Inspired by her real-life experiences, Lin Tam’s animated short Friendship celebrates the beauty of a lasting human connection. We recently caught up with young filmmaker to find out more about her project, which has won several awards and has made the round of indie animation festivals around the world over the past year. Here is what she told us:
Animation Magazine: Can you tell us a bit about your background and interest in animation?
Lin Tam: My background is a combination of entertainment and technology. I’ve always loved the convergence of using technology and entertainment to tell heartfelt stories. A majority of my career has been bridging these two worlds to push the envelope in storytelling. From mobile gaming to AR/VR projects, I always found myself at this intersection in discovering new ways of emotional storytelling that impacts the audience. During this exploration, I saw firsthand how animation was the glue that took creative stories to a whole new level.
Animation has a way of disarming adults to being kids again, it brings joy to kids, and gives us a sense of wonder in storytelling. I could build a fantasy world in animation and have chocolate fountains sprinkled with candy in the sky that the audience would believe is normal since it’s part of this imaginary world. That’s what I love about animation! There are no limits to how creative you can be. The creators have the opportunity to make literally anything they want in animation to help drive the stories they tell.
When did you begin working on Friendship?
Friendship started at the height of COVID in 2020. The idea came to me when the world was on lockdown and everybody was told to have social distance from each other. I thought about how a year ago (2019) I was surrounded by loved ones and friends. And then in 2020, everyone was afraid to be near each other or have any contact whatsoever.
This got me thinking about the friends in my life; how some friends came in for a season, some for a reason and only a handful lasted the test of time. I noticed how the “test of time” between ups and downs either strengthens a bond or breaks a friendship. I realized that not all friendships are meant to last, but the ones that do are priceless … and honoring those lifelong commitments are the basis for the short film. From this seed, I started writing the outline of Friendship.
How long did it take to make?
The entire process from script to production took a little over a year to complete. It took me about three months from outline to script to write Friendship. After finishing the initial draft, I took the script out to focus groups around the world to see how the the story would resonate with others. I learned that no matter what the geography or nationality, Friendship hit an emotional note with the audience.
It was truly wonderful to hear that reading the script inspired some people to reach out to long lost friends, how rewarding it was catching up on life landmarks and challenges. But what was most impactful to me was hearing that some people reconnected with long lost friends just in time to draw them out of loneliness, depression and suicidal thoughts. That, to me, fueled the fire to make this film.
Once the final script was completed, I started exploring the various designs of the characters. I wanted the characters to have a unique and heart-warming expression. I was inspired by the cartoon styles of the 1990s such as Hey Arnold, Powerpuff Girls, Pinky and the Brain and many more.
How many people worked on it and which animation tools did you use?
The entire team for Friendship was between 10-15 people depending on what needed to be done during the entire process. We had a mixture of 2D and 3D animators for this project. We used Toon Boom, Autodesk 3ds Max, After Effects and Photoshop.
What was the inspiration behind the story?
The inspiration for this short film is based on me and my childhood friend. We’re very different in ethnicities and personalities. We met in high school, went through adolescent milestones together, we grew apart and reconnected again through the twists and turns of life. To this day, regardless of geography or time, we still manage to keep in touch. And when we do reconnect, it’s as if time never passed. We pick up where we left off. That to me is a true testament of a great friendship.
What do you love about the final results?
I love the stylistic look of the short film, which is 2.5D animation. The characters are 2D, but the backgrounds and assets are 3D giving it a visually unique look that bridges these two animation styles. I also love the retro nostalgia feel to the short film. I wanted to create an environment that the audience would gravitate towards thinking about their childhood friends. A reminiscent down memory lane during an age of innocence where all that mattered was hanging out with your friends.
What were your biggest challenges?
Because Friendship has no dialog, the auditory emotion of the story had to be carried through music. Although it was a lofty goal for an independent short to compose live orchestrated music, I knew this was the only way to express the passion and emotion I wanted to capture in Friendship compared to pre-laid tracks.
I spent hundreds of hours watching other animated films that also relied heavily on music, and when I came across Joaquin Garcia’s reel I knew it was a match. Joaquin listened intently to my direction, working diligently from my own stitched music track of the animatic. I recall how excited I was when Joaquin brought in an electric guitarist to one of our early work sessions. I appreciated that energy and focus he carried throughout the entire project. What made this music a challenge was creating the various melodies and instruments during the transitional stages of their lives. It took many rewrites and iterations, but in the end we managed to get the stylistic feel of the music to help carry the storytelling.
What do you hope audiences will get from your short?
I hope this film gives viewers the joy of reminiscing and inspiring them to reconnect with friendships in their own lives; perhaps even preventing depression caused by loneliness. Friendship’s theme is that connection and bonding are a basic human need that we all crave for regardless of geography, age or ethnicity. It’s about how one friend can truly make an impact in your life.
What are you working on next?
I am working on a demo pilot to pitch Friendship as a TV animated series. I believe there are so many stories to be told between the characters and their friends during their self-discovery in school and in life. I would love for a network/streamer to take on this project, given the interest we’d had from film festival audiences. We need more inclusive stories told by female creators that speak to unrepresented communities that are rarely seen in animation. I am also working on another short film that will push real-time animation and AI to the next level of storytelling. We are in early stages of development for this project.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from the experience of making your short that you can pass on to future filmmakers?
If you have a story to tell, start the process. Don’t wait for permission to do it. Do one small thing at a time. Start with the outline, then work on the script. By taking baby steps this helps you believe it’s possible to make your short film a reality. Before you know it, you’ll attract others who want to be part of your project. I turned a lot of naysayers to believers as I continued to move forward regardless of what people thought. Soon enough, several of them wanted to be part of this project since they saw how much progress and passion I had in my film. You have to believe in your project and be your biggest cheerleader. No one else can do it for you.
You can find out more at friendshipshort.com.