Minkyu Lee is a twenty-seven-year-old animator whose debut film, Adam and Dog, has received an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Short Film. Born in Korea and now living in Los Angeles, Lee worked for Disney and now teaches at CalArts. He spent two years and $25,000 of his own money making this delightful fifteen-minute film about a dog who befriends a man in the mythic past. [UPDATE: The complete film, which Lee posted on YouTube for a limited time, is no longer there, and I've replaced it with a one-minute trailer. The complete film is now available from iTunes.]
The first thing you notice about the film is how gorgeous it is. Lee says he found inspiration in the landscape paintings of Eyvind Earle. “There is… something about his paintings that have such a powerful sense of nostalgia,” Lee told Asia Pacific Arts. “Even though I’ve never been to those places, somehow it feels like a dream I once saw from the distant past.”
But what is most striking about the film, to me anyway, is the storytelling. One of my complaints about mainstream animated films is how chatty they tend to be, as if enough wisecracks can paper over a hackneyed storyline, or as if kids will get bored if there’s a moment of silence.
Adam and Dog, however, is a powerfully quiet movie. Not a word is spoken throughout this clever new subplot of the Adam and Eve story, unless you count a bit of barking and animal noises. The quietness helps create the serenity of the film’s Edenic world, and the story is conveyed effortlessly by deed, gesture, and facial expression. Lee says he was influenced by live-action film directors; he says they immerse themselves in the craft of storytelling more than directors of animated films tend to do.
Storytelling is a remarkably subtle art. Even with the written word, it isn’t as simple as just telling the audience what’s happening. Good storytelling is as much about withholding information as it is about conveying information. The storyteller must decide which details will best establish character, create narrative tension, and move the story along, and include only these and nothing more. Adam and Dog is efficient in this way — it creates a world and establishes love between two characters in fifteen minutes — and the pace is absolutely unhurried.
Because its style and pacing is so different from what US audiences are used to, I’m not sure how well the film will play in this country, or if Lee will get the opportunity to make a feature film. There’s also some innocent nudity (this is the Garden of Eden, after all) and some American parents may take that to mean that the film isn’t for kids; just as some adults assume that animation isn’t for grownups. So Adam and Dog may be relegated to art houses, but I hope that the magic of YouTube (and maybe an Oscar win?) will give it a large audience.
Adam and Dog’s official website is here.