In a quiet neighborhood in central Seoul, not too far from the hustle and bustle of Hongdae, sits the workspace of a big name in art toy design. Coolrain is internationally known for his witty 6:1-sized figures. During an afternoon studio visit he tells us about his passion for animations, toy characters, and the importance of telling a story.
It actually didn’t start with figures. I was into Japanese animations, such as Akira, when I was younger. That’s what I wanted to learn, animation. A huge part of that was stop motion animations, like Wallace and Gromit. Only later, after I watched Tim Burton’s A Nightmare Before Christmas, I got interested into making design toys. I came to Seoul in ’98 and started making figures around ’04.
Did you move to this part of the city straight away?
No, I’ve had two other studios before, one in Jamsil and one in Garosu-gil, before moving here. I still don’t live here, it’s just the studio that is situated here now.
And how did you choose this neighborhood? What’s special about it?
I actually don’t know what’s special about this neighborhood. I spend all my time in the studio, then I return home. I guess there’s a certain young energy here. Many people of the creative scene are based around here, which makes it easier to meet them or see their work. Although I’m not actively producing street art, it’s fun to see things like graffiti around.
So you never leave the studio then? That’s gonna be tricky for this article, haha.
Well, I guess I could show you a cool coffee shop later. It’s in Hongdae and they have a big art piece of mine on display. It’s half bookstore half cafe, and they always work close with artists. Let’s see. We could also go to a place called Sangsang Madang. That’s in Hongdae, too. I teach a class there on making design toys. They also have a gallery, a store and a cafe. And then, perhaps a toy store nearby, called Kinki Robot. They sell some of my NBA Series.
Wait, tell us more about what you teach. What are some important things everybody should know?
A lot of making toys is technical skill, but I think the most important thing for people who want to make design toys is to make sure they have something to say. Every figure has a story and the designer should know why he wants to make each specific figure.
How do you determine what you want to do? Many people know you for the shoes you make.
The reason can be very random actually. I don’t have a particularly strong interest in shoes. Just because I make a lot of them doesn’t mean that I’m a shoe fanatic. What comes first is the culture, the bigger picture. Within that culture I find interesting characters and learn about them. And that eventually leads to the shoes they wear. For me it’s all about the person, the character. For example, right now I’m sitting across from Charlie, the French filmer. That’s interesting. If I were to make a figure of him I would try and find out more about his person.
Who’s someone you have in mind right now?
Right now there’s this hip hop artist I find interesting, Tyler, The Creator. He seems to be a fun character, and I found out he has a clothing brand. So I tried to find material on that, like lookbooks etc., and also listened to his music. I think this kind of research is very important, too.
What are some of your plans for the future?
Later this year I will release some products. It’s funny, because I didn’t use to do that. I get that question a lot, because I’ve done commercial work, which rules me out as a pure artist, but I don’t produce and sell my own figures. People might think me odd, hopefully in a good way. Anyway, I will release a series of figures in October. And before that I will participate at the House Of Vans Seoul event, of course.
And finally, is there anything you would like to tell the next generation of art toy designers?
Don’t do it in order to make money, because that’s not gonna work. I mean, if you’re good at what you’re doing and express yourself well, jobs will naturally come in. But that requires you to be a skilled designer first. And then make sure you have something to say, a story you want to tell.