I am one of those who cannot give up on animation even though I fit in the adult category. I remember the Flint-stones, stubborn Tom and naughty Jerry, the Smurf commune, the candy girl with large eyes, Popeye the sailor and his girl friend fondly, and of course, no list would be complete without the cool and confident Pink Panther… and ultimately I discover the fantastic world of science fiction with E.T., Star-Trek, Star Wars saga, Matrix and then lastly Battlestar Galactica. Sci-fi knows no gender I am telling you:)
I was so excited when I heard about Nelson Shin’s visit to Istanbul for the 1st Canlandıranlar Animators Festival. Nelson Shin? The animator of pink panther, the creator of light saber in Star Wars, the director of Empress Chung, a Korean folk tale, the creator and producer of Transformers, the producer of the Simpsons and many others. It was amazing to watch an artist perceiving the city of Istanbul while we were walking around, enjoying the Turkish cuisine, and talking about history. And it was a pleasure to get to know him, to watch his Pink Panther shorts, and his last animation movie, Empress Chung and above all, to listen to him telling his life story at Istanbul Modern. I was delighted to have my first interview with him.
The Pink Panther was born out of an animated character in the opening and closing credits of a detective series in the same name in 1963. Why do you think Pink Panther has become such a adorable animated cartoon character? After having animated Pink Panther for years, how do you relate yourself to him?
David Depatie and Friz Freleng had opened a studio for commercials, movie titles and cartoons in 1963. One day, Black Edwards, the producer of a new film, Pink Panther, asked the studio for its title. In 1964, the film became successfully hit series and continuously made for years. At the same time, its title character, Pink Panther, also gained popularity and finally ended up with its own animation TV series. I worked in the Depatie-Freleng company since 1973. Pink Panther was a major work in the studio and I drew this character so much and sometimes for commercials. The character did not speak at all in the story, so it required the animator to be quite adept at creating strong expressions. After about 7 years of work, of course, I have to have so much affection for it.
In the pre-computer age, animation was done by hand. Now, except for the old school artists, many animators go for the computer animations. What do you think of the impact of computers on animation? How will it change the course of animation and the entertainment sector in the long run?
The movie industry has been gradually developing since the 17th century’s projection techniques. In 21st century of digital area, it is one of the most successfully sophisticated industries.
In 1645, thoughts about “light and shadow” started. Polishing the glass created a lens, through which we could find a new world of “images”. In 1736, “magic lantern” the projector, which projects an image on the wall, was invented. In 1839, photograph and camera were developed, which were respectively considered scary such as evil or life-taker. In 1888, “Kodak” film was developed, which was a long, rolled film (35mm) made of acetate fiber, which led to continuity in photography. Then, Thomas Edison made a movie camera with this film. It was then people started to watch a motion picture. In 1892, at Theatre Optique of France, Paris, a motion picture for theater was screened for the first time and in 1895, the first live action was filmed with Kodak film. After that, for almost 100 years till the 20th century, the world fell for the movie world, through which humans could emotionally and sensuously communicate with each other.
Now 21st century sees computer digital area where we can enjoy 3D animation such as Toy Story. As you can see the history of the development of movies, science has always served movies and improved the film sector with a higher technology and a new invention. Digital animation supported by computer technology would create an amazing future that we have never dreamed about.
Though there have been many sci-fi epics, the Star Wars series was THE epic. And the light saber is a significant part of this story. It was George Lucas who created it in the mind but it was you who breathed life into it. How did it come out?
When I worked for Depatie-Freleng enterprises, Lee Gunter, the company manager, asked me to draw the action of light sabers in the scene of Jedi and Darth Vader’s fighting with the laser weapons. I was studying on how the glowing effects of light saber could be more natural and threatening, and on how the speed of the saber’s motion could be effectively shown in the action.
I came up with the idea of a black and white paper being cut and used respectively as a matt for composing process of animation and live action. Then, I suggested two kinds of light exposures when filming the saber, which gave an effect of continuous vibration of the light saber. Finally, I added the sound of magnetic degausser, which was a tool used to remove the contents of the tape of sound in the past, for threatening sounds.
The manager was worried about this kind of new job, so gave me a month to finish it, but I did it within a week. The Lucas Film crew liked my job very much and I was also satisfied with it while watching the film in its preview. After that, I had several offers from George Lucas to be charge of special effects in the next Star Wars films, but I refused those offers because I wanted to stay in animation field.
There seems to be no clear-cut line between animation for children and animation for adults any more. What do you think about it?
There is already a clear-cut regulation for movie audience. Film makers should not disregard it while producing the content. The problem arises from us, adults. It is a serious problem to carelessly and illegally expose adult films to children via Internet, phones or any other media. I think that it is one of our imminent issues that we should deal with.
You were born in North Korea, then moved to South Korea and then to the United States of America. What was your American dream back then? Did you achieve your American Dream?
My American Dream was to find animation business in the USA and to prosper it in Korea. Actually, after I went to the states, I lived and worked there for over 10 years. Then I have to stay for now in Korea for business. So, yes, the dream came true!
During the Korean war in the 1950s, Turkey was one of the countries that sent armed forces to Korea. As a Korean-American, do you feel somehow connected to Turkey? If so, in what way?
I think that Korea considers Turkey as a “brother country.” Like Korean language, Turkish language also belongs to Ural-Altaic languages. During the Korean war, Turkey sent Korea 15,000 soldiers and 3,200 were killed or gone missing, which is a big sacrifice! Even though I was 14 years old at the time, I knew that the war is horrible. I have always wanted to express many thanks to Turkey for its substantial support.
It was an honour to have you here in Istanbul for the 1st Canlandıranlar Animators Festival. What was your impression about the festival and the interest in animation?
I was very glad that many Turkish people had high interests in animation. I think that Turkish animation sector could grow well because I saw some good promising animations in the festival. And it would be great to have a support from the government with new policies or finances. In my opinion, a good animation does not just need to have a good quality, but it should also include unique cultural elements such as Turkish folk tales or customs. And animation industry could start from education area. So I hope that Canlandıranlar association would lead animation education in the right direction and expand it to more diverse areas such as commercial sector.
Among all the things you have discovered in Istanbul, what did you enjoy the most?
People in Istanbul were really kind and warm-hearted. I really enjoyed and appreciated their kindness and hospitality.
You are a visual artist, and after staying in the city for a week, what does Istanbul mean to you visually? Has it inspired you in any way? If so, how?
Istanbul mosques caught my eyes as I stayed there. Their hugeness (over 800 of them!) and grandiosity were harmonized with several sky-high, slim and long towers spread throughout the city. It created a perfect beauty.
You must have travelled to many countries, and of all the countries you have visited, where would you place Istanbul?
Though I have been to many countries and cities around the world, I guarantee that Istanbul is definitely a city, which anyone on Earth wants to go. The city is a harmonious place, where the cultures of western Asia and eastern Europe are mixed and created its unique color!
Nelson Shin photo credit: Berna Gençalp
Canlandıranlar Animators Festival promo film: Eray Alpbuğday, Müge Durukan, Özge Ateş, Deniz Altunyurt, Turgut Hatipoğlu
If you would like to read more: History of the Pink Panther Show
Tags: American dream animated films animation Canlandıranlar Canlandıranlar Animators Festival childhood Empress Chung festival George Lucas Korean War Nelson Shin North Korea Pink Panther Simposons Star Wars Transformers war