Esteban Bravo and Beth David’s Oscar contender ‘In A Heartbeat’ captivates audiences hungry for increased LGBT+ representation in animation.
In November of 2016, Esteban Bravo and Beth David, then animation students at Ringling College of Art and Design, launched a Kickstarter campaign in order to fund their senior thesis project, a 3D short about a young boy whose anthropomorphized heart threatens to reveal his crush on a male classmate. Within just three hours, their project had been completely funded. By the time all was said and done, they had raised $14,191 -- almost five times their original goal.
In its original conception as an idea proposed by another friend, the story of In A Heartbeat concerned a boy and a girl. But when Bravo and David took the project on together, they decided to take things in a different direction. “We thought it might be a much more personal story if we decided to make it about a same-gender crush,” David recounts. “After doing that, the story itself evolved really naturally; it came from a place that was a lot more honest and genuine for both of us. It’s the sort of story we wish we had when we were younger.”
It’s the sort of story a lot of people wish they’d had when they were younger, evidenced in part by the extremely positive response on Kickstarter. “We have gotten a lot of younger people coming to us, and older people too, telling us the film inspired them to come out to a family member or a friend, or that it helped them learn to express themselves in a way that they didn’t feel they were able to before,” David says. “For us as storytellers, that’s beyond what I wanted out of this, for other people to be able to relate to it like that.”
Since being posted on YouTube at the end of July 2017, In A Heartbeat has garnered more than 33 million views, and the reaction, say Bravo and David, has been phenomenal. Tumblr abounds with fanart of Sherwin and Jonathan, the two middle schoolers at the center of the short, and a video in which several seniors are brought to tears while watching In A Heartbeat has itself reached almost 6 million views on YouTube.
By now, Bravo and David are no strangers to the emotional reactions their four-minute short tends to elicit. “This man that Beth and I met after one of the festivals we attended told us that [In A Heartbeat] was a really beautiful film, and he broke down in tears,” says Bravo. “We didn’t expect that at all.”
David says that, while she and Bravo were surprised, it makes sense to her that people are so receptive to LGBT+ representation in animation. “It’s rare,” she says, “and when it does happen, it tends to be very minimal, or hinted at rather than explicitly shown.”
Animation is an especially good medium for proving that stories with LGBT+ themes are not just for adults, David continues. Bravo adds that LGBT+ characters as portrayed in other media are often hyper-sexualized. “We just wanted to show that there’s an innocent side of love to LGBT relationships that isn’t often seen in mainstream media,” he says.
In A Heartbeat is just as much a technical success as a social one. The year and a half spent developing and producing the short really shows, though Bravo and David are humble about their process. “There were a lot of elements in the animation pipeline that we hadn’t really worked with before,” says David. “There was a solid month-long period where it felt like nothing was really getting done because we were just going through a lot of trial and error for things like hair, grass, and leaves.”
The film’s score was also crucial to the co-creators, who were able to work closely with their composer, Arturo Cardelús, to achieve exactly the effect they wanted. “We used a lot of [the surplus Kickstarter funds] to visit our composer in LA when he did the recording,” says David. “We got to be there while he was instructing the members of the orchestra for the soundtrack, so that was amazing.”
For Cardelús, who has composed for both features and shorts, the music operates almost like another character, Bravo explains, and the Spanish composer’s heartfelt soundtrack to In A Heartbeat has already won at the Hollywood Music In Media Awards. A music video including footage of the orchestra’s performance was also posted shortly after the YouTube premiere of the full film.
Since graduating from Ringling in 2017, both Bravo and David have moved on to Blue Sky Studios, but they say they’re not ready to leave Sherwin and Jonathan behind. The duo has tentative plans for a sequel to their award winning short, and may even begin developing a concept for a feature film.