Do you know what a ‘Puppet Animator’ is? This is a job where you make a doll, take pictures of its movement, and complete an animation. Director Ji-In Na is a pioneer of puppet animation in Korea. She entered the animation department at Sejong University and her career began there. Step by step she created her works and came closer to her dream in her student days. During this time, animation was not a mainstream field in Korea yet, but she did not give up and kept developing her work. She endlessly kept on working and never blamed the situation she was in. Her hard work eventually paid off and now she is a well known puppet animator. Let’s hear her life story. < Copyright © The Gachon Herald All rights reserved >
1. What was your motivation to become a puppet animator? When did you decide to choose this career? Did you have a turning point?
15 years ago, I was an ordinary student who dreamt of becoming a cartoonist and drew pictures. But one day, when I was a college freshman, I saw the movie The Nightmare before Christmas by Tim Burton as a class assignment. After that, my life, my goals, and direction changed. I liked making dolls from props. The moment that I watched The Nightmare before Christmas I thought to myself ‘This is what I want to do!’ I think this job allows me to breathe new life into dolls, into a world that I create and I think that is what appealed to me.
2. What is the most important aspect of being a puppet animator?
Of course one must have interest and also must be very skillful with their hands, but they must also be passionate and affectionate when it comes to creating a doll. Stop Motion filming techniques (the technique by which moving images are shot step by step) must be shot very carefully because if one scene goes wrong, then you have to retake the entire scene from the beginning. Puppet animation is a very delicate process, so this work also requires a lot of patience.
3. You are considered a pioneer in this field because you are one of the first generation puppet animators. How did you find the courage to do so, and do you feel any pressure?
I divide my work into two parts. I separate it into: ¡°Can I do this?¡± and ¡°What must I do?¡± As we live our lives, we can do almost anything with small and large amounts of energy. I too have been a cartoon artist, saleswoman, teacher, and a co-worker. I have done many things with my own ability, but of all the work I’ve done up until now, being a puppet animator is what I was meant to do. When I work with other projects that aren’t mine, I do feel the pressure to do better and be a good staff member, but when it comes to my film work, I do not feel any pressure. Puppet animation is a matter of expressing ourselves freely rather than worrying about others’ opinions.
4. Do you have any plans for your third work? What is the main plot?
I am usually inspired by music. My third work is based on a UK folk painting, but I was also inspired by the lyrics of JOAN BAEZ songs. The movie is about a woman’s life in which she goes through many hardships as it comes to an end
5. What was the most difficult point in your career so far? Have you ever thought of giving up? If so, how did you overcome it?
The most difficult moment was when I had financial problems in the animation progress. For artists, money is always the problem. While pursuing my dreams, I was hungry and miserable. I became my own sponsor to support my dream. In order for me to fulfill my passion, I did what was possible for me and lived thinking about the present. I ran my own business so that I could keep doing what I loved most and did other work, such as, producing, doll making, and outside image work.
6. When you make your own films, do you make the dolls and props yourself?
Yes. Once I am done creating the plot and backgrounds, I design each character that matches the story.
7. I hear that you plan, direct, create the stories, and do the stage management all by yourself. Is there a special method for you to be able do all this?
Although I don’t have a special method, I do my best by watching other films and study directing. After watching other films, I find my own style and begin to study. Then I write continuously and I usually write a lot of memos and scribbles. Sometimes my ideas appear throughout my dreams, but when I wake up I forget the scene and get sad. I hope to one day develop a machine that can capture our dreams into images.
8. In 2007, you displayed a theme that emphasizes passion rather than seeking a stable job. Although many people may agree with you, it is still very difficult to pursue that path. Please give your advice to the younger generation who lose hope in their dreams because they run into a dead end.
In 2007, I displayed a theme called ¡°What is my dream?¡± with three of my friends. One of them was filming a documentary. Another was doing installation art. The other was doing 2D animation. The display was meant to show that we were all chasing our dreams. At the time the subtitle of the display was ¡°What’s your dream?¡± That was the question for the audience. I think that those who discover their dreams and find their own path are very lucky. It is really important that you discover your dream. Finding your own dream is a matter of time, as everybody has their own dreams and goals that they want to reach. Don’t be frustrated by thinking ¡°I don’t have a dream. How can I have a dream, when I can’t even overcome my problems right now?¡° I hope the younger generation can have different experiences and challenge many things.
9. What’s your favorite animation or puppet animation? Who is your role model?
The respected directors of puppet animation are JIRI TRNKA from the Czech Republic and his apprentice, KAWAMOTO KIGACHIRO from Japan. JIRI TRNKA creates the Czech Republic’s traditional dolls and makes art films with puppet plays. If I have to count others, the most famous puppet animation director may be TIM BURTON. His representative films are The Nightmare before Christmas and Corpse Bride. He matches artistic sensibility of puppet animation with his own style. They are good examples of box office success, too. I want to resemble TIM BURTON’s color and style, and he is my mentor in that sense.
10. What do you wish to accomplish next?
My dream is to complete 10 puppet animation films before I die. There is no number 2 without number 1 and no 10th one if I am not able to complete my first film. I want each of my films to represent my life’s work and even though 10 films isn’t an easy task, I hope one day to reach my goal.
She is full of positive energy and loves her job and dream. She is full of confidence and passion for her work. When she talks about her profession I could see the spark in her eyes. Even when she is in difficult situations, she does her best in the field and doesn’t give up on her work. Also, she encourages young people and hopes they discover their dream and devote themselves to reach their dream.