As the development of technology grows, so does the dependency on technology in everyday life. We create new products that improve our lifestyle, but how does this affect us when we are without those technologies? The 2018 graduate student short film Best Friend directed by Nicholas Olivieri, Shen Yi, Juliana De Lucca, Varun Nair, and David Feliu explores a future where people’s everyday lives are affected by a product called “Best Friend.” Using alluring character designs, music, color, and lighting changes, Best Friend portrays a futuristic take on people’s dependence on technology.
The film follows the main character Arthur, a lonely 30-year-old male who is dependent on the new technology “Best Friend.” This product is implanted into people’s temples to create virtual friends that only the user can see. The technology is recharged with the simple use of special eye drops. We watch as Arthur celebrates his thirtieth birthday with his fictional friends, singing and partying while constantly having to recharge the technology with a large number of eye drops. When he eventually crushes what is left of the eye drops, he must venture outside to purchase new ones but is too impatient to wait in a long line. He follows Cami, one of the fictional friends, to an isolated vending machine and is attacked by an addict riddled with removed implant scars. The man cuts the implant out of Arthur’s temple and runs away. After chasing the man, Arthur loses him in the city and has a panic attack. He passes out on the street. In the next scene, we see Arthur with a scar similar to the crazy man, and it is revealed that time passed, and he has a new “Best Friend” implant on the opposite temple, continuing his cycle of addiction.
In the behind-the-scenes video of the production, it is revealed that Best Friend was inspired by Shen Yi’s experience of getting robbed in Paris and losing his phone. This demonstrated his dependency on technology when he barely spoke English and did not know any French. Using his phone was the key to survival. Not only was he unable to contact any family or friends, but he was stranded without a map to get around (“Making of Best Friend” 01:00). The animation uses Arthur as an exaggerated portrayal of one’s dependency on technology.
Best Friend’s 2D style makes use of unique character designs that differentiate between the world’s reality and technological reality. The main character, Arthur, is designed to look like an average human. He has realistic proportions, dull colors, and wears plain clothing. This contrasts with his fictional friends who are creatures with more abstract designs. Unlike Arthur, they have a brighter color scheme and very round elements that reinforce the feeling of friendliness, connecting back to the theme of eye drops. The friends are very cartoony, except for Cami, the main friend, who is portrayed as more human. Her design incorporates elements from both realities. Cami’s proportions are more realistic matching Arthur, while her design uses a lot of teardrop and circle shapes like her earrings, bun, and belt to reference her connection to the “Best Friend” technology. She is seen in a bright color scheme making her too perfect to be real. The use of 2D animation allows for the portrayal of Arthur’s friends as cartoony creatures that only exist in this technological reality, creating an ideal world that influences his dependency on technology.
The contrast between virtual and physical reality is not only shown in their character designs but also in color changes between the scenes. When Arthur must recharge the “Best Friend” with eye drops he pauses all of his friends, and the room darkens like all of the lights are off. When he snaps his fingers all his friends resume celebrating and the lights appear to turn back on (“Best Friend” 01:05). Not only does the color change indicate the difference between his realities, but it also shows how much control Arthur has over his virtual world. We are also shown scenes of Arthur dancing and singing with his friends, but when offered the same scenes farther away through his window, we see Arthur alone singing by himself (“Best Friend” 01:29).
The tone of the film has a major shift when Arthur follows Cami into a secluded area to reach the vending machine. The background goes from bright city lights to dim and dreary alleyways. By representing the realities with different lighting, the film creates a key contrast between the two: Arthur’s reality is dull, cold, and scary, while his virtual world is friendly, warm, and inviting.
The soundtrack created by Arthur Dairaine Andrianaivo enhances the mood of the scenes. At first, soft gentle music is playing while Arthur talks with his friends, but once he pauses them the music comes to an abrupt stop, and all the viewer hears is silence with the echoing beeps of the low battery warning (“Best Friend” 00:45). The juxtaposition of silence and white noise with cheerful music happens multiple times. When Arthur is back to reality, the music stops to create an unsettling feeling. The lyrics in the main song include phrases like “best friend, we’ll never let you down,” and “when hope is lost, we will be there for you till the end,” which foreshadow the events of the attack. Despite being there visually, these friends do absolutely nothing to help Arthur when he is attacked. They are virtual beings who just stand and watch as he gets knocked to the ground, and his implant is forcibly cut out of his temple. This disturbing scene is paired with unnerving music, a crescendo of a siren sound into complete silence with a black screen. While chasing the crazy man, the sound is muffled until he reaches the city again. He proceeds to have a panic attack with the overwhelming sounds of people laughing and talking, the “Best Friend” advertisement playing and piercing noise. The music and soundtrack convey Arthur’s emotion throughout the film while distinguishing the contrasting realities. The cheerful music works to idealize the virtual world showing how appealing that world is to Arthur.
Best Friend is a speculative fiction and fantasy animated short film that successfully uses character design, color changes, and music to create a cautionary tale about addiction to technology. Its story is still relevant today, as technology and social media use has grown. Our lifestyles are affected by new products that improve our lives, and it becomes an inconvenience when we are without them. We use social media to cope with loneliness but are ironically even more disconnected from the world and each other by using them. Best Friend portrays a fictional future where the cycle of addiction to technology plagues our society, commenting on the dangers of our own obsessions with technology and social media.
Yi, Shen, et al. “Making of Best Friend – Part 1: The story (Animation Short Film 2018).” Youtube, uploaded by GOBELINS, 28 June 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j01Hg4QJ6NE
Yi, Shen, et al. “Making of Best Friend – Part 2: Visual development – (Animation Short Film 2018).” Youtube, uploaded by GOBELINS, 3 September 2019, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j01Hg4QJ6NE
Jamie Sybico is a student from the University of Texas at Dallas, majoring in ATEC with Animation and Games Concentration.