Jury’s Prize: „In a Heartbeat“
An animation film on the subject of being outed? You bet! “In a Heartbeat” was awarded the 2017 animago in the “Jury’s Prize” category not least because the student duo from the Ringling College of Art and Design made the courageous decision to explore this topic in their graduating film. Of course, the tremendous quality of their animation also helped.
The heart of a shy middle-school pupil named Sherwin literally jumps out of his body every time he sees Jonathan, the most popular boy at school. That cheeky little heart bounds uncontrollably towards Jonathan and constantly tries to get his attention. Sherwin has to chase his heart across the school yard in an attempt to prevent it from betraying his feelings. Indeed, who wants to be outed by their own heart? This short animated film with a running time of 4 minutes was created by two students of the Ringling College: Esteban Bravo and Beth David. From storyboard to final film, the two of them worked for roughly one-and-a-half years on the project.
Time Management & Pipeline
Esteban and Beth had one semester to come up with the design of the characters, sets and props for their graduating film. During this time they also created the storyboard and animatics. After their professors signed off on the results of the pre-production phase, the duo spent the summer holidays prior to their senior year working on the 3D modelling of the characters and sets using Maya and ZBrush. This way, they were already ready for rigging and animation in the fall. They created the characters’ hair using the Ornatrix plug-in, and the texturing was done with Substance Painter.
The two students then spent the fall semester focussing entirely on the rigging, animation and layout, which was a tremendous amount to tackle in a space of three months. The following spring semester was just as demanding, as the team completed the lighting, set dressing, rendering and compositing. They relied on the new RIS algorithm from RenderMan for the rendering; Pixar used the same tech to create the Academy Award-winning “Piper”, among others. The greatest challenge facing the students in this phase was their quest to achieve a particularly high level of visual sophistication with limited resources and major time constrains.
In November 2016, the students launched a four-week Kickstarter campaign designed to help finance the elaborate film. They needed $3,000 US to commission someone to compose a unique soundtrack for the dialogue-free film, plus they needed help in finishing the compositing. By the time the campaign was over, they had amassed support from all over the world totalling $14,000 US. Their success goes to show how great it would be if the the world of animation finally explored the topic of financing in more depth. After its release on YouTube at the end of July 2017, the film went viral and now has almost 30 million unique views. Media interest in the project was just as overwhelming.
An Idea Close to Their Hearts
The idea of a film about a heart that jumps out of a young boy’s chest to follow the object of its desire came from a friend of Esteban and Beth. With his blessing, they used his idea and worked it into a concept for a film. Originally, they were going to portray a boy and a girl, but that didn’t feel right. Only when they decided to tell the story of a same-sex romance did the concept take on a special meaning for the duo. “We wanted to show something we would have loved to see when we were kids”, explains Esteban. And Beth adds: “Something in us told us this might mark a baby step towards giving same-sex romance a sense of normalcy and hopefully even inspiring larger productions and studios to incorporate the subject in their own future films”.
One of the duo’s most important inspirations was the American comic series “Steven Universe” by Rebecca Sugar, a children’s show that tells the coming-of-age story of a young boy named Steven. Both students really liked the way the Cartoon Network series dealt with LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender und Queer) characters.
Esteban and Beth also studied the Peanuts look very closely and used them as models with regard to the style and mood of their film. They wanted to capture and personify the same charm and innocence that those films and characters radiate.
During the creation process, Beth and Esteban’s biggest and most meaningful experience was watching how the film and its characters slowly came to life: “Everyone working in the field of animation knows how demanding and frustrating it can be to work on a project like this”, they say. “But we had lots of fun throwing ideas back and forth and channelling our strengths to create something that meant so much to us personally”. The two students would love to work with the “In a Heartbeat” characters in the future and maybe even create other projects in the same universe, but there are no official plans yet. “Lots of people have told us that our film helped them accept themselves and their own sexuality and even encouraged them to come out, and this makes us incredibly happy”, note the Ringling graduates. “We wanted our film to support people on whatever path they chose”. Plus, as their film demonstrated quite clearly: “The heart wants what it wants, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that”.