Most people keep a diary to record their thoughts and express their feelings. Erick Oh grabs a pencil and draws.
Oh, who graduated with a master’s degree in film and animation studies in 2010, was nominated by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences earlier this month for his animated film “Heart.” He was chosen as one of the nine national finalists in the animation category for the annual student film competition, the Student Academy Awards. The top three films within the category will be chosen within the month and will be honored at a ceremony on June 11.
Oh, who currently works at Pixar, said the nomination came as a surprise because he was only a regional finalist in 2008 for his animated short “The Bag.”
“Heart,” Oh’s eight-minute animated short that contains no dialogue, tells the story of creatures who battle over a heart. They don’t know what it symbolizes, but they still want it. In the end, their mixture of desire and greed over the heart leads to their destruction.
The film is mostly in black and white. Oh said he made this aesthetic choice because he wanted to keep the animation as close as possible to his initial idea on paper.
“During the brainstorming stage, I draw a lot with pencils and paper, so I keep the animation using a minimal color palette,” Oh said. “When I use a lot of colors, that’s minimizing the audiences from thinking and imagining.”
Oh said he got the inspiration for “Heart” from witnessing the greed and selfishness of the world and politics.
“It definitely comes from personal stages, when I see the world and politics in our lives. It’s a competition, and people struggle and fight against one another. It destroys us. So I was asking myself, “˜Why are we doing this? What’s the purpose?’” Oh said.
“Heart,” Oh’s fifth animation to date, is a project he started in the summer of 2009. It took him a year to finish with the help of more than five clean-up artists who were living in places from New York City to France. One of those artists, UCLA animation thesis candidate David Meslin, who resided in Manhattan at the time of working on “Heart,” said, because one animator can’t do a film longer than two minutes by himself, he needs the help of clean-up artists to finish the drawings.
Meslin also said that if the drawings don’t look the same, the animation would appear wobbly, so the team of clean-up artists working with Oh had to come up with a midpoint and connect the dots in a way to make the styles match. Out of the 200 shots in the film, Meslin worked on 15 of them.
Meslin said Oh, who was born in San Francisco and grew up in South Korea, had more animation experience coming into UCLA than most people had going out.
“He kind of arrived from Korea to UCLA as a fully formed filmmaker. … The first thing I ever said to him was, “˜Why are you in school?’” Meslin said. “He’s a real artist.”
Oh said he lists Salvador Dali as one of his strongest inspirations and his favorite artist.
“When we say Salvador Dali, the first thing that comes up is his paintings, but he actually did films and structures and all these varieties and formats. I would like to be left like that in the future. … I just want to create this one genre,” Oh said.
Joe Trapanese, who received his master’s in music composition and visual media from UCLA and has composed music for “Tron: Legacy” and “Dexter,” said he found composing the music for “Heart” challenging because there is no dialogue in the film.
“I wanted to find a way musically to keep the spirit of the film. It touched on deep subjects. … I wanted to keep it open-ended,” Trapanese said.
Oh started working at Pixar just after finishing “Heart” and worked on “Cars 2.” He said he enjoys animation because it allows him the freedom to choose his own style.
“You can do anything in animated films. Even form, we can go really cartoony and classic, we can go really abstract and experimental, we can go really fine art, we can go narrative, non-narrative, we can use music ““ whatever,” Oh said.
Oh said in the long run, he would rather be known as an artist than as a director.
“When I go home, I draw and focus on my own things. I might finish one more short this summer or fall. I enjoy working at Pixar to learn more about the aspects of film production, but in my heart, my ultimate goal is to raise my voice in my own way and be an artist,” Oh said.