Haein Kim reimagines fleece as a symbol of maternal love in her latest animation
It’s Nice That’s Ones to Watch shines a light on 12 emerging talents who we think will conquer the creative world in the coming year. Over the coming months, we’ll be catching up with creatives from our 2019 selection to see what they’ve been up to. Ones to Watch 2019 is supported by Uniqlo.
We first fell in love with Haein Kim back in 2016 when the Sydney-based animator, a student at the time, surfaced onto our screens with the animated short Forward, made in collaboration with her partner Paul Rhodes. Fast forward a couple of years and the creative duo came together again, this time, on a rib-tickling comedy Peepin’ based on the animator’s childhood experiences as a young Korean growing up in majority white Australia.
Along with her dusky blend of pencil illustrations, the graduation project solidified Haein’s place on our Ones to Watch list earlier this year. Her ability to entwine lighthearted humour with sensitive issues of race greatly impressed us, showing a level of creative maturity well beyond her years. So when we started to think of someone to interpret Uniqlo’s cozy fleece range, we thought who better than Haein? Someone with an original touch in both concept and technique to bring this heartening material to life.
Fleece, Uniqlo’s timeless (and most fuzzy) staple lies somewhere between comfort and contemporary. Its fit is both relaxed and snug at the same time, not to mention soft to the touch. It provides our wintery bodies with much-needed heat retention during those blustery seasons when we’d rather be hibernating by a pile of acorns than chilling our bones off. In turn, we tasked Haein with translating the qualities of fleece into an original animation.
First, she embodied the feelings of warmth and cosiness, tucking into her fluffy pink dressing gown to get her in the right cushiony creative mood. It didn’t take long for these feelings to resonate with Haein in a different way. The softness of it all evoked thoughts of a special kind of love, more specifically a maternal love, and even more specifically, her own relationship with her mother.
“The fleece became a symbol of maternal love,” Haein tells It’s Nice That on the topic of the new animation short. “The fleece wearer became a symbol of a child – warm, snug and protected in her mother’s arms,” she adds on the idea. Basking in the familiar feeling of homeliness, Haein tells us about her relationship with her mum, “My mum is unconditional love, she is the best.” Growing up, she was not only Haein’s protector but also her best friend. “I hope everyone has memories of their mothers which bring up feelings of nostalgia and warmth,” she says reminiscently.
Her first task was to tackle the character animation. As the IRL references for the protagonists were pretty easy to come by (all she had to do was look in the mirror and hang out with her mum), Haein turned her attention to the microscopic details. She thought a lot about what the pair would wear, eventually deciding to dress them in matching outfits, a common trope in Korean culture, which she describes as, “going matchy matchy.”
As a child, Haein’s mum would dress her and her sister in matching outfits, and now, as an adult, looking back on these memories brings the animator a lot of joy. In a way, the film is an ode to the all-encompassing care mothers provide to their children. And in Haein’s case, a metaphorical thank you to everything her mum has done for her. Over the years however, their relationship has changed from Haein becoming the protector rather than the protected. On this, she says, “Racial slurs hurt me the most when it’s aimed at her and it really brings out the beast in me.”
In the short, Haein reflects this role reversal through the play of perspectives. In one scene, the mother and daughter are exercising in unison, their movements perfectly timed to highlight their bond. The mother is first depicted much larger than her kin, but through a series of stretches with elongated limbs, the daughter increases in size while the mother’s shrinks. The pair swivel elegantly with each gesture in this particularly smooth scene, but above all, it’s an artful nod to Haein growing into the protector, shielding her mum from any external forces and in turn, becoming more aware of her mother’s sacrifices and personal experiences.
“My mum is South Korean and she moved to Australia in her teens,” says Haein. “She says that when I was a kid, I was like her shadow, following her around everywhere and anywhere,” similar to the daughter in Haein’s film. She grew up speaking solely Korean, but as she got older, English became her primary language. “She mainly speaks Korean,” says the animator, “so we have some communication issues.” And though their relationship (like any) may have its flaws, despite the verbal barriers, “it’s clear that she’s always got my back.”
Throughout Warm, the viewer is overcome with heart melting loveliness, and just like Uniqlo’s woolly fleece jackets, the short instills a warmth equal to a big squishy hug after a long day. “My mum has the biggest heart and is so selfless it hurts,” she continues, and with this feeling in mind, the film transcends the commission becoming a heartfelt tribute to mums all over the world who have catered to their childrens’ needs. “I’m really excited to show my mum,” she adds on the commission.
Just like Haein’s relationship with her mum in reality, the animation is all about showing a strong bond rather than saying it. Every time she comes home she is showered with various declarations of love – huge Korean feasts, an insistence that she takes kimchi home with her, and little affectionate pats on the butt – all signifiers of warmth and homeliness quite like fleece.
Collaborating once again with Paul Rhodes on the short, this time round, Haein’s partner and fellow animator brought his trusty sound design skills to the project. With Paul’s lighthearted touch, Warm’s tone becomes even warmer through the added dimension of sound and the friendly soundtrack further elevates Haein’s work into an artform with signature Kim-Rhodes style.
Once she’d established her animatic in a crisp, black outline, Haein went onto work on some style frames before attacking the final motion sequences for the final animation. Careful to evoke the right tone for the characters’ expressions, she ensures the mother’s gaze is tenderly looking out for her daughter throughout. The daughter’s, on the other hand, is one of trusting innocence. Though the final animation is only 43 seconds long, Haein manages to squeeze a multitude of emotion into the content. Complemented by soft colour palettes and a dynamic variation of shots, Warm ultimately highlights the powerful relationship between mother and daughter, and boy do they look great in their Uniqlo fleeces too.
As part of our Ones to Watch 2019 campaign, It’s Nice That is working with Uniqlo to explore a variety of its products through a series of original creative commissions. This piece by Regular Practice is the fourth instalment of the series, which will continue until the end of the year.
For the first piece, we asked Micaiah Carter to interpret Uniqlo’s linen range from a new perspective; we’ve also asked Jee-ook Choi to take Uniqlo’s AIRism range as the inspiration for a series of illustrations, Yuko Mohri to create a sculpture from a series of Blocktech garments and Regular Practice to design a typeface from the Ultra Light Down range.
Fleece is Uniqlo’s range of timeless seasonal staples where warmth meets comfort.
About the Author
Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor. Feel free to drop Jyni a note if you have an exciting story for the site.