This is an interview that the Kookmin University (Seoul) made with Jin Kim in 2011. Kookmin University (Seoul) is where Jin Kim graduated in economics (in 1982), and they posted this article when the exhibition “Dreams Come True: The Art of Disney’s Classic Fairy Tales” was running at Seoul Arts Center’s Hangaram Design Museum. I’m inlcuding the pictures they posted on the interview, but if you’re interested you can see the original article on this link.
(Job World) Kim Sang Jin, the first Korean top animator at Walt Disney Studios
The world famous Walt Disney Studios is now putting on a special exhibition in Asia.
There we can see Walt Disney’s top animator Kim Sang Jin. He has been playing an active part in Disney’s animation for 15 years and has displayed his talent in many pictures such as Tarzan, Bolt, Chicken Little, and The Princess and the Frog. However, the most surprising thing is that his major was economics. He became a top animator with a major in economics. Let’s meet director, Kim Sang Jin, the man who designs his dreams.
When you were a university student, what kind of a student were you?
-I was just a quiet, normal student. Also, I wasn’t interested in my major. Mainly, I was interested in meeting with girls.
You visited the school for an invitation lecture. How were the juniors during your visit?
The last time I was at this school was after my graduation. Everything at the school had changed. I didn’t recognize the buildings, even the atmosphere around campus felt different. Everything felt different. This time, I lectured on ‘Disney character creation’ as the subject. I was a bit nervous since so many people looked so excited. However it was a great time for me. After finishing the lecture, one of the students came and introduced himself to me. He said his uncle graduated at the same high school as me. At that time, I felt like all these juniors who are almost 30 years younger than me are like my nephews and nieces. If I had more time, I would have liked to share a few personal stories with them.
We’re wondering how you became an animator when you majored in economics?
Actually, economics was not what I wanted for my major. From Childhood I really liked to draw pictures and wanted to go to an art college. I knew that I couldn’t get into an art college because test results in high school showed that I was color-blind. I was very disappointed about that. However I applied to the school for an economics major with good SAT scores. Of course I didn’t study well because what I was studying was not my preference. I was eager to draw in my free time at college. After graduation, I looked for an occupation connected to drawing. Coincidentally, I found and read a newspaper article that introduced Korean animation jobs. The next thing I knew I was knocking at the door of an animation company. That’s when I started as an animator.
How did you join the Disney Company then?
After doing animation in Korea for 3 years, a Canadian supervisor from my company went back to Canada and built a studio. He suggested I worked together with him. So then I worked at this small studio in Toronto, but the company soon closed. At that time, DreamWorks animation studio was founded in L.A so many artists were moving there. Then DreamWorks and Disney posted job openings. I applied for both of them with thought: “let’s animate in original town of animation.” Disney contacted me, then after taking the arts performance test I entered the Disney Company.
What place in Disney do you work now?
The official name is ‘Walt Disney Animation Studios’. We produce feature animations. It is one of Disney’s affiliates and is an engine group. It is a place where most of Disney’s animation contents and characters are created. Many excellent artists from all over the world are getting together and working there. Now about 700 people are working here. After entering the company, everything has been like a dream. Meeting famous animators I saw in books, and working with great artists.
You created well-known characters such as Tarzan, Bolt, Chicken Little and Tangled; how do you create and produce them?
I participatedin works such as Bolt and Tangled as a character designer. Character design is like casting an actor in a real film. After reading a script, I do the work to find an actor who fits the character’s role by drawing. At first, catching the personality of the character is very important. In addition, we have to understand the director’s intention. There are cases that we start with nothing or just with an idea sketch of the director. We draw hundreds of pictures as a rough draft design, then choose a few ideas from them and add in more detail. Also, one artist draws the picture again with his or her new way by using a picture based on other artist’s ideas. Usually, the character design for a film is takes at least one year.
What’s the meaning of ‘Tangled’, your latest film?
It is a big meaningful work that I worked on with Glen Keane, who I really respect as a person. Also, it took 5 years of my effort as well. I feel happy to design characters of Walt Disney with my own hand. I don’t know whether my designed character will be one which will last year after year, like Cinderella, Pinocchio or The lion king or not. If I can accomplish this, I would be fruitful as a designer.
You resemblethe main character in the movie ‘Tangled’.
Many people said I resemble ‘Flynn’ starring in ‘Tangled’ as the main character. (Smiling) Hmm…as I see, it’s not true. He is much more handsome.
What do we have to do to be a great animator or director like you?
You have to draw more and more. I think one who draws a hundred and one pictures is better than the other who draws one hundred pictures. I would also like to recommend to you to see as much as draw. You should see everything you can as picture films; real things which are alive and moving.
What kind of animator do you want to be in the future?
Recently, I feel my passion is shrinking compared to the past. I hope I can keep my own youthful passion even though I’m getting old. The work I’m doing now demands many brilliant ideas so I think if the passion were gone, the ideas also would be gone as well. I hope I can continue doing the work I want for a long time.
Please giveKookmin University’s juniors a short word.
After I graduated, I heard that the school was growing. When I meet juniors in school I feel proud of them. As my personal wish, I would like to meet many of these juniors in this field that I work. If someone wants to work in the same field as me, then enjoy school life more than anything and increase your ability too. If you get into a big company and compete with many artists worldwide, have no doubt that your ability is better than theirs. Also, it is important to increase your ability soundly through a steady effort rather than trying to accomplish something quickly and in a short time.