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Twin Sparks: An Interview with Ollie Yao, Heather Yun

Please tell us about the projects you worked on before making ‘Twin Sparks’. How did you start, and how did you learn to make animation?

            We both became interested in animation from an early age, and ended up attending the School of Visual Arts for their 3D Animation program. In our first year, we teamed up to create a class assignment about a cube character who gets trapped in a video game, which was super fun to make. Since then, we've also collaborated on another 3D animated short film titled Outgrow, created during the beginning of the global pandemic. Outgrow focused on the feeling of maturing and outgrowing the place you spent your childhood in, a fitting topic since many of us students had to return to our parents' houses over the pandemic.


Tell us about ‘Twin Sparks’. How do you describe it?

            Twin Sparks is a film inspired by co-director Ollie Yao's experience growing up transgender, however the two of us worked together to develop the story into something that could be universally understood. Our character learns that that new scary part of yourself is what makes you you, and it’s absolutely important not to lose it.


Please tell us about your favorite animators.

            There were many different influences that we drew upon for this project. We really admired Pixar director Domee Shi (Turning Red) for her unapologetic way of showcasing her culture and upbringing, while always ensuring it's bright and fun. Tyrus Wong, visual development artist on Disney's Bambi, created these soft and ethereal forest backgrounds that were a huge inspiration for our set designs. Recent films Into the Spiderverse and Nimona were also great inspirations in terms of the look of the project.


If you were given a good budget, what would be your ideal project?

            We would be really excited to work on a short form series, since content like that can experiment with many different visual styles and looks. Episodic writing is also very different from short film writing, which often has to borrow from existing narratives in order to get its point across in a small period of time. With episodics, you are allowed time to develop a point, which can often result in something more powerful.


Describe how you would ensure that production is on schedule. What steps would you take?

            Twin Sparks was our senior thesis film, which meant we got a lot of support from the school department and our advisors to keep ourselves on schedule. Working in a small team is great, because you can keep each other accountable. We would always brainstorm ways to make things faster and more efficient, so that we wouldn't be wasting time redoing work.


What was the hardest part of making ‘Twin Sparks’.

            The hardest part for us was definitely how constant it was. Since it was our only focus for a year, we woke up every day thinking about the film, constantly asking ourselves what we had to do that day to get to our next milestone. It was a level of dedication to a single project that neither of us have experienced since.


If possible, tell us about your next work. What plans do you have for your future work?

            We've gone our separate ways a bit after completing Twin Sparks, but would love to collaborate on a project again someday! We would love to do more films that engage with LGBT content, while potentially exploring other mediums such as 2D animation or stop motion.


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