If at first you don’t succeed…
Animation is a painstaking process, and sometimes you have to tear up a lot of work in order to arrive at something you’re happy with.
2016 felt like a breakthrough year for my short animated film, The Legend of Seolmundae Halmang. After a great deal of research, planning, and gathering feedback on early cuts of the story, I’ve been able to plunge into the actual grunt work of animation and cleanup. It’s still not a straight-forward path though, and sometimes it’s a struggle to make a shot tell the story that it needs to.
For example: the very first scene depicts the creation of Jeju Island by the goddess Seolmundae Halmang. If you go to Jeju today, you’ll see a monstrous dome of rock on the south coast, known as Sanbangsan. It towers over everything else but Halla Mountain itself, the looming central volcano which formed the island. Uncannily, Sanbangsan is almost the exact size and shape of Halla’s peak. According to local legend, Seolmundae Halmang tried to sit on top of Halla, but the peak was too pointy. She ripped the top off the mountain and tossed it across the island, where it landed and became Sanbangsan.
I spent many months researching the myths, and had drawn out dozens of different angles of each shot. The drawings were scanned and cut together like footage, with simple motion applied to each shot to animate the most essential actions:
A rough digital test of the shot was created based on the storyboard. The intention has always been to animate this story traditionally (i.e. pencil on paper), but I’ve found it’s much faster to brainstorm and plan shots digitally, allowing me to live-update them into the evolving edit of the film.
The next step was to transfer the animation over to paper: I do the transfer using a homemade rig that allows me to temporarily turn one of my monitors into an animation light-table.
The digital tests tend to be very rough and fast, so instead of simply rotoscoping the shot as-is, I copy the key frames only, and do the tweening again from scratch:
The first pass didn’t convey the sense of weight it needed, and the only way to understand the shot was to feel that weight myself. I filmed myself acting the scene out, using an old television set.
Even then, it was a challenge to get the movement just right. After nearly a week of revisions, my floor was littered with scrapped drawings:
But the work paid off, and the final result was much more satisfying.
The shot still needs another pass to lock down the secondary animation and some of the finer details, but after that it’s on to inking and colouring!