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Korean animator on how she brings ‘Frozen’ to life: Lee Hyun-min led a team tasked with creating every movement Anna makes

Nov 30,2019
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Lee Hyun-min, the animation supervisor for the character of Anna, holds a large Olaf doll while visiting Korea. [WALT DISNEY COMPANY KOREA]
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The visual development of Anna for Disney’s “Frozen 2,” which was released last week. [WALT DISNEY COMPANY KOREA]
“I think Anna is a person with great power. Anna’s superpower is her inner strength, being able to embrace and empathize with others. Those qualities helped encourage Elsa to practice her magic freely.”

In response to a remark that Anna didn’t have magical abilities like her older sister during a “Frozen 2” press conference in Seoul on Monday, Disney animator Lee Hyun-min vouched for the auburn-haired princess with pride.

Lee, who led the team that animated Anna for the film, took the stage with “Frozen 2” directors Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee and producer Peter del Vecho to answer questions from local press about the highly-anticipated sequel, released last week. “Frozen 2” currently sits atop the Korean box office and has sold over 6 million tickets in nine days.

The JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, met with the talented animator following the conference to learn more about her job as a key contributor to the popular Disney series.

“Disney films are the result of a collaboration between many. Different people are responsible for Anna’s character design, outfit and voice. As animation supervisor, I researched how to present Anna’s personality through her expressions and body gestures so that the work of 80 to 90 animators would appear as if it were done by a single person,” Lee explained. She also worked on the first Frozen film as one of those many animators for Anna.

“If I noticed that a behavior didn’t seem like something Anna would do, I would correct it,” she added. “There were six supervisors in total who each managed key characters like Elsa and Sven.”

For “Frozen 2,” Lee paid attention to reflecting Anna’s protectiveness over her loved ones, given that she had developed strong relationships with her friends and sister by the end of the first film.

“If Anna fearlessly went to search for her older sister in the first film, in ‘Frozen 2,’ Anna has a lot more to lose, like her family, the Kingdom of Arendelle, new friends and the man she loves,” Lee said.

With her friendly manner of speech, lively expressions and gestures, Lee shares many similarities with the character she supervised. “I’ve heard some animators say that they drew Anna after observing me,” she admitted.

“But I was inspired by my older sister, who’s outgoing and bright,” Lee said. “Animation requires you to breathe life [into characters], so we need to observe the people and situations around us carefully. There are many animators who are good at imitating others.”

Working on the same film for four to five years made the 500 creators behind “Frozen 2” a pretty close bunch, leading them to draw inspiration from their colleagues and their stories.

Co-director Jennifer Lee revealed during the press conference that she was moved after finding out that “Hyun-min’s mother played a big role in supporting her dream to become an animator.” Lee Hyun-min’s mother passed away from stomach cancer soon after she persuaded her young daughter to study in the United States.

The theme of maternal love also shines in “Show Yourself,” one of the musical highlights of the film. Elsa’s powerful voice leads a scene packed with memories that the young princesses shared with their mother before she died in a fatal shipwreck with the King of Arendelle.

“The directors took great pains to create the ‘Show Yourself’ scene in the latter half of the movie. More than anything, we wanted to spotlight the extent of the strength and influence of Anna and Elsa’s mother. The staff all teared up when we first played the scene after it was completed,” Lee recalled.

“I thanked the directors for the scene and told them it was really meaningful to me.”

It was her family’s unwavering support that encouraged Lee to drop out of university in Korea - where she was studying astronomy - and move to the United States to major in art. She eventually enrolled in the Walt Disney-founded California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) as an animation graduate student and officially began her journey toward becoming an animator.

Since becoming an intern at Disney at 26, Lee has been a part of Oscar-nominated films including “The Princess and the Frog” (2009), “Wreck-It Ralph” (2012), “Big Hero 6” (2014), “Zootopia” (2016) and “Moana” (2016).

Despite her illustrious filmography, Lee believes that the most rewarding moment of her job is when children treat the characters as if they are their friends.

“I think we have done a good job if the presence [of animators] disappears. I have succeeded if the characters are loved just for their existence. When I heard that there was going to be ‘Frozen 2,’ I was really happy seeing how people reacted as if they were hearing about the news of old friends.”

Lee expressed high hopes for the industry in the future, as it continues to welcome animators from various communities and cultures.

“Gender equality and racial diversity have really improved in Hollywood compared to when I had just graduated from CalArts 12 years ago. These days there are many students who study animation through YouTube, so I expect to work with more diverse people from now on.”

BY NA WON-JEONG [kim.eunjin1@joongang.co.kr]



안나 빚어낸 이현민씨 “꿈 이룬건 암투병 엄마가 미국 유학 격려한 덕분”

“안나도 엄청난 능력자에요. 내면의 힘과 다른 사람을 포용하는 공감 능력이 안나만의 초능력이죠. 그런 안나가 있기에 엘사도 마음 놓고 마법을 발휘할 수 있죠.”

지난 25일 서울 광화문 호텔에서 열린 디즈니 애니메이션 ‘겨울왕국 2’(21일 개봉) 내한 기자간담회에서 안나 공주에겐 언니 엘사 같은 마법능력이 없다는 얘기에 이렇게 반박했던 사람, 바로 안나 캐릭터를 총괄한 한국인 스태프 이현민(38) 슈퍼바이저다.

1000만 관객을 돌파한 1편에 이어 5년 만에 개봉한 2편은 엿새 만에 관객 500만 명을 돌파하며 흥행 중이다. 서울에서 나고 자라 “꿈의 직장 디즈니”에 입성한 그가 이런 인기에 힘입어 한국을 공식 방문했다. 크리스 벅·제니퍼 리 감독, 피터 델 베코 프로듀서와 함께 한국 투어에 나선 그를 26일 따로 만났다.

“어릴 적부터 만화 보고 그림 그리는 걸 엄청 좋아했어요. 애니메이터란 직업이 뭔지도 모르면서 막연히 애니메이션이란 것의 일부가 되기를 꿈꿨는데, 평생 하고 싶었던 일을 하게 됐죠.”

안나 캐릭터 슈퍼바이저의 역할은.

“디즈니 작품은 여러 명의 협업으로 이뤄지는데 안나 캐릭터도 캐릭터 디자인, 의상 디자인, 목소리 담당 등이 따로 있다. 저는 애니메이션 슈퍼바이저로서 안나의 성격을 어떤 표정, 몸짓으로 드러낼지 연구해서 80~90명 애니메이터의 작업을 한사람이 한 것처럼 통일성을 부여했다. 이건 안나가 할 행동이 아닌 것 같다, 하면 덧그려서 바로잡고. 저 같은 슈퍼바이저가 엘사·스벤 등 캐릭터마다 한 명씩 총 6명 있었다.”

다정한 말투, 풍부한 표정과 손동작이 안나와 똑 닮았다.

“저희 언니가 안나처럼 활달하고 밝아서 저는 언니한테 영감을 받는데 저를 보고 따라 그렸다는 애니메이터도 있다. 애니메이션이 생명을 불어넣는 작업이라, 평소 주변 사람, 장면을 유심히 관찰한다. 애니메이터 중엔 흉내 잘 내는 분도 많다.”

한 작품을 4~5년 작업하다 보니 500여 명 제작진이 가족같이 가까워진다. 전날 간담회에서 제니퍼 리 감독은 “이현민 슈퍼바이저가 애니메이터의 꿈을 좇는 데 어머니의 지원이 컸다. 그게 저에게도 큰 울림을 줬다”고 했다. 당시 이 슈퍼바이저는 “어머니가 고등학교 때까지 응원해주시다가 병으로 일찍 돌아가셔서 꿈을 이루는 것을 못 보셨다”고 했다.

“감독님들이 후반부 곡 ‘쇼 유어셀프’ 장면을 고심하며 만들었는데, 이 장면의 스토리보드와 노래가 완성돼 처음 내부 상영했을 때 다들 눈물바다가 됐어요. 엘사와 안나가 자신의 역할이 뭔지 완벽하게 각성하는 계기가 되는 순간에 부모님이 안 계신데, 극 중에서 간접적으로라도 만날 수 있게 되잖아요.”

그는 “저도 어머니가 위암판정 받으시고도 미국에 공부하러 가라고 끝까지 밀어주셨다”면서 “수능 보고, 특채로 국내 대학(천문학과)에 붙는 거 다 보시고 12월에 돌아가셨다. 그런 저한테 그 장면이 굉장히 뜻깊다”고 말했다.

하지만 그는 한 학기 만에 학교를 그만두고 미국에 가 미술을 전공(학사), 월트 디즈니가 세운 예술학교 칼아츠 대학원에 진학했다. 타사에서 TV 애니메이션을 주로 하며 직접 만든 단편으로 주목받고, 스물여섯 살에 디즈니에서 일하기 시작했다. ‘겨울왕국’ 외에도 아카데미상 후보에 오른 ‘공주와 개구리’ ‘곰돌이 푸’ ‘주먹왕 랄프’ ‘빅 히어로’ ‘주토피아’ ‘모아나’ 등에 참여했다.

“칼아츠를 졸업했던 12년 전에 비하면 확실히 할리우드도 인종과 성별이 다양해졌어요. 요즘엔 유튜브 보고 애니메이션을 독학하는 학생도 많아서 앞으론 점점 더 다양한 사람들과 일할 수 있지 않을까 생각해요. 다양한 관점이 많을수록 더 재밌고 영감 있는 작품이 만들어지지 않을까, 기대합니다.”

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