‘Gruff’ tackles the nuance of personal relationships

On March 1, Julian Curi uploaded a handmade, paper-animated and puppeteered short film to his YouTube channel Righteous Robot. Following community donations over the course of a year and a half, and culminating over two million views within the first week of its release, “Gruff” is a beautiful work of film that is a testament to human connection, creativity and resilience.
Following the passing of his father, Curi set off to tell the story of their relationship through the narrative of an achieved superspy, Hazel, and her quietly proud father as a way to grieve his own. Hazel searches for her father’s vocalized validation throughout her career, but is unable to find it, committing herself to her job and succeeding as much as she can to impress him. As the film progresses, we realize that her father had been proud of her all along, only conveying it differently than she’d expected, illustrating a story about the nuances to human connection, and how we come to expect of others what we do ourselves.
The composition of the film itself is wildly admirable, considering that each paper doll is hand made and crafted by Curi, with metal endoskeletons allowing him to maneuver the figures within each scene, each one complete with sets of different facial features and clothing. The tactful shape language of each character’s design allows us to further gain insight as to what their personality is like–with the squarish father being characterized as gruff–as well as the way they are colored. A black spy outfit suggests the seriousness of Hazel’s personality, and the oranges and yellows warm up the personality of her father, revealing his true demeanor despite the way he is presented. Every subtle design element, whether it be by color, shape or style, comes together to create an amazingly coordinated cast. Additionally, the instrumentals cultivated a rich and touching nature that complemented the film in a tear-jerking way, the score itself aware of when to give priority to what the silence can tell.
Overall, “Gruff” is a touching piece of art that conveys a contemplative message through a bittersweet story, reminding us to never take what we have for granted, and to find it in ourselves to understand the minds of others.