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Check Out Yoo Lee’s Story

Today we’d like to introduce you to Yoo Lee.

Hi Yoo, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
Becoming a mother to a daughter is my catalyst for change. I picked up the camera and started capturing moments. That was about the time I started to get fatigued with the fashion industry and I knew I wanted to do something else but didn’t know what. So in 2017, my husband and I packed up our bags and we moved across the country and moved back to Los Angeles. Being uprooted like that made me unafraid to try something new and I started tinkering with stop-motion animation to entertain my daughter and I really fell in love with it. So after spending so much time and money making three music videos with help of my friends, I applied to the USC MFA program to study the fundamentals and somehow I got in.

That was 3 years ago and I have never looked back since. I love animation so much, especially stop-motion animation. I made 2 terrible shorts that will never see the day of lights followed by one that was just okay which led to A Poem by Alba which was the first short I was proud of. Then I completed 7LBS 8OZ with the help of the Film Independent Project Involve Fellowship and LAIKA animation grant last year which is getting distributed through New Yorker and I just wrapped up Welcome to 8th Street with HBO Max Access Animated Shorts Program.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
No. It took a lot of humble pies, tears, countless all-nighters, physical pain, and mental will to get to where I am.

Going back to school in my 40s after I’d been out of school for over two decades wasn’t easy. I am studying with the most brilliant animators in training at USC. I didn’t know any computer software programs minus Photoshop. I remember hearing about Cinema 4D during the first week of school and thinking “we have a 4th dimension I didn’t know about?”

Coming to the US as a young child not knowing English and sitting in the classroom not understanding anything for about a year and feeling like a complete fish out of water. That feeling came to all rushing back. I cried a lot and stayed at school late pretty much every day. I hardly saw my family.

Then there was this voice in my head questioning ‘Why am I doing this? At my age, what is going to amount to?’. I also had a few people who doubted me as well. So I just made up my mind that I was going to work hard, and only listen to the voice of encouragement.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I was going to be pigeonholed as a fabricator due to my fashion background even before going into the stop-motion industry. So I asked myself why I am doing this. And it always came back because I wanted to be a storyteller. I wanted to tell stories that are from my own life experiences that had meaning. Also, I wanted to tell stories that were entertaining for adult audiences, not in the realm of superheroes, driven by CG/ visual effects, bro culture, or objectifying female bodies. I just wanted to watch something entertaining that had lived in storylines that I can relate to.

So I created stories based on 8th Street in Jersey City, NJ where I lived for over a decade before I moved back to Los Angeles. A colorful place that really left a mark on me. And any stop-motion animator would agree with me on this, completing a short is something that I am very proud of. Stop motion is such a grueling process that only people who truly love the medium would participate in it. A Poem by Alba, 7LBS 8OZ, and Welcome to 8th Street are all based in that world.

I make all my puppets and the sets so I think there is a certain look that comes with that. Thanks to my fashion background, I am fluent in color and texture design which helps with world-building. Remember how I mentioned that the fashion industry is brutal? If you don’t meet the deadline in the fashion industry, the buyer can cancel the order, and you are left with the merchandise you paid to make and nowhere to ship. So having that training really made me respect the deadline and budgeting. So I am proud to say that all my shorts so far finished on time and on budget.

Do you have any memories from childhood that you can share with us?
I grew up in Korea and we have monsoon rain in summer. I used to run around with my little brother and friends in the rain, barefoot in the puddle without a care in the world about getting soaked. It was the best feeling.

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