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Using Animation to Address Social Issues

A still from Shimbe's award-winning The Wonder Hospital depecticing a character before a desk in a hospital.

I joined CSULB's School of Art, Illustration/Animation faculty in 2014. I earned an MFA in Experimental Animation from CalArts and a BFA in Fine Art from Chung-Ang University in South Korea. I have worked as a filmmaker and animator in both the art and commercial fields. My works include "The Wonder Hospital" (an independent animated film), "Futurama" (20th Century Fox TV), "Mosquito" (Yeah Yeah Yeahs' music album art and videos), and "Tiny Winter Circle" (PBS TV/ LA County Art Commission). My independent films have shown at festivals around the world and have received many awards.

In 2003, I moved from South Korea to New York and changed my principal artistic medium from painting to animation. Since then, I've directed and produced animated works and collaborated with various artists in different fields of art, such as puppetry, theater, and media art. For my films, I have mainly chosen to use 3D CG animation, a popular medium that appeals to a wide range of cultures and audiences, to deal with sensitive social issues which are overlooked by commercial production companies. I see this as the biggest potential for the animation medium, to introduce the topic of sensitive issues to a wider audience.

"The Wonder Hospital" (2010) is an example of this objective. The film deals with the obsession of superficial beauty, including human alteration and the current plastic surgery boom occurring globally, and in Asian countries in particular. I embed the issue into a surreal story to reveal the strangeness and irony of its existence. My main interest is not to provide an answer nor to say that it is good or bad, but to ask questions that let people re-examine what they see in a new light, outside the context of what is often misunderstood by major media. This film received multiple awards at film festivals around world including South by Southwest, Seattle and Los Angeles Film Festivals, and Anima Brussels.

"The Wonder Hospital" [Full film, 12min] from B. Shimbe Shim on Vimeo.

My earlier work, "PGi-13" (2004), is another animated film that I used to gently introduce a social issue in a friendly form. This film deals with the standardized education system which often results in withering the imagination and potential of children. This was my first independent animation film, and in producing it, I gained a clearer idea of the potential of animation beyond being used as an entertainment tool.

Even in commissioned works I have directed, I have embedded social meaning within the limited room to do so in commercial projects. For example, in the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' music video for "Mosquito," there is a six-month human fetus in the female mosquito's abdomen, introducing a human element with which we may empathize with this otherwise monstrous creature. In "Tiny Winter Circle" (2014), a holiday-themed film commissioned by the LA County Art Commission, for a public show in Music Center LA Downtown and live TV broadcast, I represent all the nations of the earth through casting, and by including symbols of Judaism and Islam, to celebrate the end of the year with a theme of peace and reconciliation consistent with my other animated films.

Tiny Winter Circle from B. Shimbe Shim on Vimeo.

For more information and to see other films, please visit the website www.shimbe.com.

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