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Emmy-winning writer, director and animator Joe Mateo has a personal story behind Apple TV Plus’ new animated short “Blush.” The story was born after he lost his wife to breast cancer.

As he struggled to get back to work, he found inspiration and therapy in sharing a journey of hope and healing, but also being rescued by love. “Blush” follows the journey of a stranded horticulturist-astronaut’s chances for survival after he crash lands on a desolate dwarf planet. When an ethereal visitor arrives, the once-lone traveler discovers the joy in building a new life and realizes the universe has delivered astonishing salvation.

Mateo explains, “We started with this planet that looks barren and boring. When the astronaut lands, there’s nothing there and he has a very limited supply of oxygen. When this visitor shows up, the music starts and we see this planet transform with color and vibrancy,” he says.

“Blush” concept art show a burst of color and life on the planet after the astronaut meets a “visitor” Courtesy of Apple

Mateo called animation supervisor Yuriko Senoo “a game-changer. I had very limited knowledge of 2D animation and that’s where she stepped in to bring this to life.”

In a sequence that sees the visitor disappear, Mateo struggled with the emotion. “I remember just falling apart during that as we were discussing the animation of that,” he says.

Concept art by “Blush” director Joe Mateo Courtesy of Apple

“Blush” celebrates Filipino culture and Mateo’s heritage by working many elements into the overall look and design. Senoo says the mango tree was of absolute importance to the film because it was his wife’s favorite fruit. “We started talking about Filipino mangoes and the mango tree is a symbol for growth and life in the movie,” says Senoo.

She notes the spiral movement of the tree which was also significant since it embodied growth.

Mateo’s sketches of characters and the planet as he struggles to overcome grief Courtesy of Apple

Another subtle difference was in how the two characters moved. The astronaut was more introverted compared to the visitor who “had a lot of energy and movement. She also has a laugh that brightens the room,” notes Senoo. “And we made blushing her thing.” It was a trait taken from Mateo’s wife that was a touching tribute to her.

Running at 14 minutes, Mateo always intended for “Blush” to always be an animated short. He deliberately used the score and visuals to tell the story instead of dialogue because “I wanted to keep this universally themed.”