Animator and director Kangmin Kim has created Deer Flower, a short film about a childhood experience that saw his parents take him to collect the blood from deer antlers, and watch as deer farmers cut the antlers off in front of him. Deer blood is still used as medicine in east Asia, “it’s known as a nutritional supplement for rejuvenating the body and increasing stamina. It’s not a common practice and can be considered a luxury,” says Kangmin. “Drinking the deer blood still lingers with me as such a bizarre and strong memory. When I told my filmmaker friends about my idea for this film, no one seemed to like it. Part of me knew this film would be unfamiliar and strange.”
Kangmin used a combination of stop motion, 3D printing and 2D animation for the film and the layering of techniques is something he likes to do a lot in his work. He works with his wife, Seulhwa Eum, under the moniker Studio Zazac, based in LA where the pair work on various design and animation projects. “It’s a super tiny studio so we do most things by ourselves. I have always been playing with 2D and 3D spaces because I love how these different elements create unique combinations under the lights on a set,” Kangmin says. “I like to use different techniques in one project because they make an unexpected outcome.”
The film has been a labour of love for Kangmin as he’s spent around two years on the project in between freelance work. “I spent most of the time in the preproduction stages to figure out the 3D program I wanted to use and the 3D printer,” he says. “The set building and shooting only took four weeks.”
Deer Flower saw the animator take a different approach to other films he’s worked on because it required 3D printing. “I didn’t have enough space for fabrication and I thought 3D printing could save money and space,” says Kangmin. “I took a few 3D classes when I was a student but I have been doing only stop motion since graduate school so I had to study and test it again and again.”
Kangmin learnt most of what he needed through YouTube and he says that’s one of the reasons “why the puppets have such a simple shape”. To the viewer though, the puppets look intricate with a beautiful movement to them and the paper and wood landscape the film is set in is incredibly detailed, bringing this whole world to life. Kangmin modelled the puppets and some props using the software Maya, and then 3D printed them. “Once the bodies were printed, I coated the figures with watercolours to keep the digitally-generated dimensionality without sacrificing the hand-crafted texture of the surface material,” he says.
“Making films independently gives you artistic freedom. I always try to work hard to make something that’s different, better and stronger with more advanced style and more mature filmmaking than the previous one,” says Kangmin. “It was physically and mentally challenging to wear so many hats as the director, animator, editor and compositor when you have to design and build the sets due to limited resources on a tight budget.”
The result is a thoughtful retelling of a powerful memory, and Kangmin’s choice to illustrate the story using stop motion animation allows him to convey something that other styles could represent as grotesque or difficult to watch. Instead, the films makes it seem like we’re seeing it through the child-like eyes of Kangmin, lacing the film with an innocence and curiosity. “I really tried to convey my own strange experience,” he says. “One of the things I wanted to achieve was a well-balanced piece that maintains my artistic integrity, but still one that many people can access and enjoy.”
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