By Tyler Callister
This past March, Academy of Art University School of Animation & Visual Effects (ANM) student Tony Kim was named runner-up in the “World of Warcraft” Student Art Contest 2021. The contest was overseen by Blizzard Entertainment, the video game developer best known for “World of Warcraft” and “Overwatch.”
As of reporting, Kim was in the final semester of working towards his ANM M.F.A. when he was honored as the first runner-up in the contest’s animation category. His winning piece, “Attack,” features a solitary monster tossing a boomerang, then leaping to catch it midair.
To make his “Attack” video, Kim began with a rig—the main design and structure of the monster. He used Autodesk’s Maya animation software to control the monster’s movements.
Kim said the hard part was making the monster smoothly transition from standing still to moving. He fixed this problem by making the monster stand “ready to fight,” already bobbing slightly up and down. This solution made the transition to movement look more natural.
The ANM student admitted that he was surprised by the win because he felt rushed to meet the deadline.
“Honestly, I didn’t have enough time to do it, so the time was really short,” he said. “My work was not that satisfying to me, but I did my best and got second place. I was so happy.”
Kim was inspired to enter the contest by a fellow animator and 2019 Academy alumnus Dahyun Beak, who won the 2019 Blizzard Entertainment contest in the animation category. The two met at the Academy’s late-night computer lab at 180 New Montgomery in 2019 and became good friends.
“I learned a lot from my friends in the lab before the Covid thing happened,” explained Kim.
Although the pandemic in 2020 kept Kim apart from his friends, his bond with Beak lasted long after, and he continues to find inspiration from him. Beak interned at Pixar after graduating, and Kim plans to do the same this summer.
“I am following in his footsteps,” he said with a chuckle.
Hailing from Seoul, South Korea, Kim began his creative career in fashion. But after studying textile design for his undergraduate degree, he worked for a fashion show and ultimately realized that the industry wasn’t for him.
“I realized there was a lot of paperwork as much as designing,” he said. “It didn’t feel like a way to live up to my abilities.”
Kim sought other creative outlets and eventually found a spark of inspiration in the Disney movie “Frozen.”
“It was my first time watching a feature film in the theater,” said Kim. “I had no idea about animation at all, so everything from ‘Frozen’ was so inspiring to me. The shots were visually really beautiful, and I was able to engage with the characters. After I watched ‘Frozen,’ I started watching a bunch of feature movies, such as ‘Up,’ ‘Ratatouille,’ and ‘Inside Out.’ I looked up what animators did, [and] designing characters’ [movements] looked so attractive to me. So, I decided to study animation.”
Kim came across ANM at the Academy by searching online, and in 2019, he took the plunge and moved to San Francisco. He shared that ANM had just what he was looking for—in this case, a master’s program.
Once he arrived at the Academy, he thrived in the program. Of note was one teacher, Kim’s Feature Animation 1 instructor Guilherme Jacinto, who taught him to keep his animation work simple.
“He taught that great animators do not animate unnecessarily complicated movements or acting choices,” explained Kim. “They always animate simple and clear movements and acting choices.”
Jacinto said he is proud of Kim’s recent Blizzard contest win and upcoming Pixar internship. “He would go above and beyond in his assignments and come up with unique and entertaining ideas, which is so important in our field of animation,” said Jacinto.
Kim said that the Academy’s classes helped him understand the foundations he needed for animation. But it was his friends who inspired him to keep stretching his skills. The late nights spent at the computer lab at 180 New Montgomery, hunched over the computer with Beak and others, made him the animator he is today.
He said he recommends that young animators look for those friendships.
“Learning from friends is sometimes more impactful than learning from classes,” he said. “In my case, I learned all of the practical skills from my friends, which made me work fast. The animation industry is such a small industry, so my advice is to try to be a good person and ask for help when you need it.”