February 6, 2012
The toy industry has been saturated with gazillion toy designers and their products, but every now and again, there will that one person that will come and make toys that stand out from the masses. That man, is Cool Rain aka Chan Woo Lee. Korean toy designer, dad and overall nice guy, who has been on the grind for many years to get to where he’s at right now. We recently got a chance to sit down with him to talk about his work, family, creative processes and more. Enjoy the read.
Hey Cool Rain… how are ya’ today? How’s Korea?
Hi. Chinese New year vacation just finished. There’s lot of snow today…. It’s covered everything!
You must be really busy with a lot of new projects on the go… what’s your daily routine like?
Besides “out-side” Business meetings, I spend most of time in my studio.
I make hand-crafted figures, work on some CG and pack my works for delivery.
We know you’re a fan of animation, but do you get enough time to watch any? If so what was the most recent animation you watched?
Of course, I like Pixar and Dreamworks animations. But I’m not always concerned about NEW ones. My favorite director at the moment is ‘Otomo katsuhiro’. He was recently involved as a character design in the animation ‘FREEDOM’.
It’s great animation with awesome story and style.
Speaking of animation, your figures definitely feature very anime like characteristics, what does the creative process for coming up with a figure like that usually involve? Care to break it all down for us?
I always make a kind of ‘CONCEPT’ first, then I study or research the lifestyle of the ‘Character’, and finally make the ‘Design’ itself. Depending on the design and items associated with the character, I chose to make them all by hand and CG Modeling. That way it projects their lifestyle better.
One of your most recent exhibitions that caught our eye was the “Dunkeys Evolve” exhibition in 2011 along side Dave White. How did that whole project with Dave come about? And how did it pan out in your opinion?
The first Dunkeys Exhibition was held in 2009 (Seoul), and after that Dave White contacted me and he said, he wanted to do a joint exhibition with his art works. And we officially got together to work on a collabo-exhibition in 2011. Dave White gave me a lot of interesting ideas and input for the Dunkeys and together we made some really interesting works. I’m personally really happy with the outcome.
There will be more great works along side Dave coming this years as well…
Besides the Dunkey collection, you’ve got a whole heap more like the Monsterz Crew, Sakun Crew, Dunk and many other exclusives. If you can only pick one, which would you label as your favorite character and why?
I think the best exhibition was Nike collabo for the Dunk’s 23rd Anniversary. And my best project was ‘NBA series’ and ‘Art toy series of Amebahood.’ Amoebahood is first art toy series in Korea. Especially with this project, I got to get involved with all product procedures. That was my best project.
Working with bigger companies like Nike, NBA and Stussy would’ve given you a lot of leverage in the toy making industry. How in your opinion has it helped you in your creative process and day-to-day operations?
The design brief from Nike was ‘Show your best things’. So there was NO interference and I had 100% control over the creative direction of the project. They left all art works and design to me, which made my work really enjoyable. (Except for the schedule). I gave them the designs, got their approval, and then preceded to make the toys for the exhibition. NBA was very similar to Nike as well. These were two great experiences in my life.
When you started out in 2D and 3D animation, who were your influences and how in your opinion have they affected you in your own creations?
I like director Tim Burton’s ‘Nightmare before Christmas’ and Otomao katsuhiro’s ‘AKIRA’. I love their take on reality and the concept of their world. They’re both perfectionist too, so they’re always pedantic about details. Even though we’re in different fields, their perfectionist way’s has influenced me to do my best with every project I have.
Coming off that question, if you were given a chance to work with an artist, who would you pick, why him/her, and what project would you work on?
If I had the chance to work with someone, it’d definitely be with ‘Kaws’ or ‘Murakami Takashi’. Their artwork, to me, is amazing. I respect what they do.
Crafting a figure can takes months and I’m sure you would’ve planned your releases a year or two in advance… care to share with your fans, what you have planned for them in the coming 2012 and 2013?
Currently I’ve got two product lines, NBA and Amebahood series works. This year is also the 5th anniversary of Coolrain studio, and I have planned for 12” Dunkeys Action figure and 7” Dunkeys Vinyl figure releases. Stay tuned for more info.
I’m sure you’ve had some hard times during your early days of animation and introduction into the toy world. What was one of the most humbling experiences you’ve had in your journey as an artist thus far?
Of course it was difficult. Especially in my line of work, it was a really tough climb. But I think, it’s kinda like a procedure, just like making a toy or movie. At the beginning I couldn’t catch up with my ‘Concepts’ or ‘Designs’ and it was frustrating, but I think this long journey towards perfection has thought me a lot and is something I will treasure forever.
It’s a scary thought when you think about it, but what would you do if you woke up one day and found out that you couldn’t animate or design anymore?
Perhaps, I’ll be 6 feet under ground.
I’ve been collecting toys all my life and don’t think I’ll stop even when I have kids. What is it like to be a dad to a set of twins and still collect and make toys?
My twin kids love their own toys and my works too. They always watch me work and sometimes join in the making process. I am toy builder, but I’m collector as well, especially ‘Starwars’ gear!
Everyone has a life motto they live by… what is yours?
‘Do My best, with no regret.’
I’m sure there are heaps of kids these days that want to do what you do… have you got a few words to motivate them into taking that first step into the toy world?
Just concentrate on your favorite things and keep being enthusiastic. But most important thing is ‘Realization of your own design’. With no ‘physical product’, it’s nothing.
On a lighter note, whats you’re favorite youtube video?
Gorillaz!! I love their characters and music video.
I heard you like basketball? Who was your favorite NBA player when growing up?
I like ‘Kevin Garnett’. I’ve liked his all-round playin’ style since I was in high-school. I watched his play since his debut actually. I also like ‘Penny Hardaway’, ‘Michael Jordan’, ‘Scottie Pippen’, and ‘Dennis Rodman’. Sometimes, I feel like making their toys too.
Music is a big part of our lives. What are you currently listening to on your stereo?
I like music from ‘Gorillaz’. I always listen to their songs. And I also like film scores / sound tracks. Every time, I listen to one, my mind starts imagining scenes from a movie.
To wrap things up, have you got anyone you’d like to thank for having supported you throughout your years of being an animator / toy designer?
Thanks to all my fans, supporters and teammate’s. The best that’s happened to me is having supporters and I’m thankful for it.
Cool Rain thank you again for taking time off to be with us today. We really appreciate your time and hopefully we’ll catch up soon in the near future. We wish you all the very best in your future endeavors and we look forward to all the awesome projects you have lined up for us.
words by Benny Teh