Manuk (voiced by Joshua Ahn), in anticipation of the coming train, places a steel bolt on the train track and waits for the results. A tank-hauling train passes by, and on examining the now flattened bolt, Manuk sees it has become magnetised.
Summary by Antoinette Starkiewicz.
Birthday Boy was nominated for Best Short Film (Animated) at the 2004 Academy Awards.
Manuk’s boyish, daring and inventive personality unfolds in this scene, as he takes a risk with the oncoming train and is rewarded with a magnetic bolt, which he will put to good use.
One day in the life of Manuk (voiced by Joshua Ahn), a little boy playing at being a soldier among the devastation of the Korean War, 1951. His father is away, a real soldier at war. Returning home, the boy opens a parcel, taking it to be a birthday present. Unfortunately it’s not, but the boy is too young to understand the tragic meaning of its contents.
A heart-rending story, based on the author’s own childhood in Korea, Birthday Boy is told with dramatic camera angles, an illustrator’s eye for background detail and the animator’s great skill at characterisation. ‘I had to find a little boy’s mannerisms and make it clear in my animation that this is a little boy’, recalled the film’s director and animator, Sejong Park.
The film is Park’s first 3D animation. Arriving in Australia in 1999, he was already a skilled commercial illustrator, and worked as an in-between artist on the traditionally animated, 2D feature Return to Neverland (2002). He acquired his technical skills in 3D animation as a student in the digital department of AFTRS, where he made Birthday Boy.
Stylistically, rarely does 3D and CGI show such sensitivity. The challenge of 3D animation is to show convincing human movement and facial expression, which in the hands of less talented animators can be merely robotic versions of life. Park meets this challenge in imbuing Manuk with convincing animation and facial expression, which are remarkable, given that this is his first 3D film.
In content, Park has succeeded in making a film for both children and adults: children can identify with the little boy, as adults will appreciate the playful child, oblivious to tragedy. The soundtrack is delicately nuanced (by sound mixer Chris McKeith) to evoke a feeling of childhood innocence and a harsh, war-torn land.
In 2004, Birthday Boy won the AFI Award for Best Short Animation and the Yoram Gross Animation Award at the Sydney Film Festival. Internationally, the film received the 2004 BAFTA Award for Best Animated Short, and was also nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Short (the winner was another original and personal re-creation of a three-dimensional world, Ryan, 2004, by Chris Landreth).
Notes by Antoinette Starkiewicz