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How a film comes into being. The making of 엄마 나라 | Mother Land; a retrospective.
“Ideas, more often than not, come in small fragments. I like to think about it as, in the other room, the puzzle is all together. But they keep flipping in, just one piece at a time.”
It’s been a month
A lot of other things are coming to a close too—the long, sultry line of summer eliding into fall; soon, for many of us, Halloween; Thanksgiving; then Christmas.
It’s a time of change.
엄마 나라 | Mother Land is also about change. It was borne because of it, helped me ride it, resulted in more of it. While it was baring itself to strangers in a strange space, over and over again for what will have been 29 days, it, too has shifted. Among other things, it has moved farther from its beginning.
Today I reflect on that trajectory, and marvel at how, in the creative process, truly nothing goes to waste.
My previous project,
Chamoe, was a 2.5 minute film painted in Photoshop. It’s a very different film from 엄마 나라 | Mother Land. As meaningful a collaboration as it was with my mother, it was also driven by pragmatism. I leveraged it to become more technically proficient, explore the festival circuit, and develop a stronger opinion on style. 2000 hours and over 26,000 Photoshop layers later, I realized that I wanted to experiment more, particularly on the stylistic front. I wanted to spend more time storytelling, and less time in production.
After Chamoe wrapped in May of 2022, I began ramping up on what I thought would be my next film—Masks, an allegory about the Korean War.
엄마 나라 | Mother Land ended up being about the War too—but not in the way I expected.
Salman Rushdie once said that even when he knows what story he wants to tell, it can be difficult to find “the right door to go into the story.”
It took me almost a year
to find the door to 엄마 나라 | Mother Land. The information made itself available slowly, by fragments. It was my job to receive, and execute.
One of the ways I listened for signals was by making vignettes—short, looping animations. An early one would eventually introduce the final sequence of 엄마 나라 | Mother Land.
Some of the signals would come as I was falling asleep:
Along the way, there were what felt like stylistic breakthroughs:
The designer in me attempted, occasionally, to organize and outline:
In the fall, I saw Dad alive in person for the last time. Mom’s condition continued to decline, and my five-year relationship dissolved. During this period, I began sitting less with the Cintiq. I found myself gravitating instead toward paper. 18x24” drawing pads were particularly appealing to me, and working with them led to a gestural, and more open, line.
Maybe I just wanted a change, but it also made sense that I was craving ways of working that felt warmer; more physical and organic, than those provided by purely digital modes.
As Mom moved further out of reach, I drew deeper into abstractions:
By early December, Dad was no longer with us. I was also elsewhere; in some liminal shadowland of my own, alone. Re-entry began slowly; creative practice took months to stabilize. I leaned into ambiguity, and fragments.
I began trying new things in the studio, more often. I’d long been intrigued by phonotropes (animations on turntables), and despite friction—new hardware, math, After Effects expressions—I suddenly had the drive to explore in earnest.
Little did I know that for 엄마 나라 | Mother Land, the phonotrope would become the door. Pretty soon, I was watching stories come to life at 45 rpms.
“Finally, something starting to take shape,”
reads a journal entry from June 4, 2023. Only days prior, a sprint had kicked off with the curators for the Han exhibit. What began coming into view, would become 엄마 나라 | Mother Land, mere months later.
Sequencing and framing came together more easily once I began shooting footage. Still, the structure of the film started in a very different place than where it ended up:
I could never have planned this.
I never imagined that I’d be working with a turntable to animate stories, or that I’d be capable of trusting a project to come together without a plan. Somehow though, I was able to accept that all I could do was make time, and room, then capture as much signal to filter through, as possible.
I guess that’s a trajectory too.
Throughout this process, I’d generated a ton of notes, drawings, and vignettes as a part of signal-gathering. Also: storyboards, animatics, scripts. Some of these puzzle pieces flipped into the picture that became 엄마 나라 | Mother Land. Others remain unturned, for now.
I’ll be preparing 엄마 나라 | Mother Land for submission shortly. Details forthcoming.
First, I need to obtain music rights 🤞, transition at least one sequence from digital to watercolor, and clean up a few other things.
I still can’t believe that this film came out of me, and that I was able to commune with other human beings through it—between us hundreds of miles, walls, hours, and lives.
Until next time.