After earning a Bafta nomination and winning best short at the British Animation Awards, Will Anderson has released his film Have Heart in full online. It follows a beleaguered animated gif as he endures an existential crisis, stuck in a loop on the internet. Visually simple yet profoundly innovative, the animation comments on a world of infinite content and how we measure our own self worth via social media, all through the character arc of its protagonist, Duck.
“I wanted to talk about what it’s like being alive online,” Will tells It’s Nice That, “so telling the story from the point of view of a looping bit of content made sense to me. I feel like on social media there is a constant clamouring for attention, where everyone has stats and ‘likes’ or ‘loves’ that seem to matter a great deal to us.
“I like the idea as an animator to use simplicity to communicate complex emotional ideas, and I find it exciting that with just a few simple shapes you can create characters that have feelings, and can tell a story about us.” Will was working at a design company in Glasgow when he began to work on the film on the side, during his commute back and forth from Edinburgh. As he tells it, he “put some shapes together and started moving them around… this ended up being the opening loop of the film. I posted him on Twitter and started thinking about what it must be like for him to be trapped there, endlessly looping.”
This concept was then elaborated to create a whole story around his gif character’s supposed life, and what made him tick. Duck questions his job, his relationship and his place in the world, and discovers he’s missing something. “I pitched it to people like it was The Truman Show set on an iPad!” Will says. At one pivotal moment, Duck tries to escape his own screen, a Matrix-esque moment where he steps outside his world. “It’s the equivalent of crossing the Kármán Line… the point of no return. But he can’t cross it, it’s beyond him, and he glitches and stalls before leaving him broken, in pieces on the ground.”
Will made the film chronologically without a storyboard, animatic or script, aiming to explore Duck’s world in a spontaneous, improvisational way. “I liked the idea of not knowing what was round the corner, which is at odds with how a lot of animation is made.” Instead his tools of choice were a sketchbook and Illustrator, seeing both canvasses as a stage. There are no cuts, only swipes left and right, and pinches zooming in and out. “That made visual sense to me if I was going to tell a story about a digital space, a space which our brains all have got used to recently on phones and tablets.”
Have Heart’s visual simplicity not only emphasises this digital theme, but helps focus our attention on the story and characters. Will also explains that it mirrors the fragility of our virtual existence. “I like its sparsity and that it’s all made of building blocks, multiplying with each other. Everything just holds together in delicate balance, like me, you and everyone around us online, and perhaps in our lives as well.”