Persona by Sujin Moon (Contemporary Korean Animation Series)

Persona Korean animation short by Sujin Moon

She's a young artist that managed with her first film to enter two of the most prestigious animation festivals. Korean director Sujin Moon crafted 'Persona', an intimate yet effectively dramatic story about self-appearances as her student film (Korea National University of Arts). She now competes in the student competition of both Animafest Zagreb and Annecy Festival.

As her logline states, the film is about 'the process of being encroached by the persona'. We talked to Sujin Moon about her film.

ZF: The bathroom is the first and final scene of the encounter and drama in your Persona film. What does this space mean to you as a dramatic setting?

SM: The bathroom is a spatial conception of the main character’s inner mind. The woman’s actions in the bathroom express her confusion and pain. This is the visual representation of the emotional conflict happening inside her persona. I also wanted to give a sensory representation of her feelings toward herself, through the sweltering humidity inside the bathroom during the monsoon season and the awful smell coming from the drain.

ZF: Most people would have chosen a face mask to signal the outside, 'public' character. You choose a full-body 'suit'. Why?

SM: I used a bodysuit because I needed to convey the feeling of being constrained from being sealed up tight without so much as a crack for the air to pass through.

ZF: The idea and the dramatic development for the film seem really worked out. I was wondering if this was your initial idea from the beginning, and what aspects of the final film were developed in the process? In other words, was the complete action already settled at the level of the script/storyboard?

SM: In my everyday life, I record compelling ideas and images and then try to understand the emotions I feel toward them. Then I connect them with an idea and begin my work. (Persona was also made in this way.) Instead of starting with a broad outline and adding one piece at a time, I lay out all the pieces and look at them, then put them together all at once.

ZF: What were your visual inspirations for the 'external' persona, the big eyes, and the eyelashes? Did you spend much time differentiating between the character design of the different instantiations of your main character(s)?

SM: The design for the outer persona was inspired largely by the style of Japanese romance animations. I see the Japanese animation style as an extreme exaggeration of the Asian standard of beauty. Such exaggeration can invoke a feeling of otherness, but people also feel attracted to the Japanese animation style. I can understand that duality, and I also find that style to be cute. I thought that feeling was very fitting for the main character’s situation, so I used it in the film. That idea occurred to me before I started working, so when I decided on my subject I was able to easily make that connection.

ZF:I liked how the backgrounds actually were really very neat and tidy spaces. Did you do everything on 2D computer? 

SM: All the work was done with a 2D digital animation program. We didn’t use any special features, but we simply worked really hard. I wanted the character to have a conflict between the outer imagery, which is clear and realistic, and the situation which is unrealistic. And I wanted that conflict to result in a feeling of otherness and haziness. So, I paid close attention to the depictions of the background as much as the situation itself.

ZF: This is a student film. Did you have much time to complete it the way you wanted it? I see that you had some help, but I guess you did most of it yourself.

SM: Animation requires a lot of labor and time. I thought it was very likely that Persona would be my final work. So, I wanted to push myself to my limit, and my family also understood my desires. I was able to work on it for 3 exhausting years. I wanted something that was purely my own, so I didn’t ask for any help apart from requesting people to look at my storyboard when it was finished. I did get a lot of help keeping myself on track mentally, and I am always very grateful for that.

ZF: Do you think that women, in particular, have more pressure to develop all these different personas in our media/social media world than men do?

SM: Societal pressures can take many forms and affect people regardless of their gender and age. It’s something that everyone feels throughout their lives. Among all the different types of people that make up our society, Persona is about young women and the pressure that they feel.

ZF: Making a film sometimes is a form of personal healing at some point. Did making the film work that way for you? Did you learn something about yourself by making the film?

SM: For me, creating something is a kind of release akin to going to the bathroom. I’m the kind of person who can’t get rid of emotions and stress very easily. When I have an emotion, I obsess over it for a long time. My work fulfills an important role that helps me to survive, so I am very grateful for that. If we aren’t true to our emotions, we can’t release them naturally. While working on this film, I learned how to be more honest with myself.

ZF: The film is in competition at Zagreb and Annecy Festival. What's your experience of those festivals? 

SM: It’s officially my first film, so this is my first time participating in Zagreb and Annecy. I’ve enjoyed watching independent animations since high school. Being able to attend such events is something amazing that I really look forward to.

Persona, 2022, 6' 45'' (2D animation)
Director-Producer-Animation-Character Design - Editing - Sound: Sujin Moon | Music: Artlist

About Sujin Moon

She was born (1996) in Ansan, South Korea. She graduated (2002) from the Korea National University of Arts of Animation. 'Personal' is her first film as a director and was screened in competition at Cannes Film Festival, followed by Animafest Zagreb, Croatia (student competition) and Annecy Festival, France.

The article is part of Contemporary Korean animation series, and was benefited from the help of Korea Independent Animation Filmmakers Association (KIAFA).

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