This was a very interesting design project. The animation had to illustrate a story from ancient Korean folklore, and at the same time be connected to a modern drama. The film director, Angela Park, had a logical idea of progression in the animation look, but the starting point needed a delicate touch.
I started with images that were based on ancient Korean painting. However, the imagery could not be so arcane that it was unable to connect with a story that flowed into the modern world. This challenge has some similarities to how David Mitchell describes writing historical fiction, “To a degree, the historical novelist must create a sort of dialect —I call it ‘Bygonese’—which is inaccurate but plausible.” Mr. Mitchell makes the point that to be too accurate is grueling for most modern readers; to be too modern loses all atmosphere of the period depicted. My client and I faced a not too dissimilar situation for visuals.
Beginning sketches searched out various forms and emotions, particularly in the eyes. Traditional Asian art can indicate much power, fury and focus in the eyes. After that was explored, I looked at a soft ink-bleeding effect for how the painted characters would merge with the background. I first gravitated toward a familiar aged background tint. However, the director wanted more of an ephemeral pure white—as if the art had no more aged than the ancestral forces towing on the emotions of the live action heroine in the story. During this process I charted the style variations and progressions.
An additional component I designed for was that the animated characters “evolved” over time. The look became a little less traditional, and a little more natural in the modern sense. There was a good practical reasoning for this. The subtle change dovetails with the emotional state of the live action story. I made another little graph to keep that progression in order, as I went about building the various shots.