“Heart-Ache” | Interview with Sam Grinberg, UCLA

| March 3, 2016

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He can’t seem to break away from the woman who keeps him company at night. Can the new girl he meets at the cafe possibly be his escape out? With its focus on movement and sound, Heart-Ache tells the story of a man stuck in an incessant whirlpool of his own desires. This surreal, black-and-white animation employs sharp contrasts and original foley sound without dialogue to pierce the core of our main character’s dilemma. We spoke with director Sam Grinberg, who made the film at UCLA, about the filmmaking process behind Heart-Ache.

Heart-Ache will screen as part of Cinequest’s Short Program 9B – College – American Voices.

Heart-Ache Still 1

The woman who comes and goes: Heart-Ache.

What got you into animation?

I’ve always wanted to work in animation ever since I was a kid with the goals of having my own show. Since animating wasn’t accessible to me as a child, I constantly made my own folded/stapled paper comics. I attended the School of Visual Arts for Cartooning where I continued making comics (and I still do). I then attended UCLA for grad school majoring in animation, where I created Heart-Ache.

Tell us about Heart-Ache and how it came to be.

I had the idea while I was still in undergrad; it was going to be a short comic. It was floating around in my head for about 2 years. When I got to UCLA, I decided that it would work better as a short film. Movement and sound would convey the feeling I wanted to get across for this specific story rather than a comic.

Heart-Ache Still 7

Main character of Heart-Ache.

Can you walk us through how long it took you to make it and the challenges?

Not counting the concept and few sketches I did years before I actually decided to make this into a film, it took about a year and a half from boarding to finished product.

This is one bleak film (I mean that as a compliment)! How personal is the story?

Thanks! It’s not necessarily as personal as people think… It’s just a story I was interested in telling through mood and visuals for a while. I guess you could say it’s combining a few different relationships into one fictional story, but I say that very loosely.

Is it off-base to call the main character a sex addict? Or is there something greater that he is drawn and/or addicted to?

I wouldn’t say the main character is a sex addict at all. You could say it’s a story about addiction to some degree, but definitely not sex. Being the weak character that he is, it’s this one specific woman that he keeps getting drawn back to and can’t seem to break away from her.

Heart-Ache Still 8

The main character looks toward the woman in the bedroom.

Talk to us about the audio design and collaborating with your foley artist, Michael Lyle?

That was really fun. It was the first time I worked with a foley artist. He was really great, he did foley for a bunch of live action movies and some animated, including the Despicable Me films. He had a bunch of props ready that we used in addition to some of my own that I brought. We had to get creative for sounds like “hair growing”, [so] I brought in a lint roller.

Heart-Ache Still 5

Sam and his foley artist, Michael Lyle, used a lint roller to create the sound of “hair growing”.

Stephanie Economou’s music is truly haunting. Did she compose first and you animated around her piece, or did she score the film?

She did an amazing job! I animated the film first. I always had a vision for how I wanted the music to sound; I wanted tones to convey mood rather than a true “score”. She really understood what I was going for. She listened to all the temp tracks I placed in the film and then ran with it.

Who do you cite as influences?

This film in particular had a giant mix of influences. For the mood and sound, I was definitely influenced by David Lynch and cartoonist Charles Burns. For general style, I was looking at a lot of Art Deco books and photos of old New York City.

Heart-Ache Still 4

The style and architecture in Heart-Ache.

Tell us about your UCLA experience.

It was great! I met a ton of talented artists & animators and learned a lot from the professors who have all worked in animation.

Do you have any advice for student animators?

Hmm..try to make art that’s out of your comfort zone! Also, meet and talk to as many people as possible.


Sam Grinberg, animator/filmmaker of Heart-Ache.


Sam Grinberg is a cartoonist originally from NJ/NYC now living in LA. He currently works in production on The Simpsons by day and makes comics by night.

Learn more about Sam’s work on his website: www.samgrinberg.com

Like Heart-Ache on Facebook: facebook.com/heartachecomic

Follow Sam’s mind on Instagram & Tumblr: @samgrinberg | samgrinbergcartoons.tumblr.com

Heart-Ache screens as part of Cinequest’s Short Program 9B – College – American Voices showcase on Friday, March 11 @ 9:30pm, and Saturday, March 12 @ 3:45pm.

All screenings are at Camera 12 Cinemas in San Jose, CA.

Click to read more Cinequest interviews.

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Film School Shorts is made possible by a grant from Maurice Kanbar, celebrating the vitality and power of the moving image, and by the members of KQED.

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Series Producer
Lisa Landi

Associate Producer
Julia Shackelford

Peter Borg

Zaldy Serrano
Christina Zee White

Original Music
Written and Produced by

John Andrieni

Kevin Cooke
Marie K Lee

Social Media Specialist
Aldo Mora-Blanco

Sarah Hoffner

On Air Promotion
Bridget Louie

William Lowery
Abby Staeble

Director of TV Production
Sandy Schonning

Executive Producer
Scott Dwyer