For my short film, I knew I wanted to tell a queer story that had never been told before. Growing up LGBT+ in the 2000's and 2010's, I didn't have a ton of representation of people like me to reference, and so I made it my mission as a gay artist to produce work that could help other young queer individuals feel more comfortable living in a world that's so often catered to straight and cisgendered people. At this point in society, we have a lot more queer stories to look through, which is great!
However, I noticed that a majority of LGBT+ stories are focused on the romantic escapades of queer individuals, rather than friendships and familial relationships-- and the stories focused on familial relationships were almost ALWAYS coming out stories! While these are awesome places to start, the lives of queer people have so many more complexities. There are cultural aspects to being LGBT+ that make it such a unique experience, and this often translates into situations relating to family.
To tell a queer story about family, I started by looking into my own personal life and what makes my experience being LGBT+ different than other stories that have been told already. I had always been distant from my extended family at reunions, even before I came out as gay. I never really understood what was missing until I had an older cousin that came out as trans and began his transition. It turns out, a lot of what was missing was just having another person who shared my odd interests, and the straight members of my family just weren't up to the task.
Unfortunately, my cousin passed away when I was in high school due to mental health issues, and so I found myself grasping for straws at family events once more. I realized at this moment how lucky I was that I had another queer person in my family, even if for a little bit. I realized something that no one really talks about in LGBT+ media is the loneliness that queer individuals can feel in a family where they can't see themselves represented in anyone else.
This is where I got the original concept for my short film, Gay Cousin!
A young queer girl attends the funeral of the family's "gay cousin," but her mourning process is interrupted by a particularly annoying family member.
A young queer girl named Tofu is attending a funeral after recently coming out. Her goal? Get through the wake in one piece so she can give her eulogy during the service. She wants to talk to as few well-meaning-but-slightly-homophobic family members as she possibly can. The only thing consistently in her way is her cousin, Socks, who can’t seem to leave her alone. After several attempts to get rid of him, she snaps and tells him to bug off, then goes to give her eulogy. While she gives it, we find out that the funeral was for her only other queer family member– her older queer cousin Almond. As she gives her eulogy, she realizes that she was a total jerk to her Socks earlier, and goes to find him. When she finds him, she notes that he has rainbow socks hidden under his slacks. The two begin a conversation as the screen fades out to the credits.
My initial idea with characters was that I needed to use shape language to convey their personalities right away. I wanted Tofu to be sharper and have more triangular features so she would read as more bitter and edgy, and I wanted Socks to have rounder features, so he would appear cuter and nicer!
First passes of character turnarounds and expressions
I wanted them to feel a little looser, so I decided to play around with different brush types and action poses:
I was inspired by recent Pixar and Sony visual development work on movies like Turning Red and Mitchells vs The Machines when I thought of how to handle these poses. I wanted them to feel unconstrained, so I could focus on emotion and silhouette.
I also used this as an opportunity to explore what kinds of outfits Tofu would wear outside of the short film. What kind of person is she when she's not with her family? What parts of herself is she repressing?
My first set of storyboards were done just to lay out the beats of my story, and so I could get a feel of how long it would be, in case I needed to change/rework the story at all.