In the world of independent animation, Korean director-animator-concept artist Oh Seo-ro (also nicknamed OSRO) skyrocketed to Internet fame. He first caught the attention of the international festival radar with graduation short “Afternoon Class” (2015) – a hilarious depiction of the all-too-relatable struggle of staying awake in school. “Afternoon Class” made its rounds at A-list animation festivals like Annecy, Animafest Zagreb, and won the Lotte Reiniger Promotion Award for Animated Film at Stuttgart. His follow-up film, the infamous snot-heavy short “(oo)” (2017) was laureled the Grand Prize at the 2018 Insomnia Animation Film Festival, Jury Special Prize at 2017 SIGGRAPH Asia Bangkok, and most recently, the Vimeo Staff Pick Premiere.
We managed to squeeze in an interview with Oh Seo-ro right before his next flight to Denmark’s Viborg Animation Festival (where he animated the opening trailer). At the 15th edition of Seoul’s Indie-AniFest, we had the opportunity to learn about his journey to success.
How did you first get involved with animation?
I originally didn’t want to be an animator. In elementary school, I dreamed of being a cartoonist. But making a narrative is hard. I would always draw comic strips when I was younger, but my stories always ended up jumbled-up since I didn’t think them through.
But I loved mecha anime. Transformers. Gundam. Evangelion. I enjoyed watching and drawing all these things. I didn’t draw humans that often, since I felt that [my drawings] would stare back at me. One day, I bought the “Star Wars” DVD in middle school. The DVD had a behind-the-scenes supplementary reel, where they showed the concept artists who designed the machines in “Star Wars”. It was so life-changing. I remember thinking, “There’s a job out there where I don’t need to make a narrative, or even draw people — but still get paid!”
And then animation?
[After watching the “Star Wars” DVD], I bought my first tablet and scanner in middle school. I started to upload my robot sketches onto the Internet. People liked them. It was really affirming to hear other people appreciate my work.
Later, in high school, I started to see shows I grew up on [like Disney and Cartoon Network] differently. The movement was just so… life-like. I remember thinking to myself, “I want to make that, too.” So I tried. I made my first animation about a robot moving in Adobe Flash. I went on to a graphic design competition in high school. Small things like that led up to my application and enrollment at ChungKang University’s Animation Department – which ended up being one of the happiest periods of my life.
Even now, the Internet seems like a huge influence on your work.
Honestly, the Internet opened so many roads for me. I was pretty shy in middle school and high school; I lived in Sapporo and Okinawa intermittently before completely settling in Korea, so there was some culture shock in middle school [when I moved back to Korea for good]. Studying was especially hard — in Japan, the tests all had colorful letters and illustrations. In Korea, the tests were just crammed with blocks of text. I was intimidated to even think of studying. I became less confident.
I started to regain my self-esteem when I started to upload my art. Drawing turned into a sort of therapeutic release for me: I would vent all my frustrations and fears and feelings into my art. Now, [aside from uploading my own work,] I have been so inspired by the plethora of directors and ideas on Vimeo and Youtube. They challenge me to do try to do better myself. It’s almost impossible to think that I could get involved in animation without the Internet! (laughs)
Who are your art role models?
This may sound really cliche, I really admire Glen Keane (“The Little Mermaid”); Kevin Dart (“June”); Yuaasa Masaaki (“Mind Game”). At Pixar, I like Andrew Stanton (“A Bug’s Life”). I especially love Genndy Tarkovsky’s (“Samurai Jack”) work too. I made sure to get his autograph at Annecy. (laughs)
When it comes to Korean directors… it sounds so mundane, but Bong Joon-ho (“Parasite”), of course. He has so much character and style as an individual director, but he still relates to the audience with his work. He evokes so much from just being himself.
How did you find your own style?
Since my animations are less scripted, I appeal through movement. I want to work on things that only make sense when it’s animated; I want to make things that only animation can achieve. I also want to make people feel something – sadness, laughter, anything – to evoke a sort of emotional response.
So I try to find the balance between making something that other people enjoy, while staying true to myself at the same time. I think sometimes people only do one or the other, but… why not both? Even though it sounds ambitious, I want to make original work that other people will like. For someone as shy as me, I think this is a wonderful way to reach out to other people.
As a rising star in the field, do you have any particular career goals?
Truth be told, I didn’t even know I would make it this far. I never planned to, either; I think life just had all of the pieces naturally fall into place. So I’m not so much of a planner. For now though, I do think it would be nice to make a feature someday. I also dream of working with a big studio in California, just to experience that sort of lifestyle. I just have so many things I want to do!
And finally… what is some advice you give to aspiring animators?
Make something that you’re passionate about! There are so many talented students out there, but I often hear that they’re “waiting for their next big break” or need to “polish up on their skills to have potential.” There are a lot of people who want to get into animation, but a lot of people get funneled into the toy industry or cartoon industry without being able to make their own film. If you want to do something, just do it. Who knows what will happen next.