I saw a collection of animation last night, and Under The Honey Chestnut Tree was especially memorable – Like the classic Disney many of us where raised on.
Hyun-min Lee, creator of UNDER THE HONEY CHESTNUT TREE
Interviewed by Sam Chen, SDAFF Artistic Programmer
Hyun-min Lee is an animator from Seoul, South Korea. She came to the United States in 2000, and has earned a degree in painting from Wesleyan University and a Masters degree in animation from the California Institute of the Arts. She enjoys working in all areas of animation, but her work mainly focuses on traditional hand drawn techniques. She cites the early Disney films as an influence on her work, and has spent time training with animators Eric Goldberg and Bert Klein. Hyun-min currently resides in the Greater Los Angeles area and continues to work on various animation projects.
What inspired the story of "Under the Honey Chestnut Tree"?
The person who has been the biggest inspiration in my life is my mother, and since she passed away a few years ago I was left with countless memories of the times I spent with her. I thought animation was the best medium to pay tribute to those memories, for me and for my family, so as soon as I properly learned how to animate I had to make a film about all the things that I missed about her.
Your style is so reminiscent of classic Disney animation. What is your favorite Disney animated film, and which one(s) have you learned the most from?
It so hard to choose! One of my favorites is "Robin Hood" because I used to watch it as a kid. I also really like "Cinderella","The Three Caballeros", and "Aladdin" and a lot of the old Disney shorts that would run Sunday mornings. We'd record them and I'd watch them over and over. It's difficult to pick a favorite, because each film has such great moments and characters in them, I've learned a lot from those bits of classic animation that make you completely forget the fact that they were hand-drawn by someone. I'd like to be able to create such memorable characters for people someday.
Tell us about Eric Goldberg's (director of Fantasia 2000's "Rhapsody In Blue") involvement with your work.
I was able to work with Eric on some other animation projects that he was directing and it was very inspiring to see how he worked. I've always loved his animation, especially from Fantasia 2000 (Rhapsody in Blue and Carnival of the Animals), and working with him gave me the chance to learn a lot of animation skills that helped me grow as an artist. Also, he loves animation that is timed to music and he helped me make some choices about what musical accents to hit in my film.
A hand-drawn frame from "Under the Honey Chestnut Tree"
Your film is executive-produced by Don Hahn, producer of hits such as "The Lion King" and "Beauty and the Beast." Tell us about his involvement with your film.
Don Hahn helped hone the film to the finished product that it is now. He has very good advice and his guidance has been invaluable. He knows so much about the film making process, and I couldn't have finished the film as such without his input and support.
What would be your ultimate dream job in animation?
My dream would be to ultimately be a lead animator that a director could depend on to do a character right. The classic Disney animators would be given a character and the director knew they could just do it – they had total confidence in their work and ability. I would be very happy if I could reach a point where people would have that sort of confidence in me, and I hope the work I produce can be a big part of making the film an enjoyable experience for the audience.
Will you be producing another independent animation in the near future?
For the time being I'm looking forward to being part of some bigger productions, sharpening my animation skills as much as I can, and learning more about filmmaking and animation because I'm still taking my first big steps in this field. But in the future I would definitely like to make more of my own films.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
I like to watch a lot of films, but I also enjoy watching people around me like my family and friends and seeing their daily emotions and reactions. No person, life, or day is exactly the same as the other and the fact that animation can capture everything from the most subtle responses to the most outrageous pieces of imagination is what inspires me to continue working.
Word has it that you are the first Asian woman to work in Disney's hand-drawn department as a 2D apprentice animator. Tell us more about this position and what it means to you.
I am starting as an animation apprentice in October, which is an animator-in-training. I am very excited and honored to be chosen for this position. I have been told that I might be the first female Asian hand drawn traditional animator in the department at Disney, but there have been Asian female animators in the Computer Animation department and Asian women in other departments as well. So for me it just means that I will always do my best to work harder and make sure that my animation will be able to stand up to the great legacy that Disney has.