Words by Amy Badenhorst
Photos courtesy of Chris Rodgers
Did you know Gwangju has its own Stop Motion animation studio? Well neither did I! So, everyone meet Chris. Chris is not an English teacher – oh no! He is a stop motion animation artist working in Gwangju. Chris moved to Gwangju two years ago to join a team of animation artists at a company called Central Animation Studios. They specialize in making TV animation programs and are currently the only studio in Korea that makes them in stop motion animation. For the folks who do not know what that is – google it – but roughly summarized, it is a series of photos captured one frame at a time, with the puppets being physically moved between each frame. When you play back the sequences of images rapidly, it creates the illusion of movement. Probably the most well-known production CAS has created is the children’s animation series “Galaxy Kids,” which airs on EBS. Recently they partnered up with a French production company to make a new series called “Big Five.” There are a lot of intrinsic parts in the making of stop motion animation, something I think we simply cannot comprehend or appreciate when we watch any kind of production made with this skillful art form. From puppeteers to set designers to the animation artists, plus writers and storyboard artists. I mean, this is a whole eco-system where the very lean studio produces two eleven-minute episodes a month. Meeting Chris and getting to know the man behind the animation was really a wonderful experience for me – one I am honored to share with you. Chris grew up in northwestern Indiana in a small town called Portage. He went to Columbia College of Chicago, where he got his B.A. in film and animation. Then he moved to Seattle and opened a small animation studio, producing stop motion art for commercials, music videos, shorts, and documentaries. He first became interested in animation when he was a kid. He loved everything Jim Henson! One of his favorite films is The Dark Crystal. He used to play with his He-Man and Star Wars action figures and imagined in his mind different stories that would bring them to life! He enjoys creating diverse types of puppets that have been used on stage, in live action films, and parades. Chris really enjoys being hands-on with his artwork, and this is one of the reasons he is so drawn to stop motion. He just really enjoys playing with dolls.
So how has life been in Korea for Chris? He was overwhelmingly excited to have the opportunity to come to Korea, though he did not realize how much adjusting it was going to take once here. The time change was something that took a long time for him to adjust to, along with adjusting to the different style in which the studio operated, compared to what he was used to. He feels right now, only in the last couple of months, that he is finally settling in and getting used to the Korean way. Coming to Gwangju with its “small-town feeling” was not his ideal because once he moved from his hometown into Chicago, he only wanted to live in big cities.
However, he loves the beauty of Korea, hiking, camping, and fishing with coworkers – that is what makes Korea home to him. When he first got here, he did not know anything about the teaching community. For six months, he was consumed by Korean society and at some stage he realized, “I need to speak English.” He felt he was going a little crazy, so he found Tequilaz and The First Alleyway. When he walked into The First Alleyway for the first time, he felt like he was transported to a new planet. His view of Korea had been, up until then, only the Korean culture and society. Now he felt like he was back in Seattle. It was a truly memorable and surprising feeling for him.
Chris has also been involved with GPP (Gwangju Performance Project), and their recent production of The Little Shop of Horrors. Chris was the lead in creating the Audrey 2 puppets.
What does the future hold for Chris? For now, he is enjoying the experience at CAS and will be a part of the team making the new animation series called “Big Five.” But ultimately Chris would love to travel all over the world and work as an animation artist in different countries. Chris has a LinkedIn profile, which I recommend checking out to see what he has been up to. Also, if you see Chris around, say hi!