Remembering June Nam

Yesterday we memorialized those who died during war, and today I want to memorialize one of the many unsung animation artists who make up our industry. I got the sad news a couple of months ago that June Nam (born Myung Nam Park) died on Feb. 24. It’s taken me a while to gather together some images, and to process the unexpected loss of someone so young, so pardon me for being late with this.

June Nam at Warner Bros., 1997

June was my lead key on my first professional animation job, working on Quest for Camelot. I came onto Quest after that film had gone through a protracted, messy development and early production, and there were a fair number of bitter and disgruntled people at WBFA at the time. But not on Team Ayden. Lead animator Mike Nguyen and lead key June Nam were two of the nicest and most generous animators I’ve ever worked with.

Mike Nguyen Ayden Ruff, signed by everyone who worked on the character

Quest was my first film, and I wanted to work on one of the main characters. In those days animation productions were oriented by character, and I got the cold should from a couple of the leads on the main characters. I was eventually shuffled off to the Ayden/Merlin team, and it couldn’t have been luckier for me. As green as I was, June treated me with respect and patience, and in short order was giving me work a couple of grades above my inbetweener status.

Kevin holding the Ayden and Merlin maquettes, 17th floor of Brand Blvd, 1997

I confess I was so raw that sometimes unable to grasp her corrections to my work, but she was always happy to accent the positive and encourage me. I look now at photocopies of Ayden ruffs and my clean-up drawings, and I cringe at what she had to put up with, but at the time she made me feel like I was a ‘natural.’

A clean-up key of Merlin and Ayden

Not long before I came on board she’d been in a terrible car accident, which often caused her severe pain, but she’d never mention it. A couple of times I came barging into her cubicle to find her stretched out flat on the floor, trying to find some reasonably comfortable position. Somehow even in that state she exuded grace and dignity.

An Ayden Team lunch: Peter Paul Bautista, June, Mike, and Vanessa Martin, 1997

We had a happy, tight team amidst a lot of discord, and I’m still proud of the work we did on that falcon. Last year at Mike Nguyen wrote a heart-felt piece on animating the falcon, and working together, on Quest (which is where I borrowed the signed Ayden ruff above). He beautifully captured the way we as animators and artists can find beauty and art admid even the most screwed up big-studio production. I’ll always be grateful to June and Mike for carving out that creative space in the middle of so much chaos.

My path crossed June’s again a few years later at DreamWorks, when she came to work on Spirit and Sinbad. I’d moved into the animation department by then, so we didn’t work together, but I always enjoyed hanging out and chatting with her, and it gave me a chance to thank her for mentoring me at the beginning of my career.

I apologize for the crummy quality of the photos. Even after a pass through Photoshop they’re still pretty horrible, but I felt lucky just to be able to find them after 11 years. I guess a suitable final note is this bit of ruff Ayden animation from Mike.

3 Responses to “Remembering June Nam”

  1. Tom N. Says:

    Sorry to hear it Kevin, sounds like one of the nice ones.

  2. rainplace Says:

    Thank you Kevin…It’s definitely a very warm tribute you’ve written in memory of June! Knowing her, I think she is smiling somewhere in heaven…

  3. Kevin Says:

    Yes, Tom, she was one of the good ones. She had a lot of grace under very difficult circumstances.

    And thanks, Mike. By the way, I’m loving your recent posts and all the ruff pencil animation you’re posting.

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The animation and animation-related musings of Kevin Koch