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to. ice bear (ㄴㄹ)


Our friend Thomas's 20th birthday was coming up, and Joanne and I were determined to pull off the most creative, unique (truly incomparable), thoughtful (full of memories and happy moments), and utterly unexpected birthday surprise for him. 

After several long nights of creative planning and 3am work sessions till dawn (Thomas's birthday coincided with our final exams), we managed to whip together our special gift:


  • Guitar Accompaniment

  • Lyric Video Production

  • Song Lyrics (in collaboration with Joanne)


  • Joanne Nguyen
    (Melody, Vocals, Song Lyrics)​

A Mashup of Music & Memories

We produced an entire song from scratch, laying an original melody over a simple guitar progression before writing (cheesy but heartfelt) lyrics to recollect our favorite memories together. We performed it to him live on the night of his birthday, and later recorded the song to create an official lyric video on iMovie! Throughout the process, some of my key design considerations were: 


We knew the song title would be an important aspect of the gift, so we put a lot of effort into its visual aesthetic as well. In this case, "to. ice bear" was a simple yet meaningful reference to our We Bare Bears (a popular cartoon) friendship analogy, while ㄴㄹ represented the secret nickname that we used to disguise planning notes and chat messages about the song from Thomas. 

(ㄴㄹ is as acronym from 노래, which translates to "song" in Korean)


Night drives have always played a special role in our friendship (we've even referenced it in our song lyrics!), so I wanted to incorporate it within the core element of the lyric video—the backdrop. I scoured online for hours to find the perfect video set in Japan (where Thomas would be studying abroad very soon) before applying a variety of filters and color adjustments to mimic our favorite getaway views while driving around Stanford late at night. 

Learnings & Takeaways

This might not be your typical lyric video with incredible sound and production quality, but it is a reflection of our creative drive and passion for exploring new mediums of design. Despite often feeling sleep-deprived and overwhelmed by our looming academic deadlines, we were always eager to dive back into the project because it offered us a rare opportunity (without grading rubrics and project guidelines) to really think outside the box and push our creative limits. 

I loved the thrill of wrestling through iMovie's limited functionalities to execute my creative vision (even after scouring countless forums to find clever loopholes), and I constantly lost track of time while experimenting with the lyrics to achieve the perfect rhythm and flow. What should have exhausted us in the middle of finals season instead became our creative outlet and daily escape — I guess that's the power of doing what you love.