To coincide with our Fine Cut festival, KCET is conducting interviews with the participating filmmakers. Here, we speak with Eusong Lee, the director of "will," about loss, the power of animation, and his atypical style.
First watch the film here:
There are moments when we all wish we could "turn back the clock," as it were, and regain something we've lost. Why focus this tale of loss on 9/11? Do you have a personal connection to the events of that day, or is there another reason it stands out to you as a setting for your story?
I am a foreigner and have no connection with 9/11. I wasn't even in the U.S. when it was happening. As a human who has emotion, I know this might sound weird, but in the beginning, inspiration came along when I went to a concert of my friend, Julian Kleiss, who is the composer of the film. He played one of his songs that was not released yet. The song was so beautiful, I came up to him after the concert and decided to make a music video for him. While I was searching where the song had come from and his inspiration, I found out that the entire song was inspired from one page from a book called "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close." And yes, the book is about 9/11.
It was a hard journey making the film. People tried to stop me from making it and I felt pressure and responsibility in a weird way. If somebody tells me, "Who the hell are you to talk about this? You have no single idea what it really was like!" then yes, I have no response. The only thing I knew for sure was the emotion when you lose a loved one. Although the story may be different, I thought the emotion of loss must be all the same. It's weird to say, but I do know what it felt like when I went to funeral for my grandfather or my friend. I took a trip to New York and visited the 9/11 tribute museum, met some people, watched any documentaries, any videos I could find that talked about 9/11. It was quite painful. But I really knew that the emotion of loss is the only way for me to talk about this sensitive topic with respect and care.
Why tell a story about these events through animation? What does it allow you to accomplish that you couldn't with live action?
Animation has strong and weird power because it's all about how you perceive it. Horrible images become more horrible than an actual image and happy lights become brighter. I guess, in cinema, it's all up to how it's composed to exaggerate and present. But animation is also made out of symbolic images. Drawings are all symbols. So, when people see a tilted circle, they understand it as sad eyes, and not as a circle.
More than anything I wanted to express an emotion from the event, not how cruel and disastrous the actual event was. Also, I wanted to pursue a simple and graphic aesthetic. I think because it was animation, I was able to trigger people's emotions more. Animation invites people's imagination and perception into the process of understanding images.
The style is atypical for contemporary animation. What drew you to animate the story in this fashion?
Styling is part of storytelling that requires complements, contrasts and collision. Architectural layouts, which objects and buildings are overwhelming over characters, are important because it really is the buildings that put the father character in danger. Graphicness and sharpness in style helped create a sensitive, nervous mood and to bring focal points and attention to everything. Minimalistic graphic shapes for characters limits a character's facial expressions, but that makes the audience imagine their emotions behind the cold face. Sadness in tears is sad, but sadness behind a poker face is more tragic. The cold and sharp-edged style complements the soft and fragile emotions in the film. To maximize what the story needed to present, I decided to go on this style of look. Also, I wanted to do something different from contemporary animation, so I guess I automatically drove myself into something atypical.
Who do you consider some of your greatest artistic inspirations?
For me, Dice Tsutsumi is always inspiring in his art and collaborative projects that inspire other artists. He also contributes to making a better world through charity and good illustrations.
What's next for you?
I should graduate CalArts first, but I am taking a leave of absence for a while. For the time being, I will be making another short film along with working at JibJab as a production designer. I just want to keep getting better as a person and as an artist.