"Imagine an old couple with tea stained teeth sitting by a fireplace, having tea with crackers," that’s how Jiwook Kim, creator of Blackford Manor, describes how she and her husband look when they sit and noodle on ideas together.
Blackford Manor, the newest Too Cool! Cartoons short, debuted Thursday, August 28, 2014, on Cartoon Hangover. The story follows Josette, a young maid with an active imagination who has come to work at the mysterious Blackford Manor … where danger lurks behind every door … or does it?
Created/directed/co-written/co-produced by Kim, Blackford Manor features the voices of Ashly Burch (Josette), Martin Rayner (Mr. Boggs) and Billy West (Mrs. Cook).
Kim co-wrote the animated short with her husband Patrick McHale (he has served as creative director, writer and storyboard artist on Adventure Time, and also worked on The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack and the upcoming Over The Garden Wall).
Born and raised in South Korea, she first came to the United States to attend CalArts.
Kim has had a relationship with Frederator since 2004, when one of her student films was featured in the inaugural The Nicktoons Film Festival, which was created and produced by Fred Seibert, Eric Homan and Frederator. Kim had her animated student films featured in each of the first four years of the program. Her film St Laleeloo won the festival’s Producers’ Choice Award in 2007.
She began her post school career as character layout artist on The Simpsons Movie. Kim has also worked as an artist on animated projects including Adventure Time, Futurama and Bob’s Burgers, among others.
I was excited to grab some time with Jiwook Kim to talk about Blackford Manor and her life.
Frederator Times: Is drawing and/or animation what you always wanted to do?
Jiwook Kim: I probably liked to draw a little more than average kids, but I never thought of becoming an artist.
For some reason, all the artists I learned about when I was a little kid seemed terribly poor, socially ruined or depressed. Teachers didn’t teach about Andy Warhol to little kids. As a kid I didn’t know that animations were made by people.
What is the most exciting or interesting part of the animation process for you?
It depends. When I used to work by myself in school, probably editing was the most fun part. That’s when I put all the pieces together, added timing, jokes, sound effects, music — saving the whole thing.
But in the studio system, there are a lot of talented people who take care of editing and sound. I just get to sit with them and talk.
So in this case, the most exciting part is the writing. That’s when I can sit by myself and do whatever I want.
What do you like to draw when it isn’t for work?
I have to confess, I really don’t enjoy drawing when it’s not for work.
Blackford Manor is sort of a mix of old gothic country house whodunits and Charles Addams’ work. Were you influenced by either?
The first one probably, because I had to research who Charles Addams was. (His artwork is great by the way.)
Where did you get the idea for the story and style of Blackford Manor?
I have very limited tastes. Dark mind in medieval times, mysterious people in an old mansion, and pretty girls. So I just put those ideas together. And I must have been inspired by a lot of black and white movies and mystery books. One of my favorite movies is The Old Dark House.
Where do you see the story and characters going if Blackford Manor were to go to series?
Blackford Manor is a huge mansion with a long history back to medieval times.
Josette will explore this empty (or not) place, room by room, revealing dark mysteries.
When you are developing a project, what usually comes first: the characters or the storyline?
It depends. When I make a short film, it’s easy to start with the storyline, especially the ending first. Because I don’t want to make the ending feel like I was cleaning up someone’s mess - the audience will feel my pain too.
But if I’m trying to make a series, it’s better to start with the characters. I try to think of a character who can be entertaining in a lot of different situations.
You and your husband, Patrick McHale, co-wrote the story for Blackford Manor. Have you ever worked together on an animated (or other) project before?
No. We sometimes talk about ideas though. Imagine an old couple with tea stained teeth sitting by a fireplace, having tea with crackers, talking about silly story ideas, giggling like old witches.
Was Blackford Manor your first time directing? What was that like?
I guess so, this is the first film I’ve worked on one of my films with other people.
I am extremely shy, and never liked to show my stuff to anyone. I remember when I had to sit with many other people and watch an unfinished animatic for the first time, it felt like doing an ice-bucket challenge. Then i got used to it more and more. The film feels less like mine, now i just wonder who made this strange little film.
What other animated projects or shows are you working on now?
Oh, I’m looking for a job now. Any job openings? I can use Photoshop, just little bit.
If you weren’t working in animation what do you think that you would be doing?
I wanted to become an architect when I was young. I like their desks.
What was the most surprising thing or things you remember about coming to the United States?
It probably is different in different areas in this country. I came to California first, and people are so friendly and smile all the time, and talk so much! I couldn’t understand why the lady in a grocery store was so interested in how I was doing that day, giving me such a nice smile, when I just wanted to buy a bottle of juice.