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Animating Sanbang Mountain

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.

On the south coast of Jeju sits an enormous rock dome Sanbangsan, which towers over everything else except mighty Halla Mountain itself. 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.

In my short animated film, The Legend of Seolmundae Halmang, the very first scene depicts the creation of Jeju Island by the goddess Seolmundae Halmang. I spent many months on research, 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!

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[…] down, one of the best things about animation is that every once in a while, after weeks spent burying your nose in the minutiae of the frame, you get to step back and watch your project come to life. In this short sequence from the opening […]

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