Over the past 24 hours, the sweet story of In a Heartbeat has set hearts around the world aflutter. The animated short, directed by Beth David and Esteban Bravo at the Ringling College of Art and Design, hit the internet on Monday (July 31), and it's already inspired countless pieces of fan art and impassioned appeals for a follow-up feature.
David and Bravo call the overwhelming response to their short film "mind-blowing." Speaking to MTV News, David said she couldn't believe how many people had seen it already. (The film has already racked up over 2.6 million views and counting.) "There's fan art, and people are cosplaying it," David said. "They're sending us GIFs and edits. That's crazy! We're blown away, and it's so exciting."
"As artists, that's when you know you've made something cool — when other artists draw your art," Bravo added.
In a Heartbeat follows a closeted boy named Sherwin whose heart literally pops out of his chest to chase after the boy of his dreams, Jonathan. At the risk of being outed by his own heart, Sherwin must track down his heart before it reveals to his crush how he really feels. There's no dialogue in the four-minute short, but that doesn't matter. The raw emotion of Sherwin's struggle bursts off the screen.
The LGBT+ love story was created by David and Bravo for their senior thesis project at Ringling. It started, as all films do, with an idea: a boy's heart pops out his chest and chases down a schoolyard crush. They started pre-production their junior year in January 2016, and at the time, the boy's crush was originally conceived as a girl, but a decision was made very early in development to make the object of his heart's desire a male classmate. David and Bravo both felt a deeply personal connection to the idea.
"It was very important for both of us," David said. "It resonated with us very personally. We always say to each other that it's the kind of thing we wish we had when we were kids, something positive we wish we could have seen on screen."
"The moment that it turned into two boys, I completely changed my emotional response to the film," Bravo added. "When we were trying to write the story of the film, I would hear myself get emotional."
From there, the characters of Sherwin and Jonathan were born. Throughout the year-and-a-half-long production on In a Heartbeat, David and Bravo split the work evenly, each taking the lead on animating individual sequences. When it came time to create their character rigs, David took control of redheaded Sherwin, while Bravo focused on Jonathan. "We worked alongside each other all the way, from beginning to end," Bravo said. "It was as collaborative as it could be."
They launched an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign late last year, raising over $14,000, despite an initial goal of only $3,000. David and Bravo used the money to hire composer Arturo Cardelús, who created a lovely original score for the film, and sound designer Nick Ainsworth. Since the short has no dialogue, Cardelús's score is especially powerful. It's part of what makes Sherwin's story so universally understood — and felt.
"It's more impactful because it's about how the characters are acting, rather than what they're saying," David said. "In the films that we watch, we've always enjoyed that quality, and we were striving to do something like that from the beginning."
With its simple yet effective message of inclusion, it's easy to see why Sherwin and Jonathan's tender story has captured the hearts and imaginations of people around the globe. First love can be scary, but when you're a young person also grappling with sexual identity, it's even more confusing. The Human Rights Campaign even encouraged followers to watch the short, tweeting a link to the film with the caption, "We can all relate to this." The film is also a semi-finalist for the 2017 Student Academy Awards.
"A lot of people have been yearning to see this kind of relationship portrayed not only in media but in animation," Bravo said. "People are very excited, and a lot of LGBT people who needed this kind of representation finally see themselves represented, and that inspires them."
Having just graduated this past spring, David and Bravo are both pursuing careers in animation. Bravo is currently an intern at Blue Sky Studios, while David is an animator for JibJab's StoryBots series. But they both plan to continue their partnership and create more content together. As for whether they have plan to continue Sherwin and Jonathan's story, Bravo said that while there's nothing official to announce yet, he and David have talked about the possibility of revisiting these characters and expanding their stories.
"The response [to In a Heartbeat] is just another reason why we need to keep on working together to tell these kinds of stories."