Sunday, January 8, 2017

The CoolRain Interview

This is a reprint of an interview I did in 2008, the reason that I am posting this again is because the artist will be showing at the LA Art Show during the second week of January 2017.

Lee Chan Woo is a South Korean figure artist better known as CoolRain. I first learned of him via Victor aka Crazytoyz 0709's web page and forum. When I first saw Coolrain's art I was reminded of Michael Lau, yet also saw some elements that made him unique. Like Lau his inspiration is part street culture and part reality. If Michael has his pulse on global street culture then CoolRain's figures are closer to home and more intimate.

For example photographer and journalist Kim Kyung Woo is the inspiration for the figure Woosra. His other friends are b-boys and as such are also inspirations for these stylized figures. CoolRain has been active in the community since 2003. He cut his teeth recreating Lau's classic Gardeners before finding his own look. Now after building a following and client list that includes several large companies and having several gallery shows it is my honor to present his first English interview. 

Noe V.: Hello Coolrain, welcome to my 1UP blog. Before we get to questions about your figure art I think we should get to know a little more about you. Please tell us little bit about yourself. What are your hobbies? 

CoolRain: I like collecting figure and artbooks. Also fan of SF movie and animation.

NV: What were your favorite toys as a kid?

CR: I was fascinated with super-heroes such as superman, batman and so on.

NV: Were you into cartoons, comics or animation as a kid?

CR: Genres didn't matter. I liked cartoons, comics or animation all.

NV: Did you play sports?

CR: Yes, I liked to play Basketball. And there are many basketball players I loved. 

NV: Did you have any other hobbies like playing music or collecting things?

CR: I collect art book, illustration and movie book.

NV: Who were your favorite characters or which were your favorite shows?

CR: I like my 1st design figure series "Monsterz Crew". I love Dunk. Of course my favorite shows are all related with sneakers, especially Nike dunk exhibitions.

NV: Are you also into computer or console videogames?

CR: I don't play videogame. But I make game. This is irony. But I like game images and animation.

NV: Which were your favorite games and why?

CR: I love Final Fantasy. I liked characters and images in it. 

NV: I understand that you are an artist and animator, which schools did you go to or are you self-taught?

CR: I have been self-taught. No teachers, only my curiosity was my teacher. At beginning, I couldn't find enough books, so I used to study watching Videos and books in English. Mostly I gathered a lot of information through movie-related books(creature art book).

NV: Can you say which company you work for or which projects you have worked on?

CR: Nike, KTF (Korean major mobile phone company), Motorola, Adidas, SAKUN (Korean street brand), Delitoys, etc. And some projects with making original character building (Figure style) and also works of CG in CF clips.

NV: You've been building a name in the figure art community for the past few years. Can you tell us how you got started in that?

CR: I started as 3d animator. My dream is still producing animation. That explains why I like main characters in animations. First I made characters with CG, that led me to think "I want to make them by hand." That's how I got started making figures. 

NV: Who were your influences within the figure art world as well as from outside the community?

CR: Before I made figures, I started to collect them. Those were design figures of Michael Lau, Eric So and lovely ones of Nightmare before Christmas of Tim Burton. Basically I like their works and colors. Besides that, I love the works of Otomo Katsuhiro, who is genius comic animator and also illustrator.

NV: Was it hard or easy to make the transition from 2D to figure art?

CR: In fact, 3d modeling and 2d sculpting are similar in some ways. So I didn't have much trouble to transite from 2d to 3d. Only difference is finishing part. Like the project with Park, Ji-sung(Manchester United Korean Player), modeling 3d real object was first experience. But it was not such a burden because I had some experiences with 3d works.

NV: What things did you have to learn along the way? Were there any parts that you took for granted or found difficult to do?

CR: To be a good figure artist, 2d and 3d is just a matter of technique or methods. But I found out that most important work for figure-making involves meeting with people, talk with them, understanding the world of their minds. It needs human- relation skills and manners too. You have to respect them and love them. Easy to say, but not simple works. If I understand them better and know their minds, the result came out much better always. 

NV: Did you ever consider creating traditional super hero figures, action figures, soldiers or space men or was street culture more natural to you?

CR: I am crazy for the super heroes, space suites for astronauts. Someday, I am going to make them someday. Space suites are my works in my dream all the time. 

NV: Some of your figures, the "Monsterz Crew" is based on a b-boy group. Do you or your friends breakdance?

CR: Of course, the models of Monster crew are the top-notch B-boys. Some of my friends are rappers, B-boys, and graffiti artists.

NV: I understand one of your friends, Kim Yoonhyup, is a graffiti artist, have you ever experimented with graffiti art?

CR: I like and admire their works and themselves. I try hard to experience them and see them work on their projects.

NV: Critics would say that you are copying from Michael Lau, with the use of Hip Hop themes and street clothes in your figures. Which isn't fair to say because other artists like Tim Tsui, Jason Siu, Pal Wong and Eric So have also followed similar trends. Have you ever had to defend your work from critics?

CR: Thanks for comparing my works with Michael Lau. ~ I respect Lau a lot. My work experience is just beginning. Of course basic materials for my works are the similar ones (leather or suede hair and sneaker). Also sometimes my works centers on similar concepts(Hip-Hop themes). My work and I are in constant progress and evolution. All of my hand-made methods are time consuming and challenging physically. That's why I love this way of work. Whenever I see the results, I feel some sort of catharsis.  As a figure artist, I am just beginner. I have a lot of things to do in the future. I usually don't pay attention to all the critics much. I just want to follow my curiosity and work with the styles that I want. My next theme could be urban culture or maybe totally new ones. I just enjoy what I am doing right now. I don't know how long could I pursue my career as a figure artist. It could be years or tens of years. I just love to make figures and hand-made sneakers.

NV: Have you had to defend your format from people that think figure art is just a passing trend or not as credible as a sculpture or canvas painting?

CR: That's not the issue I care about. I do collaborate with sculpture artists and painters for the shows or some specific projects together. For every artist, the difference is just tools they choose to express their idea and thoughts. My canvas or tool is the figure. With figures, I can do my best to express my ideas.

NV: What do you think defines art?

CR: Definition for art depends on every people's mindset. If someone can express something with any means, it's art, I think.

NV: Is there a difference between toy, craft, art or collectable?

CR: It depends on anyone's thought. For someone, it could be toy, craft, art, or collectable. It's relativistic concept.

NV: Do you feel that working with Nike and Stussy on high-profile projects has validated your place in the figure community?

CR: I don't know. From my childhood, I like Nike. And I like graphics of Stussy & Supreme. I was happy when I got contact from NIKE. Of course, those working experiences with NIKE and Stussy gave me new horizon for my work career as a full-time figure artist. 

NV: The current Nike campaign in South Korea "Legend of the Phoenix" is built around footballer Ji-sung Park. Can you explain the importance of working on a campaign like that. Turning Ji-sung into a figure and even the symbolism behind the Phoenix?

CR: For the Legend of the Phoenix project, it was planned as congratulation for new release of Jisung Park product releases, the icon and captain of Korea National soccer team and also member of Manchester United team. Final products include 3D animation, graphic-noble and Figures. Each item has been made under the same theme added with each participating artist's own characteristics. It is the first of its kind total campaign in sports star marketing in Korea. Figure was made with only rough images of JS Park, the other forms of artworks are expressions of its kind for Warrior JS PARK. 

NV: How do you challenge yourself when creating art?

CR: To make 100% copy of something is one challenge. But the real challenge is how to put character's spirits in each figures. That's my challenge.

NV: What makes you stand out in the figure world?

CR: Stand out? I don't know well. From the start on, I just tried to express what I like. I like Figures and sneakers. I just like to make it perfect for me.

NV: Explain to us the process of making a figure. How does it begin? What are the stages?

CR: Making figures is not cool at all like nickname.~It's continuity of hard work with many processes. I get ideas of character image from my friends around me. I just pick their main characteristics and from there, I start express them with the scale of 6/1. In details, too many thing to do. Make head and hair pattern with leather, dye them. Work for the graphics for the clothes with computer. Make patterns for shoes. Logos, metal parts, if necessary. Another matching dyeing processes to match the colors of shoes, etc. So many details to do finish just one character.

NV: How many hours or days does it take to make the clothes, shoes, heads, accessories or details like tattoos and logos?

CR: In fact, it depends. Differences with each character. But for the example of hair, if I have to implant every hair, it takes 2-3days just for the hair work. In sneakers with patterns already done, it would take 6-8 hours. But ones with many patterns, 2-3days (In case of air Jordan series, sneakers with too many different detailed patterns). 

NV: How many figures do you make for a particular release, like P-Nix and Che? How long does it take you to make these sets?

CR: For Monster crew, there are P-nix, Jutt, Che, Speedy finished right now. And next one to add will be Andy. Usually it would take 2- 3 months to finish one character, from idea to mailing to customers. It could take more if there are shows, Nike campaigns, or other extra activities at the same time. Early this year with the projects of Nike Dunk, I made 70 characters on display. For Dunk shoes, finished 100 pieces including the ones released in Korea for the S/S season. Total time for that, 6-7 months, long but worthwhile.

NV: The faces of your figures are very distinct and cartoonish. Are these influences from your work as an animator?

CR: Yes, that's correct. I like animation. That gave my figures a lot of influences. And for the comment, there are some simplified figure heads. They could be customized with simple drawings, like Bearbricks. 

NV: Have you thought about turning your figures into animations or have you already begun working on that?

CR: I love figures and also animations. I can make both of them together. (if I enough time). Actually through shows and exhibitions, I would like to introduce my figures to the people. When I have those shows, it would be a great chance to show animations with actual figure at the same time. I would give people more interests in figures and understanding, hopefully loves for my figures. I have plans in my mind; some of them are in progress little by little.

NV: Would you ever like to produce an animated show or even videogame featuring your characters? If so what types of games or adventures could you see your characters in?

CR: Of course that would be great. It's a work for character to give breath and reality. For Monster Crew, they are B-boyers. So I want them to be nice B-boy game. But before do into the animation processes, I would like to make figures that cover their life styles and progresses with them. I want to express not just fixed b-boying styles, but also their lives with b-boying.

NV: I understand that you are a family man. What do your kids think about your figures?

CR: How did you know... it's secret~ Even though I love figure, I am a daddy of a twin. They are cute babies. For them, figures are nothing but toys. They like playing with my figures and they are happy playing with them. I want to make figures that could be source for joy and smile for the people.

NV: What advice would you give artists that hope to transition from 2D to figure art? Are there any skills they should learn?

CR: Basically similar. So you don't have to hesitate or think it difficult. It's just small difference of methods. 2D or 3D, computer or hand-made is just difference of method. That's it. What's the most important factor is how much you try hard to give it full efforts to make it perfect to meet the standard you pursue for. Work, Work and Work hard. 

NV: Would you advise making friends in the community or finding a mentor to learn from?

CR: If I didn't find figure making, I couldn't make any relations with lots of people that I know until now, The common ground for us is "Love Figures." If you just follow your heart with ones that you like to do, then all the mentors and good friends come along automatically.

NV: How should an artist deal with criticism and how can they stay motivated when there are so many great artists in the world?

CR: The most important thing is to express what you like and what you want people to see. If you have interests in expressing anything as much as you like, you can accept any kinds of criticism with ease of minds. For any works that I do, I have to like and be satisfied with. Self-esteem is my standard for any kinds of my projects. I do work until I am fully satisfied with the results for myself.

NV: Are there any other words of wisdom you would like to leave the people of 1UP with?

CR: Love what you do right now, and just enjoy it. At present the most important thing to do is making figures. Just like that~~ enjoy your life!

NV: Thank you for your time and we look forward to seeing what you have in store for the rest of 2008 and beyond! If you'd like to see some more of CoolRain's work be sure to visit his blog. Please be sure and spread the word to your friends and editors about this artist. I have a feeling that the future is very bright for him! Thanks for visiting! 

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