex, and his goal is to earn six figures as a T-Rex in 2017. Hale now has a manager, he's starting to get paid more for gigs, he will appear on a national television show later this year, and he's pursuing his dream of selling his own dinosaur costume.

It's a lot of work, but worth it.

"We did 155 videos last year, which is an insane amount looking back on it," Hale said. "It's so much fun. I love every minute of it."

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