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In a Heartbeat: the story behind the animated gay love short that’s gone viral

The makers of the four-minute film, with 12m views in under a week, discuss the shock of their success and the importance of depicting same-sex romance

Its not every day that a wordless, four-minute animated short about two young boys falling in love goes viral. But on Monday, when recent college graduates Esteban Bravo and Beth David posted their senior thesis film on YouTube, thats exactly what happened.

The short, called In a Heartbeat, is a simple yet enduring story, a heartwarming fable of young love and all the irrepressible butterflies that come with it. It also just happens to be about two boys, which despite the ascent of LGBT characters in film and television is still rarefied in animated or childrens cinema.

Although Pixar hasnt yet shown a gay character in a feature film, theres evidence of progress albeit very slow progress in this years Beauty and the Beast reboot. The film has what director Bill Condon hyped up as a nice, exclusively gay moment: Josh Gads character, LeFou, shares a few-second dance with another man which, for the optimist anticipating great strides from Disney, was a pretty insufficient form of progress. In a Heartbeat, though, unmoored from the prudence of Hollywood studios, is far more explicit.

In just about as long as it takes to microwave a cup of ramen noodles, Bravo and Davids film tells the sweet, intimate story of a boy named Sherwin, who has a crush on his classmate, Jonathan. His heart is, literally, jumping out of his chest when the object of his affection walks by, spinning an apple on his fingertips like a basketball, so Sherwin dashes behind a tree to try to contain it. Of course, Sherwins reluctance is about so much more than being nervous to profess young love; hes also, as the films description says it, at risk of being outed by his own heart.

When Bravo and David, both computer animation majors at Ringling College of Art and Design in Florida, started work on the film in January 2016, it wasnt a gay romance. A friend of ours was pitching ideas to us for potential projects, David, 21, told me over the phone. It was her idea to show a person with their heart popping out of their chest, chasing down a crush. But initially it was about a boy and a girl. It wasnt until Esteban and I decided to switch it to a same-sex crush that the film started to feel like a personal story that we were invested in. It was the kind of story we wish we had seen as kids.

Bravo, whos 24 and now an animation intern at Blue Sky Studios (the company behind the Ice Age franchise), added: It still makes sense when its a boy and a girl because that doesnt mean someone wouldnt be afraid to disclose their feelings. But when its put in the context of LGBT characters, there were so many more layers to explore, and we could infuse the story with our own backgrounds.

The two announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for the project last November, more than quadrupling their initial goal of $3,000 by raising over $14,000.

Now, just 72 hours after In a Heartbeat was released, its already amassed over 12m views on YouTube. The two young film-makers, who grew up on the animated movies of Brad Bird, along with other turn-of-the-century classics like Finding Nemo, A Bugs Life and Cats Dont Dance, have been overwhelmed by the rapturous reception.

Its been insane! Bravo said. For two people making our first film, Beth and I are really excited that people have so deeply responded to it emotionally. The pair have been equally taken aback by the messages, both curious and congratulatory, theyve had to field.

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The poster for In a Heartbeat Photograph: Esteban Bravo and Beth David

Weve been answering emails and messages and phone calls both from people weve never met and also our friends and family, said David, somewhat dumbfounded that an independently made short, conceived of at the small Sarasota college where they cut their film-making teeth, has found such an audience. And big-name people are contacting us! Thats so crazy.

As for why the internet has lifted In a Heartbeat to viral status, the two surmise it has something to do with the dearth of same-sex love stories in animated films.

From a business standpoint, it makes sense why studios are afraid to portray LGBT characters, just because theres still part of the population thats not accepting, Bravo said. But as leaders of childrens content, its really important for them to represent these people because not showing LGBT characters leads to a lot of internalized confusion as kids grow up.

We do want our films to be universal, but we know that because its animation its assumed that its for children. And we want that to be OK, David said.

While developing the film in their senior year, Bravo and David had the luxury of total creative autonomy, from the characters furrowed brows to the lovely score, by Spanish composer Arturo Cardels, that accompanies the film. They had a vague idea, when anticipation for the short grew after they released a teaser, that it might attract a considerable following on the web; but they werent expecting this much viewership, and they certainly couldnt have imagined that, just three days after it was uploaded to YouTube, thered be Heartbeat fan-fiction and memorabilia with their characters faces on it.

There was a part of us that was aware this could potentially be a baby-step towards normalizing LGBT romance and, hopefully, toward larger productions and studios doing something like this, David, who currently works at LA-based digital entertainment studio JibJab, said. I do think this kind of entertainment is wanted on a pretty broad scale.

The two have entertained the idea of expanding In a Heartbeat into a series of shorts or a longer feature. But right now, theyre simply enjoying what a meteoric success the passion project has become.

Weve had people reach out and ask in vague ways if they could talk to us about our futures, David said. But as of now, we dont know what any of it means.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/aug/04/in-a-heartbeat-short-film-youtube

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