Oscar Nominated Writer-Director Erick Oh On Using VR To “Describe The Circle Of Life” In ‘Namoo’
Inspired by the loss of his grandfather, writer-director Erick Oh takes a deeply personal story into the virtual reality space for Namoo. Coming off of an Oscar nomination for his last animated short Opera, Oh returns with an equally complex short filled with many discoveries.
Namoo, which is Korean for “tree,” is a narrative poem, held close to Oh’s heart for 10 years, told in an animated virtual reality space. The animated short follows the journey of a man’s life, from beginning to end, next to a tree that collects all of his memories. As he goes through the highs and lows of life, from love to loss, his tree changes and reflects how a person buries their hurt memories.
In his first foray into virtual reality storytelling, Oh decided to use Quill, Oculus’s VR animation tool, to tell this personal story. Although personal, the universal experience of life shines through in Namoo.
DEADLINE: When did you start working on Namoo?
ERICK OH: The idea itself has been sitting in my mental drawer for a long, long time. So almost 10 years ago when my grandfather passed away that’s when I made myself a little drawing of a man who hangs his own memories and belongings into the tree, and then how he grows the tree from a little singular flower, all the way to a grownup tree. So that doodle was almost like a diary for me and I didn’t share that with anybody. I was definitely most overwhelmed at the time, so I moved on and then that idea has been there for 10 years. And then recently around two years ago, that’s when I had an inner calling that maybe this is the time for me to share this with the world.
DEADLINE: Where do you think you got the idea for the tree to represent the journey?
OH: I don’t quite remember how I came up with the idea, but I think I can analyze what my thought was at the time. I was born in California but raised in Korea, and unlike California, in Korea we have a clear four seasons. Spring, summer, fall, and winter. The tree really changes its form fully in the spring. It blooms beautiful flowers and then it’s all about new birth. And then in summer, it turns into youth, like full green. And in fall, it becomes red, yellow, full of those colors. Then in winter, it loses all the leaves and turns into pure white and then connects all the way back to the spring. And I thought, oh my God, that’s our life right there. I wanted to describe the circle of life as well from beginning to end, but the end connects back to the beginning again. So, I thought the tree literally symbolizes what I wanted to talk about so clearly.
DEADLINE: What was the process like since you used VR to make this, this?
OH: Yeah, so we use this software called Quill. So, it is an amazing software that enables artists to be able to draw, paint, design, and animate in virtual space very intuitively. As soon as I thought about using VR to tell this story, Quill was the solution for me because I was intimidated by all these high-end technical limitations but Quill is so intuitive. And then aesthetic-wise we were able to achieve that water color, handmade, warm textile touch more effectively than any other medium, including the traditional computer graphic pipeline as well.
DEADLINE: What do you want the audience to take away from Namoo?
OH: Namoo is such a complex short that has a lot of mini stories and vignettes, and depending on how old you are or what type of life stage you are at, you’ll be able to experience it in a very different way. But at the end of the day, life is filled with a variety of things. You know, it’s not always beautiful, honestly, it’s filled with ups and downs. You have happy, joyful, and amazing moments, but at the same time, you also go through sorrow or anger, rage, or the lowest point and rock bottom. Sometimes you gotta hit your rock bottom and go through all these ups and downs. At the end of the day, if you lived your life to the fullest no matter what, your tree is beautiful, the tree of your life is beautiful.