Welcome to Thanks, I Love It, our series highlighting something onscreen we’re obsessed with this week.
If Anything Happens I Love You is a gutting animated film about loss. In 12 minutes, we see two parents living through the aftermath of their young child’s death, a small glimpse into a stretching ocean of roiling grief.
It is instantly affecting, opening on a scene of the parents sitting at opposite ends of a long table, picking at dinner. Their bodies are hunched and silent, drawn in a sketch-like style, while their thoughts and emotions play out combatively above them.
The sketch-like line art style feels like a connective tissue between the short film and reality. By seeing these people go through these motions, walk through their house, tap into these memories of their child, and simultaneously seeing the hand-drawn labor that went into creating their figures, it made them feel more tangible.
Youngran Nho, animator and animation director of If Anything Happens I Love You, wove this style into the film to accentuate the emotions of the characters, she told Mashable.
“Because the film is really vulnerable and raw-feeling, I also wanted to make it look very raw and somehow unfinished, just like sketches,” she said.
It works so well on the parents and the daughter in their memories of her, instantly stirring emotions. The family’s cat, too, with its black form and warm, inquisitive demeanor has this added quality that made me connect with it as if it was one of my own cats and the inherent, depressing unknowing of what it’s able to process in its mind.
For an added dose of texture on the film, the backgrounds are comprised of watercolor on paper that’s been scanned in, giving it more of that raw feeling Nho said she was reaching for. The backgrounds themselves, largely empty and almost vacuous, bring a kind of emptiness that fills these grieving parents.
“I tried to imagine how they would feel,” Nho said. “I felt empty inside. I felt empty. I wanted to make the film with minimum background, minimum color, very empty. I think that represents how they feel.”
She juxtaposes these characters with their “shadows,” these cartoony, dark representatives of their emotions, inner dialogues, and souls. They make a strong contrast with the corporeal world.
Nho was brought on to work on If Anything Happens I Love You while she was a student at CalArts, after the script was written. The writers and directors Michael Govier and Will McCormack reached out to Nho’s teacher looking for an animator and Nho was recommended.
When Nho read the script, she said it reminded her of the animated short film Father and Daughter — her favorite animation — which won an Oscar in 2000.
“The animation is almost black and white and really simple, but you can feel the emotions, the vibes of the characters,” she said of Father and Daughter. “It’s a very simple, concise and meaningful art style.”
When she told Govier and McCormack this, they were excited to hear it because they were thinking of that style too in relation to their own film.
“We high fived and were like, ‘Let’s do it!'” she said.
Until she got the job, she was unsure if she would make it as an animator in the United States because her style didn’t match the more popular Disney and Pixar styles of the country. She was getting ready to move back to Korea. But McCormack and Govier really liked her portfolio.
“I’m just so grateful that even though I’m not American cartoony Pixar style, people think my art direction is interesting,” Nho said. “So I’m going to keep doing this. I’m going to make this style my style.”
If Anything Happens I Love You is available to stream now on Netflix.