To He - Behind the scene



Director, Visual Designer, and Animator


2021 (6 months)


My love for the art field stems from the magical world of Studio Ghibli movies. They've been my ultimate inspiration! I've always dreamt of creating something just as enchanting. You see, filmmaking involves a whole team, and I wasn't entirely sure if animation was my thing. But during my final university project, I had this thought: 'Why not bring my dream animation to life?' That's how 'To He' came about! It took me a thrilling six-month journey—from research and scriptwriting to painting, animating, and crafting the music. Below, you can watch the final animation and peek behind the scenes to see how it all unfolded.

Design process includes Research phase (empathize, define, ideate) and Design phase (prototype, test)).


In the past, when much of Vietnam struggled with poverty, 'tò he' was crafted from glutinous rice, providing children with a playful material they could sculpt and later consume. Villages would gather, and 'tò he' figures, depicting heroes, animals, flowers, and more, would illustrate tales, creating a colorful universe amidst their hardships. However, with technological advancements, the art of 'tò he' has faded, barely recognized by younger generations today.

“Tò He” is a short hand-drawn animation narrating the story of a brother and sister during the Northern Vietnam wartime (1954-75). Each day, the brother fashions a new 'tò he' for his younger sister, following a tutorial book left behind by their father before leaving for war. Through her imaginative spirit, the sister ventures into a magical and joyful landscape crafted by these toys. As the brother exhausts the book's tutorials, he struggles to create new toys. Moved by his sister's yearning, he sculpts a 'tò he' resembling their father. Just as he is about to present this creation, their father returns, and the family reunites joyously. The story revisits a Vietnamese tradition of crafting toys and reflects the poverty and family bonds during wartime in Vietnam.

The film draws deep inspiration from Studio Ghibli and Pixar's movies, alongside artists like Kazuo Oga, Alex Sprouse Art, and traditional 'tò he' artists.



The character design is influenced by the appearance of my family and friends. They all have similar Vietnamese characteristics of big nose and black hair.

The brother: The character of the brother wearing a basic white tank top is inspired by a similar top that my father wears at home. The brother also wears a “belt” which was made from a string of copper. This also references my father. Due to poverty, my father used to use a copper string as a “belt" since he was too thin to fit in the pants that were passed down from my grandfather. The clothing of the brother thus reflects malnutrition in Vietnam during wartime. Below are preliminary sketches of the brother and the final design.

The sister: The design of the sister is based on my appearance when I was a child in a Vietnamese countryside's outfit. Below are preliminary sketches of the sister and the final design.


The storyboard is illustrated using Storyboard Pro. It lays out every shot in the film.

3D model

The background of the house is modeled using SketchUp Pro to portray the exact dimension and perspective of the background. The properties in the house are taken from various sources from SketchUp 3D Warehouse. To view the 3D model, click the image to load, then click the arrow on the left to choose from orbit, pan, and zoom.


20 backgrounds are painted for the film in total. The backgrounds are either traced from 3d models or photographs. they have a yellow watercolor underpainting to create a warm feeling throughout the film. The images themselves are painted in gouache. The backgrounds are shaded and cropped using Photoshop to create different times and settings for the film.

Video reference

Every action in the film is animated based on video references.

Animation & Clean up

Using the referenced video, the actions in the film are sketched using Toon Boom Harmony to match the appearance of the character. The animation draft is then cleaned up using a clean, thin, black line.


After cleaning up the animation, the characters are colored and the backgrounds are lit and shaded.


The film received high praise at the university and was requested for screening in multiple classes. I also submitted it to several festivals and was fortunate to have it selected for screening at the International Leipzig Festival for Documentary and Animated Film 2021 in Germany.