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Interview with ‘Fox Tale’ director Doosun Shin

// Featured, Interviews

Today on Skwigly we meet Belmont, CA-based character animator Doosun Shin. Since moving on from a career in marketing into the more creative world of animation, Doosun went on to study through Animation Mentor and at Ringling College of Art and Design. Since then he has worked for companies including Blizzard, Electronic Arts and Blue Sky while making a name for himself through his animated short film Fox Tale. The film, in which a narcissistic fox’s vanity lands him in hot water, has proved a hit at festivals including ITFS Stuttgart, Fantoche and Encounters.

I see from your bio that you came into the animation world later in life than some, what prompted this move to studying animation?

I used to work for a huge company in Korea as a marketer. Basically every day was the same. I would suit up, get on the bus at the same time everyday, go into the office and start the same routine all over. Then one day, I found myself sitting at the back of the bus, looking at all these people getting on and off, everyone of them in a variation of the identical monochromatic suit. And I thought, ‘Underneath that same suit, would their sensibilities and personalities be the same too?’ It was a sobering thought. From that day on, I kept on reflecting on what my dream used to be as a child and how I loved to draw and watch cartoons since childhood. Eventually, I quit my job in marketing. I walked away from a career I had been building for 7 years and decided to start my studies in animation in a new country.

Doosun Shin

Doosun Shin

Fox Tale came from a chance encounter with an unusual bunny toy, can you tell me a little more about that and the story’s development?

I am always observing things and being inspired by real life. For this particular piece, the inspiration came from watching my daughter play with clay animals. I saw how tickled she was by detachable body parts; she would take the eyes off of one animal and attach them to another, the tail off of one and stick it on another. Watching her made me remember the photo of an interesting bunny doll with a fun tail that I had once taken in a toy store. Everything clicked, and with these two motifs coming together, I began writing a story about forest animals that swap tails with one another. After writing a rough draft of the story, I actually fashioned a giant fox tail and let my daughter play with it. The entire process crystallized the personalities of Mr. Fox and Mr. Bunny in my head, allowing me to bring the whole story to completion.

Inspiration for the story development

Inspiration for the story development

How did you develop the characters for the story?

I started with just a rough idea of the main character. Before writing the whole story for the short film, I imagined this character in a specific setting interacting with objects in the surrounding environment. I asked myself how Mr. Fox would react to a mirror, given how enamored he is of his own tail. If he found a number of beautiful tails lying around, what would he do with them? I answered these questions on paper by drawing a few storytelling images. The drawings made the character come alive visually and allowed me to put the puzzle of the story together, image by image. In time, it became very clear to me who Mr. Fox was as a character—a vain teenager who is callous about others’ feelings.

Early idea sketches

Early idea sketches

The characters you designed are adorable with lots of appeal, what influences have you brought into your work?

I wanted a story that would be family-friendly and which would appeal to children in particular. After completing the story, I researched a ton of Fox and Bunny character designs including illustrated books for children. To approximate children’s proportions, I kept the height to head length ratio of the characters at four to one, and used simple lines and color scheme to enhance the effect of creatures’ cuteness.

Early character explorations

Early character explorations

After you wrote and storyboarded the film, when you moved into production did you do all the work yourself?

Yes, I did everything in the pipelines except for music and voice acting. I really enjoyed being in charge of all creative decisions. But one thing I’d like to caution other artists about doing a single- person project is the importance of time management. To make major decisions about each milestone and keep to the production schedule took a lot of discipline, because you are beholden to no one but yourself.

Final design of Mr. Fox

Final design of Mr. Fox

What aspects of the modelling/rigging of the character did you feel were most important or challenging?

I was trying to make appealing characters and model characters while keeping their silhouette, shape and line simple and clear from any perspective. I also view Fox Tale as a kind of pantomime, where characters’ poses and expressions are central to the storytelling. So, I did a bunch of sketch passes and tested them out in 3D, going back and forth between modeling, rigging and animation.
One of the biggest challenges was adding special rigging to the characters in a few specific shots in order to make them more expressive and visually interesting. I used the technique, for example, in the shots where Mr. Fox is face down on the ground and when Mr. Fox is playing with a peacock tail.

L-R: Reference, animation and final image

L-R: Reference, animation and final image

What does your daughter think of the film?

I am very happy to report that my daughter LOVES Fox Tale. Because Hannah watched the entire process unfold and was part of its creation, I think she was able to enjoy the final product a lot more when it came out. She watches it over and over, and never seems to tire of it. In the end, Hannah’s approval means more to me than all the invitations I have received from prestigious animation festivals worldwide, though I am tremendously honored, of course.

Fox Tale has been doing well in festivals, have you managed to get to many and what has the audience response been like?

I attended a couple of animation festivals. The audience responses vary. Usually, children laugh out and have fun mimicking Mr. Fox and Mr. Bunny while adult seem to show a few different types of response. Some enjoy the film as young audiences would, but some take pity on Mr. Fox. A few have said that that the film is scary, which I found very interesting.
As for official reviews, my favorite came from the 13th Fantoche International Animation Film Festival in Switzerland. “Unexpected ending. Frequently amusing and sometimes mysterious, they inspire us to think about the world we live in. It shows us that short films are an excellent platform for learning life lessons”.

3d_model

3D modeling of Mr. Fox

What are you working on now, and what are your plans for the future?

I work as an animator in the United States. The most recent project I worked on was Ice Age: Collision Course from Blue Sky Studios and The Sims4 from Electronic Arts. While working as an animator, I am continuing to develop short animation projects as an independent director. I want to create a didactic story for young audiences.

See more of Doosun Shin’s work at doosunshin.com

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