Kangmin Kim


Kangmin Kim interviewed by Case Jernigan

MATERIAL WORLDS is an ongoing series at Evergreen where contemporary video artists and experimental animators discuss their relationship to tools, technology, and the history of art.


Kangmin Kim is a powerful example of the modern independent filmmaker. Collaborative, decisive, and ultimately singular in his vision, he’s screened at major festivals like Sundance, Annecy, SXSW, and Glas. KKUM, his most recent project, took home the grand prize and audience prize at Ottawa, a tremendous achievement. What makes Kangmin’s short films about family and inner friction resonate with audiences is hard to pin down. Is it the tactility of his figurines, puppets, and models? Is it his off-kilter and nuanced storytelling, or perhaps his natural facility with the camera? Hard to say, but what remains after viewing his multimedia short films are lingering questions about symbolism, relationships, and of course, the nature of movement. He guides us into microscopic worlds and outward to the expanding cosmos, but in the end he always delivers us back to a very recognizable planet Earth.





Case Jernigan: I had no idea that your production time was so short for KKUM. It feels like a project that’s been worked on for significantly longer than two months.

Kangmin Kim: Like I mentioned before, I’m a freelance artist, so I have to keep finding new projects to earn money to support my family. But I wanted to make this short film, so I was like: okay, let’s start working . . . but maybe I can also give myself some time to make this film. At the same time, I could see the money disappearing in my account, so I had to find out the concept and the core of my project very quickly. That’s how I usually start my production. And that’s the reason I can usually finish my films very quickly.


CJ: It seems that you took the pressure off of yourself in a way by saying that KKUM would just be a holdover until you got to your big project, because in some ways that takes the cerebral qualities away from making “the film,” if you know what I mean. But you also had a tremendous amount of pressure on yourself, thinking about the budget and time passing. So you created a perfect storm of tension there that seemed to work for you.

KK: Yeah, a “perfect storm.” That sounds great. I’m a person—an artist—who likes to have pressure and limitation. I used that a lot for KKUM, actually. I tried to find “what is the best material to make this film?” I found two materials: the Styrofoam and just the normal foam. I set up the light and I set up the camera and I tried to explore, to find out what is the speciality of that material through the camera. I made a first test puppet. The first test puppet and also the last test puppet. I couldn’t make a new one. So I made this puppet first and set up the lighting. The first shot through the camera and I just fell in love. I thought “oh my god . . . this looks beautiful.” The material. It’s very cheap material. This is very usual in the stop motion industry. Everybody uses this material. But usually, in the stop motion industry we put more material on this foam.

CJ: Sure, fabric . . . paint . . .

KK: Yes, but ironically, I didn’t have the time or budget for that. And so I was like, “okay, let’s see what happens.” And then I was like “Oh my god, this material looks amazing on camera.” So okay. I’m gonna just use it. And also with the Styrofoam, I used a melting technique for a commercial project before and I’d been waiting to use that technique again. And finally, KKUM was the project.


CJ: I have seen some of your sketchbooks online where you were working out some storyboards and ideas and character ideas for KKUM. When you were making those drawings, were you imagining those figures? Those early drawings? Were you imagining those figures in foam? Or did that connection happen a little bit later?

KK: I think in that early sketchbook I couldn’t figure out what kind of material to use. I just wrote down a few sentences and few simple sketches first. And then I found the material and I found out the foam would work. And then I made the puppet and I could figure out the shape and texture. Then I could use the puppet for more detailed storyboarding. Concepts. Style frames. Stuff like that.

CJ: When you made your initial puppet, the one you just showed us, did you begin to start shooting tests right away?

KK: Yes. I started shooting for the test, but it was a very short time, maybe less than one day. I couldn’t take more test time, because everything was very tight schedule-wise. So the very next day I had to use my notes for storyboarding before shooting, and then the same day . . . shooting.


CJ: Wow. Where did the building of the other puppets and materials happen alongside the storyboarding and the shooting? How did you manage all three? What was the structure like?

KK: I had ten minutes. Every morning I had to travel with my son to kindergarten. It was around 10 am. And then I gave myself only ten minutes to figure out what I should do each day. And that’s the time I used to make notes. A very small thumbnail sketch for storyboarding. And then after ten minutes, whether it was the wrong decision or a good decision, I had to just keep to my plan. Keep on my track.

CJ: You have information. And you’re getting more information as you go. That’s really smart. You’re inspiring me.


Spring / Summer 2024

Kangmin Kim

Kangmin Kim is a designer, storyteller, multiple award winning filmmaker based in LA. His film, KKUM won the grand prize for independent short and the public prize at the Ottawa Int’l Animation Festival, marking just the third time in the 44 editions of the OIAF that the same short film has won both prizes. His films have screened internationally at many festivals including Sundance, Annecy, Ottawa, Zagreb, Hiroshima, AFI and more.

Case Jernigan

Case Jernigan is an experimental animator, narrative game-maker, and educator. He makes work about panic, illness, nostalgia, and repressed bro culture. He shapes vulnerable worlds and values play. He’s been an artist in residence at Sharpe-Walentas and the Center for Book Arts, screened at Hotdocs and Hollyshorts, and shown paper-works across the US. He recently completed an animated documentary shorts series with Closer Productions about soccer fans. He’s currently building a stop-motion autobiographical video game about art.

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