KIM BOEKBINDER remembers precisely when she fell in “like.”
It was March of 2010, and Boekbinder — the Canadian-native musician who also goes by “the Impossible Girl” (after her first solo album) — was working on a project in New York with noted American illustrator/entrepreneur Molly Crabapple. They had decided to make a short stop-motion film set to Boekbinder’s jaunty, accordion-propelled song “The Organ Donor’s March,” and they needed someone to animate their Victorian tale of poor, pretty Cora, a young organ recipient.
Through Twitter, Crabapple (aka Jennifer Caban — co-founder of the Brooklyn-sprung cabaret/drawing show Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School ) — discovered Australian animator Jim Batt. As so, on that March day in 2010, through the borderless power of Skype, Boekbinder first set eyes on Batt. Two talented artists, both then in their early 30s. It was almost love at first Skype.
“I knew I liked Jim Batt from the first Skype meeting,” the pink-and-blond-coiffed Boekbinder says of the scruffy Melbourne-based illustrator and puppeteer. “He was so smart and cute and cool. Mostly, it was the smarts that got my attention. But look how cute he is!”
(Don’t believe us? Boekbinder offers video proof. “Every time I see this,” the musician says, “I notice how cute he is, and how much I’m smiling.”)
Thing is, it’s not as if they were just going to jump into a cross-global fling. Getting to know each other gradually, online, at first suited both of them just fine.
“Jim and I would chat on gmail, since both of us worked online a lot,” Boekbinder recalls to Comic Riffs. “We probably spent more time together in chats than if we’d been in the same city and not online. We got to know each other really well, in a very relaxed way. And we would Skype, [at] first about the animation, but then about other things: creative projects, life goals, philosophy, art, film, music.
“We were both single at the time,” Boekbinder continues. “And I was very happy to be focusing on the writing and recording of my first solo album, without the distraction of a relationship. So even though I liked him, it was also nice that he was far away -- and at first it was just a great crush that wouldn’t go anywhere because of the distance.”
“There was a definite spark for me right from the start,” Batt remembers, “but basically, our Skype meetings just got longer and longer, and less and less about the actual project. Because we both spend a lot of our time working on laptops, we’d kind of just be chatting together all day, alongside whatever else we were doing. In those first few months, it was a bit like having an imaginary friend -- this person who I talked to all the time, but that none of my friends could see or really understand.”
Some weeks later, though, the digital relationship reached a fork in a road.
“One day,” Boekbinder recounts, “I said over Skype: ‘I like you as more than just an animator.’ “
“And then, as we talked more and more, we started to finish each other’s sentences and realized we had this really deep, creative connection that needed to be acted on.”
Batt waxes philosophic about that turning point.
“There was a key point -- the night of my birthday, actually -- when it became clear that if we didn’t at least try to see how we got along in person, then we’d probably regret not finding out for the rest of our lives,” Batt tells us.
“It’s not often the universe puts these kinds of moments in your path -- our meeting from opposite sides of the world was such a rare and unlikely occurrence — and if you want to live an interesting life, you’ve just got to grab it.”
IF BOEKBINDER AND BATT were going to discover what they really had, exactly, someone was going to need to take the leap and travel.
“About four months after our first Skype meeting, I decided to fly to Australia so we could make more music videos for my album,” Boekbinder tells Comic Riffs. “We’d spoken about how we had romantic feelings for each other, but that once we met in person, those might go away. But we knew that we would at least be really great friends. And we wanted to collaborate.”
And so on July 4, the American transplant boarded a plane to head Down Under. She knew it’d be a long flight — she just didn’t know how incredibly long, or frightening..
“It was an epic journey -- like a mythical quest, really,” Boekbinder recalls. “Seven hours sitting ... inside a plane on a runway, while a massive thunderstorm raged around us with lightning striking the plane . The most terrifying flight of my life. A 24-hour delay. Sleeping on airport floors. ... It really was like an epic quest to get him.”
Fifty-two hours later, on July 6, they finally met in person for the first time.
“When I finally arrived, we were both so excited and nervous,” Boekbinder says. “And it was fantastically life-changing. I felt in those first few weeks that layers of me were being peeled away to reveal new things that I didn’t even know about myself.
“That loving and being loved so wholeheartedly and without fear was making a new ‘me’ possible.”
The couple spent a month together in Melbourne, then Batt came to visit Boekbinder in New York. “We’ve gone back and forth like that since then,” she says. “Talking online everyday, of course.”
THE PROJECT had brought a couple together. Now all three artists needed to bring a film together.
The animated short would be titled, “I Have Your Heart,” and would feature Crabapple’s Victorian-parlor aesthetic — from hemlines to bow lines to roguish felines — as curly-headed Cora’s sometime-tragic tale unfurled.
They knew they needed financial support, and decided that crowdfunding would be the best way. They sought $7,000; in April of 2011, their Kickstarter campaign exceeded their goal, raising more than $17,000 from more than 400 backers.
The “Have Your Heart” braintrust also knew they wanted the look and feel of hand-crafted stop-motion.
“The story we wanted to tell was so much about the physical world,” Boekbinder says. “About hearts beating, and feeling real things, that it just made so much more sense to make the animation outside of the computer as much as possible.”
“Animation on a project like this takes incredible patience -- focusing on putting one frame in front of another, without looking up at the seemingly endless task that lies ahead ... ,” Batt tells Comic Riffs.
“I genuinely enjoy every aspect of making a stop-motion film,” says Batt, who used Dragon Stop Motion software and a Canon 7D camera., “crafting the entire world piece by piece, solving the challenges in each shot, learning the animation quirks that give each puppet their own personality, cleaning up the frames in post-production.
“But what I’ve always loved about stop-motion is the constant shimmer of life that lurks in everything -- a subtle shiver that makes it feel like anything could spring into action at any point. It’s especially apparent in the works of the Bolex Brothers and the Brothers Quay. And you get this for free in stop-motion, just by the way light interacts with physical objects, in subtle and unexpected movements -- whereas in a computer, you have to work hard to create the illusion of the same.
“A sort of digital CPR, to keep everything looking alive.”
“Jim is a wonderful visual storyteller,” the art genre-leaping Boekbinder says, “and the way the light hits the paper -- the way everything moves and folds and bends in real space -- is something that just can’t be simulated. All those little ‘mistakes’ or limitations that arise because you are working in the physical world become the strength of the piece.”
In stitching together their film, Batt and Boekbinder found that the artmaking continued to strengthen their bonds -- like rendering heartstrings that somehow fuse into a sailor’s ever-looping knot.
“It was clear from the beginning, writing the script for ‘I Have Your Heart,’ that we both really like the same kind of ideas, the same kind of story patterns and aesthetics,” Batt tells us. “It was a constant process of sparking off each other, a feedback loop of creativity.
“We also tend to have very ambitious concepts,” he continues, “and both [of us] will always happily escalate an idea, make it bigger, even more epic and ambitious. Which is bound to get us in trouble one day...”
LAST NOVEMBER, the three artists released their darkly whimsical love story to the masses. The masterful “I Have Your Heart” quickly found a passionate fandom, racking up praise and hundreds of thousands of views.
For the couple, the act of presenting their brainchild to the world summoned mostly joyful emotions.
“While I have certainly felt that particular bittersweet emotion when releasing other works, this one has been so long in the making that all I am feeling now is the thrill,” Boekbinder told us in November. “I’m so proud of all the work and patience and paper cuts.”
“Watching this film, it’s almost like looking at two years of time distilled down to four minutes of animated essence,” Batt told us shortly after the film’s release. “While it was a bit sad to pack down all the sets after living in that world for so long, being able to finally share this with all of our wonderful Kickstarter backers who have waited so patiently is a wonderful feeling.”
Looking back on the film now, do they see elements of their relationship reflected in their “Heart”?
“I’m not sure that anything about us directly informed the animation,” Boekbinder says. “The story was written in the very early stages of our meetings, but I suppose the story reflects how we both feel that love is worth taking every chance for. Love is the greatest adventure.”
“I hadn’t really thought about it until it now,” Batt tells us, “but one of the main ideas in the film is that of finding the energy and drive to do the unexpected -- deciding not to be held back by tradition or the usual way of doing things, to saying yes to adventure and romance. Which certainly resonates with how our relationship began, and continues to grow.
“The script was actually written [early on], but art does tend to have a sneaky way of creeping into real life.”
As they’ve moved on to new projects, the couple profoundly appreciates what this project brought them.
“It is so rare that two people get to meet at the right time in their lives,” Boekbinder says, “when both are single and open and not afraid and willing to just be completely in love. It’s crazy, scary and overwhelming. And so very unlikely. I only had to fly across the world!”
And maintaining their relationship means continuing to fly across the world.
“I’d have to date an astronaut to get a longer distance relationship.” says Boekbindfer, who recently recorded her second solo album. “So we spend a lot of time apart. I have my career here in the U.S., and he has an amazing life in Melbourne, but we travel to be with each other when we can. And even when it’s been months apart and I miss him terribly, I’m so happy knowing that he exists -- that across this planet is the best person I’ve ever met, and that he knows me and he loves me.”
Chimes Boekbinder: “He has my heart, he has my heart, he has my heart.”
“I HAVE YOUR HEART”: THE FILM.