Initially daily but now sporadic blog about anime and world animation with a specific focus on the artists behind the work. Written by Ben Ettinger.
March 2009
Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun
 << < Current> >>
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30 31          

Who's Online?

  • Guest Users: 2

  XML Feeds

powered by b2evolution

Archives for: March 2009

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

09:59:00 pm , 2081 words, 6208 views     Categories: Animation, Interview, Indie, Animator

Erick Oh's Symphony

I just watched Erick Oh's latest film, Symphony (2008, 5 mins), and I was happy to find that despite the difference in subject matter, it's just as wonderful a film as Erick's previous film, Way Home (2008, 8 mins), which so captured me a few months back when I saw it at a screening in Beijing. Erick has again created a short that feels like a perfectly honed combination of stylistic elegance, richly worked hand-drawn animation and theme simultaneously cosmic in scale and microscopic in character.

The transition from his previous film to this one felt like a kind of test. Namely, a test as to whether what made Way Home an enjoyable film was just its 'cute' (?) characters. I had no doubt that that was not the case, but this film confirms it. The characters in Symphony are not the cute bug characters of Way Home, but rather impersonal, shape-shifting blobs as far removed as one could imagine from the characters of the former film. And yet, the film remains just as compelling, and just as immediately identifiable as an Erick Oh film, revealing that Erick's skills were indeed the real star.

In Symphony we find ourselves plunged into a strange microscopic world, a sort of amniotic ether where protozoan-like blobs dash about the rocky crags in an elemental struggle to eat or be eaten. Suddenly, one of the anonymous blobs seems to awaken from its precambrian slumber, dashing off on a danger-fraught journey that has presumably never ended.

In terms of the animation, there is just as much nuance in the 'acting' of the blob as it dashes across the screen as there was in the acting of the dung beetle in Way Home, which is quite impressive, as it has no eyes or hands to emote with. A great feeling of three-dimensionality is created in the ether through simple layering of pure black lines and shapes. There are no shades or color in the film, just a gorgeously organic mesh of black and white spaces and forms. Just like in Way Home, Erick makes remarkably effective use of such spare means, resulting in a film of great visual clarity. The animation is tied closely to the movement of Vivaldi's Seasons that provides the background music, creating a symbiotic unity of music and animation.

In terms of the theme, the film comes across as thematically related to Way Home. Although Way Home did feature conventionally identifiable characters and a clear narrative, the film didn't strike me as being about those things as about a much more cosmic theme. Rather than being about characters, or a story, or even a message, both Way Home and Erick's latest film strike me as compelling explorations of a very basic concept that permeates every aspect of our lives and of the universe we inhabit: the macroscopic versus the microscopic. The films strike me as humbling reminders that we are not the center of the universe, that we are but part of a continuum that reaches far above us and far below us. It's just clearer in Symphony than it was in Way Home.

What fascinates me about Erick's work is that a film like Symphony, which is otherwise rather ephemeral in terms of narrative and characterization, somehow manages to get across a very clear narrative, and the audience can follow what the 'character' is feeling at every moment of the film, entirely through the nuances of the very active and emotive animation - such as when the blob recoils in fear, stretches out tentatively in curiosity, or soars through the ether joyously exploring its new-found freedom. The same could be said of the dung beetle in Way Home. I love Erick's films because he creates films that are not only beautifully animated and have a compelling and intelligent theme, but the animation is the voice in which his mute characters speak to the audience.

Way Home was made in Korea, where Erick obtained his BFA, while Symphony was made at UCLA, where Erick is now completing his MFA in animation. Since making Way Home, Erick has also made a very nice short film entitled Welcome to Vokle for a new social networking site entitled Vokle, which just opened its doors to the public last month. Welcome to Vokle is compelling both technically and thematically, continuing as it does to explore grand themes, this time examining no less than the history of humankind in one and a half minutes. Welcome to Vokle can be seen in its entirety on Erick's web site here. Clips from Symphony and all of his other films can also be viewed on his web site,

Erick was kind enough to answer a few of my questions by email, so I'm happy to be able to present a short interview with this great young animator.

What made you choose animation?

As an artist who has a background in fine art with experience in other mediums like painting, illustration, etc, I consider animation to be one of the greatest art forms to convey my thoughts and feelings to others. It allows me to express whatever I want with the message as well as the style, ranging from narrative to abstract, traditional to experimental. One of the best things about animation is that the tool itself inspires me to blur all the boundaries between all the mediums. It mixes up all the great art forms like music, images and the narrative. The more experience I gain in animation, the more respect I find I have for the art.

What was it that made you turn to hand-drawn animation in this day and age, instead of CGI?

I just like hand-drawn images because usually I can feel the artist's ideas and feelings sincere. However, I also admire CG-based animation and video art and would love to apply some CG effects to my projects in the future if it's necessary. It's all a matter of how effectively I use these tools. I'd like to be someone who uses these tools to create his own world, rather someone who just follows the tools.

Your films are wonderfully animated, with great technique, and a very unique style. How do you do it?

I made my first animated film in my senior year for the graduate exhibition. Since I was in a painting-based fine art program, I had to self-teach using all the references and video I could get online and offline. It was extremely difficult to learn all the techniques by myself but I think that experience helped me a lot with establishing a foundation in animation strongly and firmly in my own unique style.

What's your stance towards animation in your work?

Animation is a device that connects me to the world. I think my 'ego' projected onto the final product in the form of animation is the most sincere reflection of myself.

Any animators or filmmakers who influenced or inspired you?

Everything I see and hear inspires me. To specifically talk about one of the directors who directly influenced me with 'Way Home', I'd like to mention Michael Dudok De-wit, the director of 'Father and Daughter'. I was very impressed by how amazing a film he made using the contrast between light and shadow and the beauty of blank space with his charcoal. Understanding how he made this beautiful film, I'd like to create a whole new world of my own with the oriental calligraphic brush. Leaving the ground in white color, I showed the passing of a day with just the change in the color of the sky and the tone of the shadow.

Can you tell me about the production process for Way Home and Symphony?

Pretty much every animation I did is traditionally hand-drawn animated. I usually use 30 frames per second to make the animation more fluid. For the camera and composition, I don't really use any particular technique. After Effects and Premiere are basically all I use. There is some stuff I did in Flash or Maya though.

How did your approach change between Way Home and Symphony?

First of all, the message or the story I'd like to tell is always about my thoughts and outlook on 'life'. As for the style and the approach, the project I just finished always influences the next project I plan. After finishing 'The Bag', my very first animation, I wanted to make a cinematographic film because the world described in 'The Bag' is totally surreal. The land becomes the sky, the food chain goes backward and everything is awkward in this animation. That was the start point with the style in 'Way Home'. As you can see, the way I set the camera, the transitions from shot to shot, etc, all come from studying film. After 2 years working on 'Way Home', I was exhausted from dealing with all the cinematography. I decided to make a film that breaks the rules and blurs all the boundaries between everything. Because the interaction with the viewers is the most important thing I consider while making films, it was extremely hard to achieve both goals. After lots of experimenting, finally 'Symphony' came out as a film that is somewhere in the middle between abstract experimental and narrative character animation. 'One' is another experimental work I collaborated with media artists on as a sequel to 'Symphony'. It's more like installation art, but I think it's meaningless to categorize things. These two works have received attention not only from theaters and film festivals but also art galleries. 'Welcome to Vokle' or 'Gunther Sausage' are pretty commercial and entertaining compared to other films. But I believe that the viewer will still be able to find my style and philosophy in these films as well.

Why did you leave Korea to study at UCLA? How does animation education in Korea compare to animation education in the US? And on a related note, how is the situation in the Korean animation industry? We don't get to hear much about that industry over here.

I can't deny the fact that there is more opportunity in the US. It's not about the education, it's about the environment. Especially this city of Los Angeles is where all the studios and industries are all gathered around. I can't really compare animation education between Korea and US since I studied fine art in Korea. But in my opinion, the faculty in Korea are not that experienced in animation because the history of Korean animation is quite short, compared to Japan or the US. Everything including the animation industry, education and culture grew up so quickly overall in Korea that it feels like we didn't have enough time to put the right instructors in the right place. For example, most of the faculty in college animation programs are designers, cartoonist, filmmakers, critics and so on. They can still teach students, but the education can't have depth. It is slowly changing and getting better and better. The facilities in Korean schools are really good though.

As for the industry, Korean animation studios have been doing other people's work for the past 20 years. As far as I know, all the Disney movies and other Hollywood animations are actually produced and animated in Korea. That made Korea have really good technique and skills in animation but no creativity in it. We are definitely at a turning point right now. Various Korean's own productions are coming out going over all the trials and failures. But we need this process to grow up.

What are your current projects, if you can say? And what do you plan to do once you get your MFA?

I'm working on this film as another story in my 'Life' series following after 'The Bag', 'Way Home' and 'Symphony'. It'll be traditional character animation just like 'Way Home'. My grandfather passed away last April in 2008. While experiencing all this sadness and missing him, I came up with lots of fragments of ideas. I developed a story out of them. The title is 'Tree' but it might change. I just started animating so I'm not sure when this journey will end.

After graduation, hopefully I'll stay in the states working on this and that. My ultimate goal is to be left as an artist, not an animator or filmmaker. Of course the animation would be the main medium I use, but I'd like to always be flexible to borrow from other art forms or try different things blurring the boundaries of art.