Though the world of animation has come a long way in terms of diversity and presenting in-depth issues, we still have a long way to go. Luckily, shows like Steven Universe, and movies like Home give kids and adults alike a warm view of what happens when you present more diverse and honest issues: LGBTQIAP+ themes, characters of color who deny stereotypes, and issues of class. However, these mainstream animations are often censored and restricted by their popular status, which means the door is wide open for independent animators to take their own ideas forward, unapologetically, with no restrictions, and ever-so-originally.
One of these independent animators I speak of is Clara Horst, a BFA2 student in Character Animation at CalArts, and an altogether lovely person who has a very heartwarming short film to share with us. Her film Erika and Anju is an adorable yet thought provoking short about girls, anxiety, and love.
The film so thoughtfully demonstrates how painful living with anxiety can be, how it can affect relationships, as well as how it impacts day-to-day activities that other people wouldn’t even think twice about. The soft animation style and the natural voice acting also makes the film comforting to watch, which is really what you need if you deal with anxiety on a day to day basis, as I do myself. I recently had the honor of chatting with Clara about her short film, and what inspired her to create it.
FEMBOT: Thank you so much for speaking with us about your wonderful short film! How are you today?
CLARA: It’s a pleasure! I’m doing really great today, I actually just got back from an artwork review with my professors. It’s a mandatory check-in you do at the end of your second year here at my school, and you (ideally) show them your growth from first year to second year. It was wild to try to reflect on all of my artistic successes and failures of two years over 45 minutes! But overall, I’m kind of feeling a nice end-of-year catharsis.
F: According to your Tumblr, Erika and Anju is semi-autobiographical, how so? What/who inspired the story?
C: So, primarily, Erika is based pretty heavily on me. The flashes of potential disasters that she imagines in various scenarios are exactly the kind of things I experience, and I wanted to try to portray this on film. More even than dealing with anxiety, she’s a high-schooler coming to terms with being queer. Erika’s main obstacles are just what I was dealing with at 17, too. Erika’s personality also draws from some of my closest female friends who have gone through similar experiences as me. Anju’s personality is also a composite of some of my close friends, namely ones who have played an important role of support in my life. Interestingly enough, I conceived of this story before I started dating my current girlfriend, but as the story developed bits of her personality and mannerisms began to creep into how I wrote Anju! For most of my life I was scared of writing stories that were too personal or characters that were too much like me, both out of embarrassment and fear of making myself vulnerable. So this film is one of the first times I’ve really allowed myself to write a story with so many personal elements. It was a bit scary, but rewarding.
F: Your film displays anxiety in a very graphic way, with Erika visualizing the worst possible outcomes of daily tasks, can you tell us a little about why you wanted to demonstrate her panic in such a visual and literal manner?
C: So as I mentioned above, I experience these kind of thoughts too (often called intrusive thoughts), and it was important to me to portray my experience to my audience in a way that was clear. I needed to try to make them feel the way I do. It was tricky, because when I’m imagining a scenario it doesn’t just play in front of my eyes as if it were a movie, but that’s the thing– I am literally creating a short movie. I decided that I would create the majority of the film digitally (in a program called TVPaint) and I would create the intrusive thoughts traditionally with watercolor on paper. I hoped that the shift in medium, color, and style would be jarring to the audience, to simulate some of the unpleasantness of anxiety. I was really glad that I got to experiment with animating in different mediums for this particular challenge.
F: Do you have any plans to expand Erika and Anju into a series, or create similar films that deal with neurodivergent issues?
C: Hard to say! I’ve spent a long time with these characters, and I’ve developed a lot more about them than what we see in the short. I don’t know what form a project with them would take (comic, film, etc), but I know I’ll keep drawing them! As for projects that deal with neurodivergent issues, I also can’t say for sure. But it is important to me, so it’s likely!
F: What feedback have you had since the film went public? Have you had any positive and/or negative comments about the LGBTQIAP+, racial, and neurodivergent aspects of the video?
C: The feedback has been amazing! It’s actually not what I was expecting: as I was pitching this story to my teachers and my friends I got a lot of response about the romance aspect, like whether they expected it by the end, whether they thought it was cute, things like that. But once I posted it online, the response was almost entirely about the mental illness aspect. I’ve gotten such amazing messages from people, saying that my film made them feel less alone, or even that they can use my film to explain what they experience to others! That’s so amazing and I never would’ve expected a fraction of such a positive response. As for negativity, I haven’t actually seen a mean comment yet anywhere that I’ve posted the video. I’ve seen what people can do when they’re hiding behind anonymity, so the fact that nobody has brought unnecessary negativity to my film yet is GREAT.
F: What advice would you give to any budding animators in our audience who would like to create a diverse and personal project like this?
C: Oh gosh, I could think of a ton that was useful to me over the years…I’ll try to keep it to four here!
1. I would say first and foremost keep the “comparing yourself to others” to a minimum. Only do it if your intention is to analyze your own work and set realistic goals, otherwise you risk just tearing yourself down.
2. Next, if you’re an aspiring animator you probably already do this, but carrying around a sketchbook is super helpful. Draw a TON. Draw not just from your mind but also from what you observe around you. Draw plants in your hometown or draw your family. Set small goals in your sketchbook and see if you can reach them.
3. While it’s true that drawing a lot really fast can quicken your improvement, it’s not always that simple. Art improvement is always a combination of creation and then reflection. Be thoughtful and healthy about how fast you go, and burnout can happen to some people. Be healthy, drink that agua!
4. I know it can be hard, but do your best not to be ashamed of what you like and what is truly important to you! Whether it’s the music you like or the kind of social topics you care about, that’s you! Shame and fear and embarrassment are gonna try to stop you from making beautiful and personal films, but you gotta try to crush them! I still deal with it too, it’s a process of course, but that is my advice to you! You can do it!
You can find more of Clara’s work on her Tumblr, INPRINT gallery, and online portfolio.