설문대 할망 – 제주 사름 (Jeju Man Character Design)
I’m currently (slowly but surely!) working on an animated film based on the folktales of Korea’s Jeju Island. In it, Seolmundae Halmang, the giant goddess who created the island (imagine an old-asian-lady version of Paul Bunyan), makes a deal with the normal-sized villagers who reside there. If they’ll sew her a nice silk dress, she’ll build them a bridge of stone to the Korean mainland.
Unfortunately, there is not enough silk on the whole island to complete such an enormous piece of clothing, so the villagers elect one of their own to approach Seolmundae Halmang and confess that they cannot keep their promise.
I had already established the look for the titular goddess, but I hadn’t given much thought to what the human denizens of Jeju should look like. In particular, the villager who speaks with Seolmundae Halmang needed to be well thought-out since, besides the goddess, he was the only character with dialogue.
He was supposed to be the representative of the people — a mayor of sorts — and a counterpoint to the character of Seolmundae Halmang. I tried referencing the Dol Hareubang in the character’s face and stature. Because of his leadership role, I also (subconsciously) channeled the character of Chief Vitalstatistix from Asterix, giving my drawings a more rotund shape.
I also made an effort to call back to the gentleman who provided the voice of the character, a scholar of Jeju culture who I found during my research trip in 2013, Mr. Jin Sung-gu (진성구).
This final sketch got very close to the character as he appears in the animation.
The Jeju Man’s clothing was a particular problem; most of the best material I could find for pre-contemporary working-class Jeju fashions came from photographs taken during the Japanese occupation in the first half of the twentieth century. Not exactly close to the period this story takes place in: literally the beginning of time. But I knew drawing people in loincloths like cave people would be too distracting. I had to settle for something that looked convincingly old-fashiony, and also distinctly Jeju-esque.
I ended up gathering old photos from various Korean blogs, and this excellent english-language site, to come up with a general guideline of what my 탐라도민 (People of Jeju) should wear.
As soon as I felt good about his look, I jumped straight into blocking out his shots, developing an on-the-fly model sheet as I went along.
The dialogue for the scene was recorded using voice actors who were native speakers. Below is a line test for part of the scene:
The Jeju Man became the first character to have his scene animated and inked, as he hesitantly confesses to Seolmundae Halmang that the villagers cannot keep their promise.
I’m still slowly hammering away at this project, so keep an eye out for future updates!