This article is a behind the scenes look at the production of the animated short Lovestreams. There are downloadable production assets in the section titled “The Interface” and in the tutorial section titled “The Technique”.

The Concept

About seven months after the release of Late Night Work Club’s first anthology Ghost Stories, an email popped into my inbox from Scott Benson announcing that a second anthology was in the works. The theme for the new anthology was announced in this initial email: STRANGERS.

The height of technology in 2006 from DATASTREAMS

I had been in production for a few months on my CalArts thesis film Datastreams, a techno time capsule set in 2006 that dissected Web 2.0 culture and the commercialization of the Internet. Immersed in the not-so-distant technological past, my initial impulse on hearing the theme “Strangers” led to an idea about anonymous lovers online. I wanted to roll the clock back a little bit further to 2002 and explore a period where technology was advanced enough that people all over the world could connect, but also primitive enough that the connections were primarily textual, and filled in largely with fantasy and imagination. In my personal experience, this era of internet technology allowed these relationships to bloom in a very intense way, as if stripping everything back allowed an exchange of pure, raw emotion. I also found it fascinating that, despite the intensity and ubiquity of these relationships, they were still relegated to a lower, more shameful tier, somehow impossible to reconcile with the real world and therefore kept private. The internet was also a much less crowded space back then, it had not yet gone fully mainstream, and as much as it was a scary, wild west frontier of toxic hate, there was also a sense that the anonymous-by-necessity atmosphere allowed a person to be playful and mysterious with their identity and how they represented themselves, allowing people to explore aspects of themselves with more freedom than they might in the physical world.

from Life 2.0 (dir. Jason Spingarn-Koff, 2010).

In the months following the initial spark, a number of different visual inspirations and experiences began to triangulate, and the fantasy world of the film began to fill in with a mix of visual material from the early 2000s including pop culture that would have been swirling around the collective unconscious, experiences I had surfing and interacting with people online, and the visual functionality of the Internet itself

I didn’t want the movie to necessarily engage in a romantic longing for an impossible return to these early Internet values, but more as a challenge to the the “progress” of the Internet itself, both socially and politically. As much as the film is about the past, it also aims to be an “archaeology of the present”*, unpacking unrealized potentialities for the future, but not without highlighting the limitations intrinsic in the technology.

*A lot of these ideas were derived from the fantastic book The Future of Nostalgia by Svetlana Boym

In the context of this nascent stage of the Internet, it meant examining situations where people were connected on any number of levels and identity hadn’t been strangled into place by the incoming commercialism. Where strange and mysterious things happened, and deep meaningful connections were made across continents. Where people made things for no reason other than to share.

Edward Snowden in Citizenfour (dir. Laura Poitras, 2014).

I had a revelation midway through production when I saw the Laura Poitras documentary about Edward Snowden called Citizenfour. In explaining his reasons for coming forward with leaks about government surveillance, he said the following:

“I remember what the Internet was like before it was being watched, and there’s never been anything in the history of man that’s like it. I mean, you could again have children from one part of the world having an equal discussion where, you know, they were sort of granted the same respect for their ideas in conversation with experts in a field in another part of the world on any topic, anywhere, any time, all the time. And it was free and unrestrained, and we’ve seen the chilling of that and the cooling of that and the changing of that model towards something in which people self-police their own views”.

I couldn’t believe it. That a person of this significance was talking about a similar longing for a different kind of Internet really excited me. At the very least, it made me feel like I wasn’t alone.

“I see you” Avatar (dir. James Cameron, 2009)

A bunch of other pop influences had a big impact on shaping the film. I initially made a lot of reference to things that would have existed in the real world during the time the movie takes place in, most directly with the ballroom dance scene from Final Fantasy VIII. I also drew on Flash animation culture that was popular at the time, especially the tragic romance between two cats, Shii’s Song, a profoundly touching little film.

The #1 influence for the film: The ballroom dance FMV cutscene from Final Fantasy VIII

Other inspirations came from more contemporary sources, but had a direct through-line with the emotional portrait that was starting to unfold in the film. Of particular impact was a scene in the documentary Life 2.0, where a couple moves in together after carrying out an extended romance on Second Life. We see them weeding their back garden, nipping at each other as they descend into an argument. It then shows the woman crying as she describes how he has moved out of the house and back to his native Canada. She says that they still see each other occasionally on Second Life, and it cuts to a shot of the couple ballroom dancing. It hit me how much more appealing this was than real life. A real relationship involves weeding the garden, a virtual relationship lets you ballroom dance from the comfort of your own home. It seems obvious which is more romantic.

The Secret Door

My brother had also sent me a link to a cool site called The Secret Door, where you pass through an old, magical door and are dropped in a random location on Google maps. I desperately wanted to translate this into something cinematic. A friend also sent me a link midway through production to a film called One by Ryan Dell about a couple’s evolving online relationship throughout several eras of OS and chat applications. It completely blew my socks off with its relentless rhythm, incredible (and original) interface design and emotional gut-punch ending. It also made me feel more okay about doing something slow and quiet, since I knew I couldn’t compete. I’d also been a big fan of Daniel Swan’s work and loved the intersection of mundane tech ubiquity with shiny fantasy in the worlds he built.

All of these ideas and influences were swirling and percolating as I resolved the actual sequence of events for Lovestreams. The most exciting part of putting the idea together involved connecting what felt like a bunch of disparate elements into a single cohesive story. It would start with a romantic confession through chat and would then follow a couple coming together in a mystical Internet ballroom dance, and gazing at fireworks on a rooftop bar as the the fantasy crumbles and the real world comes crashing back in.

Inspiration can come from anywhere (Titanic, dir. James Cameron, 1995)

Pre-production

The first step I always take after writing an outline is to do a visual pass of the entire film in less than a day.

First storyboard pass in a crappy notebook.

This is always the hardest part of the process for me. When the film still has infinite possibilities, it can be so hard to make decisions and boil the concepts down to actual images (especially when there’s no spoken dialogue). How well will these images represent all your ideas? The “for my eyes only” pass of the whole movie, purposefully drawn quickly and like shit just to get ideas that have been percolating in my head onto the page, makes this initial leap a lot easier. Once some decisions have been made, it becomes a lot easier to cross it out and try something different, refining towards something that starts to work.

Selections from the first animatic pass.

From here, I take the rough boards to a more refined place in Flash, creating sequences in an actual timeline, and beginning to flesh out the timing. With the rough boards out of the way, this stage also lets you begin to plan what the characters and sets are going to look like. After this, a lot of the stages begin to blur together and overlap as designing, editing, and figuring out the pipeline all start up simultaneously.

Storyboards getting closer to rough animation keyframes

Later on, when the film is already well into production, my revised boards tend to function more as extremely rough key animation that will get animated directly on top of. This kind of end to end flexibility with the writing and boarding process is one of the great benefits of working primarily alone. It allows for changes and adjustments on the fly late into production, and an ability to constantly refine as the actual edit gets tighter and tighter. It always strikes me as totally insane that you would completely nail down everything in preproduction before really knowing how your movie is going to look and feel in the final stages.

Early logo for the Mosaic browser, inspiration for the functionality of the door.

I took the aesthetics and iconography of the early web as a basis for the design of the ballroom. The utopian quality of a lot of the design from this era felt particularly apt for the plot of the film. I wanted the room to feel like it was old and elegant, that the engineering that made it work was electric and mechanical, like the actual wires and meet up rooms that physically power the Internet itself. This was a VIP club for elite Internet users. I also wanted the whole space to feel like a collage of different time periods, as if each user’s experience of the room would be different, based around their particular tastes: a blend of inspiring real locations, and the very best of fantasy or science fiction constructions.

Costume designs by Isabelle Aspin

I reached out to my friend Isabelle Aspin to help with some of the early design explorations for the uniform. I liked the diagonal line across the front as an extremely basic visual metaphor for the types of connections people had in this space, extended across possibly limitless boundaries. I did one final design pass to determine exactly how the uniform would look and be colored in Flash.

Final costume designs

The color coding of the uniforms changed later in production to reflect the functionality of the colors in the chat application, where coloration is subjective depending on the user, with your own avatar appearing red, blue for your partner, and a neutral gray/purple for the other users. The uniform was also meant to reflect the values of the space: futurist and sci-fi inspired (particularly the uniforms from Star Trek, which seemed to strive for a similar ideal) and unisex, allowing anyone to slip into it.

In the first pass of the film, the balcony scene was much more brief. At some point in production, I saw an opportunity to really explore the range of other characters on this rooftop, and expanded the scene to include a beat where we leave our couple and scan across a cast of characters more representative of subconscious projections of people’s personalities.

Shii’s Song, one of the best early Flash films, featuring the Giko cat! I dare you to watch this and not cry.

In casting this scene, I thought about the avatars people used on BBS forums, characters from popular Flash films, and pop culture icons that would have been floating in the digital ether of 2002. The main couple would also transform to the epitome of Internet representation: anime. This also led to designing a sequence with my favorite character in the film, the husky bartender dubbed Doggy T. Husk.

A surprisingly late addition to the film, the resident skybar cocktail master: Doggy T. Husk

By the time this sequence was being worked out, all aspects of production were beginning to stack up, as evidenced in the image below of a messy Flash stage. This not only included the rough layouts, backgrounds and design, it also had a hidden reference layer with the boards for the cocktail making sequence, probably drawn while animating in a moment of inspiration. It was around this point that the film began to feel like a puzzle with only a few pieces missing. As the image became more and more clear, it became increasingly natural which pieces needed to fit into which places to complete the puzzle. For me, this was also the moment that the movie stopped feeling like a confusing mess and started to feel like it was coming together into something. But this is jumping ahead, even though the film technically remained in “pre-production” for a really long time.

New storyboards being drawn on the fly inside a shot late in production. As the film got further along, it felt like getting to the final stages of completing a puzzle, the pieces you needed to complete the image becoming more and more apparent.

The Live Action Shoot

Live action shots that were cut from the final film

Just after the Flash animatic was wrapped up, the first plan of action for entering production involved shooting the live action sequence that bookended the film. This scene was shot at my old house up in Valencia, CA, right near the CalArts campus. It was initially conceptualized as being a lot more elaborate, even revealing the identity of the CherryPie79 character (hedging my bets, I used four different actors to play the part). In the first shoot, I was able to actually boot up my IBM Thinkpad from 2003 and had the actor act out a lot more of the typing. When I cut it together, there were a lot of problems. First, you could barely see the screen, and the text lost all of its emotional impact at such a wide angle. I also didn’t think at all about the continuity of the hands typing, so every cut in closer to the screen looked really terrible.

I decided to reshoot the scene a few months later with more focus on the screen itself, obscuring the identity of the person at the desk (the whole film at this point had become more solid, so I knew better what I was after). Still, most of it was cut out to get the story moving more quickly, and the lack of context ended up being more effective for the concept. Two shots remain from this shoot, one at the very beginning when you see CherryPie79 sit down (which was heavily edited, with the screen, anime poster, and day calendar all added in post) and a random photograph looking down at the keyboard, which ultimately became the opening shot.

The Interface

This sequence was one of the most fun I’ve ever worked on, and was locked in place within a month of the start of production.

The first step was building the interface itself. This was achieved by creating a rigged .PSD file that collaged together screenshots of the old AIM application (which is no longer supported, and cannot be run on a PC anymore) with built in functionality that allowed for the movement and animation of the screen to be manually controlled in After Effects. I’d had some experience creating facsimile recreations of retro computer environments in some of my previous films, so it was possible to recycle some of the elements.

The giant block of chat text in Flash

I then brought a template of this file into Flash, where I animated (through simple keyframing and masks) and timed out all of the text. I wrote a draft of the text in a word document, but ended up doing most of the final writing straight into Flash. This might seem like something that would be more easily controlled in After Effects (it probably is), but I really enjoyed how flexible the Flash timeline was, and how it allowed for a very intuitive way of figuring out the precise timing right there on the fly. I locked in the writing for this sequence early on, and had a relatively finished looking version in the cut for a long time, but edits continued to get made right up until the end. I discovered how much nuance could be inserted into the timing (especially with the “your friend is typing” text appearing and disappearing, and text being written out and then deleted), and I wanted it to feel both realistic, but also as emotionally charged as possible, hoping that the viewer would have butterflies in their stomach from the anticipation. It was a fun challenge getting this all to work while also adhering to the real functionality of the application.

Download the .PSD and .FLA assets for the OS interface

The .FLA containing the text can be opened in any version of Flash, but works best in Flash CS6 (for some mysterious reason).

I also had a chance to take the pacing of the chat sequence for a brief test drive when I made a very NSFW remix from the film You’ve Got Mail in the fall of 2014.

Uploaded under a fake name in case the video came to haunt me

The Look

In my previous film Hopkins & Delaney LLP, I had tried to get as much of the finished look as possible in Flash. In the intervening period, I learned a lot more about compositing, and wanted to allow the Flash elements to remain as flat, simple and “Flash looking” as possible. I would take these elements as raw material that allowed for a lot more flexibility to find the real look later in post. I also wanted to lean in to the idea of a much more digital aesthetic, without a lot of nods to analog textures, as that felt more appropriate for the subject matter.

After some of the character models were locked in, I started the actual animation production with a motion test that included one of the key visual features of the plot: the transforming. Originally, I had planned to have the characters look like they were wearing the scramble suits from A Scanner Darkly, constantly morphing all the time without ever settling on a single identity. I quickly learned that this was untenable for a bunch of reasons, and so for this test I tried out a more simplified morphing style. This was ultimately changed again at literally the last second when I showed a cut to Joe Bennett the day before I was going to animate the first morph and he suggested utilizing the “in browser resolve style of loading images” as a basis. I also used a photograph as a background in the test to save time, but liked the atmosphere it created in contrast to the flat characters.

Two very different types of movement for two characters

When I began animating, I would always work large and on a wide enough composition that would allow for me to “find” the cinematography in post, almost like I was shooting a real scene with a camera (inspired by James Cameron’s virtual cameras in Avatar (not a joke)). I also built out elements in Flash with as much flexibility for layering as possible, since so many textural and lighting elements were being added in post. I posted a couple of GIF sequences showing the progression of animated single shot (from board to keys to rough to final) over on my Tumblr here and here.

Rough animation on a complicated shot with lots of layered limbs
Lifting and tracing to make complex inbetweening much easier in four easy steps

I’m also a big proponent of utilizing the “lift and trace” technique in Flash to make animating complex rotating objects easier. This involves creating a new keyframe for the first pose of the action, dragging it to register right on top of the second pose(usually centered around the most complicated part to inbetween, like a face or hands) and then creating a new blank keyframe for the middle pose, allowing for a much simpler, perfect inbetween. Then delete the repositioned keyframe of the first pose, and move the new inbetween drawing into position between the two key poses. This can be done infinitely and at different intervals, registering any complicated movement or rotation.

Another fun challenge in animating was creating a feel for the movement of “real” characters, and differentiating that from the “cartoon” characters later on. This, combined with the “realness” of the flat 2D interfaces is the kind of stuff that excites me and only me, I think.

Final “raw material” animation coming out of Flash

The Technique

The following section is a tutorial that mainly focuses on the pipeline between Flash and After Effects, and some of the compositing techniques I used to achieve the final look of the film. At the bottom of this section are links to download the Flash and After Effects files that are detailed in the tutorial. Open it up, rip it apart, copy and paste effects from it onto your own project, it’s all fair game!

Animating really big, planning the camera move in Flash with a white 1920X1080 rectangle

As I explained earlier, I would always work really large and Flash, allowing for a lot of flexibility in Flash. In this case, the file is 6000 x 6000 px. I also tried to keep the animation as economical as possible, using the cinematography and atmosphere to extract as much drama as I could while still working in a method that was “cheaper” labor-wise. In this shot in particular, I knew there was going to be a large camera move, so I wanted the real drama to be in the way the camera moved more than any kind of dramatic acting with the character, whose emotional range and action is relatively simple considering how pivotal this shot is in the story.

Balcony background — Flash view

The backgrounds, which were also drawn in Flash, were kept simple with an eye for layering. In this case, nearly every element is exported on separate layers, particularly the color of the wood separated from the lines of the individual planks, which later would be composited with a texture, and the white lines of the light rail, which would be given a small glow.

.swfs dropped into After Effects with a blown out background

The character and background are then brought into After Effects as seperate .SWFs (remember to turn “Include hidden layers” off in the Publish Settings) and re-layered in a composition. A photographic background is added, with a some Hue/Saturation color manipulation and camera lens blur, and then pushed way back in Z space.

Giant raw photo background

For the entire balcony scene, a single background was used in every shot: a giant mega-composite of a cityscape and starry sky, about 4000px wide. This was an incredible time saver that I didn’t think would fly for the final, but ended up working out really well.

A high resolution wood pattern texture is then imported and layered into the background composition, underneath the black lines of the wood but above the flat color layer, and set on “Overlay” blend mode and finally stretched with “Corner Pin” to match the perspective of the blanks of wood.

A little bit of darker dropoff is then added around the edges of the frame using a black solid layer, with a highly feathered radial mask and slightly lowered opacity to get a nice subtle gradient.

Reflections are added into a single comp that is flipped with reduced opacity

Next, reflections are added underneath the wood texture. To avoid that problem where two things at 50% opacity are stacked on top of each other and you can see through the one on top (which makes it look like the character is partly see through), all of the foreground elements are gathered into a single comp, flipped, and the effects are added to the entire composition with a Gaussian Blur and a little bit of reduced opacity (and sometimes a feathered mask to add a little fall off).

Then, a lighting effect is added to give the character a little rim light and make it feel like it’s living in the atmosphere a little more. This technique is kind of hard to explain, but will feel intuitive once you try it once (I learned it from Jason Carpenter).

How the final look should appear in the After Effects panel

First, duplicate the character pre-comp twice, so there are three stacked layers of identical animation. On the second layer, change the track matte to “alpha”, effectively turning the layer above it into a mask the exact same size as the character. Then, apply a Hue/Saturation effect to the middle layer, and turn down the brightness so that it fits in better with the atmosphere of the shot. The whole character will then get darker, since the matte is revealing the entire second layer. Go back to the top matte layer, and reposition it so that it’s slightly offset from the layer below, revealing the brighter layer underneath. I usually soften the hard edge of matte by adding a Gaussian Blur to the top matte layer, slightly blurring the edges of the mask. As the character moves, the mask will automatically wrap with the animation. This effect is also used on nearly every shot on the balcony.

Next, the fireworks are added into the background, and into the reflection pre-comp on the ground. About seven unique firework assets were built by Brian Smee (who helped out with the live action shoot and is terrific animator!).

Fully illuminated with a light blue overlay

Playing with the hue allowed for a lot of the blasts, I would layer bright solid color layers on “overlay” mode over the entire frame. Sometimes, if a blast was meant to look particularly bright, I would go back into the lighting effect from two paragraphs ago and lower the opacity on the middle, darker layer on the character, so it looked like he was momentarily fully illuminated and adding a new level of dynamism to the way the lighting of the fireworks affected the character.

In the next step, I would add big effects on Adjustment Layers that would cover the entire frame. Since this shot was meant to be a POV, I added a Fish Eye Distortion effect to get the warped perspective.

Magic Bullet Looks — Diffusion control panel

As the camera draws back, the fish eye is slowly reduced, from 70.00 to zero, flattening the image back out. This is also the step when I would add a Camera Lens Blur to the outer edges of the frame like a vignette, also on an adjustment layer with a feathered radial mask in the center of the frame on “Invert” mode to allow for a subtle falloff in the focus. Finally, I would use the Magic Bullet plugin “Looks” to add a small amount of diffusion, softening the light. I found this Diffusion effect super critical in selling the atmosphere of the world, as it allowed some of the light and color to bleed and bounce off the characters. It also helped bind the whole image together, setting the flat character further into the photographic world.

Smeary light effects to augment firework explosiions

One of the final light passes involved adding extremely short bursts of bright color to specific fire work explosions, throwing the foreground elements into silhouette. This was achieved by layering bright solid color layers behind the foreground layers and in front of the background layer. These bright flashes would be on screen for only a frame or two.

When they disspear, I would use an adjustment layer with the Magic Bullet “Looks” effects “Anamorphic Flare” and “Shutter Streak” to add a glowing, streaking trail of light behind that kind of looked like a light leak. This effect would also fade after just a couple of frames. The effect is meant to be fast enough that you don’t really see it, but it adds an extra little spice to those particular firework explosions.

Noise and texture added to create the final image

The final step involves adding a couple of finshing textural touches over the entire frame. First is the “Noise capture” effect called Holy Grain. Holy Grain is a proprietary resource of high resolution quicktime files that can be overlayed on the frame to give it a moving noisy grain. Using the “35mm stock” allows for a super subtle grain that helps keep the image alive. The “Noise” effect in After Effects also works great for this, but I tried to keep this effect fairly subtle, as “film simulation” effects can look cheesy really easily if they’re too loud.

Watercolor texture on “overlay” across the entire image

I would then add a looping watercolor texture over the entire image. The loop is just the same texture flipped and rotated around, constantly fading in and out of itself so that textural registration points aren’t as visible, but the fade is also subtle enough to not draw too much attention to itself. I like this effect because it breaks up the light and adds a dynamic movement to static color solids and flat color from Flash. I tried to avoid using textures that made reference to paper, but this was a nice solution to things feeling too flat.

Download the entire project folder here

Includes .FLA and .AEP files, as well as all dependencies All files are formatted to the most current version of Adobe CC. If you need an earlier version, write me an email. I’ve also removed the Holy Grain files as they are both large and proprietary. A simple replacement for this is to use the “Noise” effect.

The Music

When this project was still just a kernel of an idea, I knew that music was going to be a huge part of it. I really liked the work that Skillbard had been doing, particularly on Alex Grigg’s film from the previous edition of Late Night Work Club Phantom Limb, and a whole bunch of other amazing films. I wrote them a message and pitched them on the idea, which at that point felt really weird and out there and not even remotely formed (I described a lot of the reference material and images from the time period that inspired me). Skillbard responded recommending the film could have an Enya style waltz, and that they were on board. I felt right then that this was a perfect match and that I had really lucked out.

During production, I used a couple of temp tracks to help me with the rhythm of the edit, and I got nervous that I was falling into a trap where I would get too used to the temp music and feel disappointed when I heard the real music. Boy, was I wrong. When I heard the first sketch that Skillbard put together of the main theme of the film, I was completely blown away. On my end, the process of building and refining the music was a total joy, every new version Skillbard sent was a total revelation, finding beats in the edit that I had never imagined. This whole section is basically just a huge endorsement of Skillbard, they were really wonderful to work with and make inspired music and sound. They were also juggling two other Late Night Work Club films at the same time, and pulled off an incredible amount of work in an extremely limited time.

You can also hear Sophie Koko Gate, an amazing animator, doing the vocals on the track. They even cut together an “Album Version” of the song, which can be downloaded along with the other LNWC tracks they did over on their Bandcamp page.

The Release

Lovestreams was originally released as part of the second anthology of films from Late Night Work Club titled “Strangers”. I’m a big proponent of using the build up to a film release as an excuse to get creative. It can be extremely hard and grating to self-promote too much as a single independent artist, but if you’ve worked this hard on a project and really given it your all, why not give it the energy it deserves in trying to get people to watch it? No one else will fight for your film as strongly as you. This may all be a justification to myself for spending so much time making a bunch of extras little goodies, but hey, it was also fun to do!

AIM profile for SumrEvryDay

Similar to Hopkins & Delaney LLP, I wanted to create a kind of meta-textual lead up to the events of the film, and build a miniature storyline showing the progression of the relationship between the two characters, from the first conversation to the moments just before the film starts. I had some fun with this on Tumblr here and here, but it wasn’t getting a lot of traction. I also did some GIFs in the style of old Buddy Icons, but it just wasn’t hitting the kind of engagement or interaction that I wanted for the film.

50 Smiley Portraits

In the middle of production, I started drawing little self-portraits where I replaced my face with one of the default AIM smiley emoticon faces. I was using them as profile pictures on Twitter and Facebook. I had them all contained in a single Flash file, and when I got up to four, I made a little looped GIF cycling through all the different outfits. I decided to reach out and see if anyone else wanted one to make the loop bigger. At first, I had to ask friends for photos and explicitly request that they set them as their profile pictures. After doing about ten, they finally started to get traction as people began updating their profile pictures and other friends started to take notice. In the end, I did about 50. It proved to be a nice way to promote the film because it didn’t involve me posting over and over and it was fun to do portraits for people, especially people I only kind of knew or didn’t know at all, and send it back to them like a little gift. Seeing a flood of these pictures on my timeline was also a great feeling, a constant reminder that the independent animation community is incredibly kind and supportive.

A sampling of some of my favorite Smileys

I devised a plan with my friend Calvin Frederick (a great animator and also a former bartender!) to come up with a cocktail recipe that would match the look of the cocktail in the film. We busted out his old Betacam, and with the assistance of Rachel Ho (my partner in crime) and Grace Nayoon Rhee (once more, another fantastic animator), we shot an instructional video with the real life bartender Doggy T. Husk. It’s a real drink and it tastes good and it actually does glow bright blue like that. Rachel pulled some last minute heroics in editing this video together, since she is the master editor (she also did a fair amount of the editing on my 2018 demo reel).

The Official Lovestreams Keyboard Decal

Rachel and I also teamed up again to design and print custom Lovestreams keyboard decals, with a bunch of the faces from the film printed on tiny stickers that can wrap the keys of a keyboard (or can just be used as regular stickers). The proceeds for the sales were all donated to the ACLU and Planned Parenthood. There are still some left too!

The Conclusion

Putting this film together had its moments of fun and gratification, but it was also really difficult struggle a lot of the time. When I first started, I was working full time on the animated sequences in the documentary He Named Me Malala. I would rush home after work and try to put in a few hours of work on Lovestreams before bed. I found myself getting really frustrated: not only was the work I was producing cheap and sloppy, I was just completely outside the head space to dig in deep on a big project like this. Breakthroughs usually come for me when I’m fully immersed in something, and only finding the time for little bite-size hobby chunks never let me really wrap my head around the film. It was stalling big time, and for the final four months of Malala production, I completely stopped working on it.

I got booked after that working on another commercial project, a drug scene from the Zac Efron movie We Are Your Friends, that I spent about two months on. As the production on that was wrapping up, I knew I had enough of a financial runway that I would be able to take time off and really focus on Lovestreams. Throughout all of We Are Your Friends, I kept thinking about how fun and satisfying it was going to be to dig back into my personal work. But then, when all the stars aligned and I finally had a whole summer to work on Lovestreams and not worry about anything else, I wanted to die. I forgot how hard it was to really invest yourself in personal work. When you start to feel like the movie sucks or is stupid, there is no one to blame but yourself, all of the insecurity came rushing back. And, even though I didn’t have an immediate need to take on any commercial work, it was incredibly hard to justify working on this project over paid work. I constantly felt like a total loser and suspected that all my friends thought my career was floundering and that I couldn’t find work (this might be a symptom of living in Los Angeles, or just my personal insecurity, or both).

It took me about six months of working really hard on the project to begin to feel like it was worth it. Now that it’s all over, I can say that it was definitely all worth it. Even if everyone hated it, by the end of the process, it felt like I could justify the project to myself, and that was the only thing that really mattered. I think I just needed to have the illusion smashed that working on personal projects is fun and constantly satisfying. It’s a totally different value metric compared to commercial projects, because so much more of yourself is on the line, which is also why it’s worth doing it in the first place. A friend who I really respect gave me a piece of advice at a critical moment when I was feeling down during production. He said, “This is supposed to be hard, it’s like shoveling shit. If you want to have fun, you should go masturbate”.

Thanks to everyone for supporting the film and reading this long post, I hope you found some parts useful. If you have any questions, especially about anything unclear in the tutorial section or any other technical questions, please write me an email or hit me up on Twitter. Now I’m off to make something new!

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