Friday, October 15, 2021

Nickelodeon's Yashar Kassai and Sung Shin Named in Variety's 10 Animators to Watch List

Variety has named Yashar Kassai (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Chapter movie) and Sung Shin (Star Trek: Prodigy) in the publication's 10 Animators to Watch in 2021 list, its annual celebration of up-and-coming animators! Read their bios below, and make sure to check out all the fantastic animators who made this year's 10 Animators to Watch list on! A huge congrats Yashar and Shin!

Yashar Kassai

Photo : Courtesy of Yashar Kassai

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Chapter”

Growing up watching “Star Trek” fostered a love of sci-fi in Dallas native Kassai. But although he was a fan, it wasn’t until his sophomore year in college that he realized he could have a career in animation.

He moved to Los Angeles nine years ago to pursue his dream. “I couldn’t be one of those people without a job. I was too afraid,” he says. “So I locked that in from a distance first and then came here with some sense of security in mind at least.”

After a stint at Sony, where he worked on “The Emoji Movie,” among others, Kassai segued to Nickelodeon, where is now production designer on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Next Chapter.” The film is scheduled to come out in 2023.

“I have loved that franchise since I was a kid,” he says, confessing that Raphael is his fave. “I have bedsheets and lunch boxes and T-shirts and socks. But now I am trying to re-create a unique interpretation that is not too distant from the original franchise that we all know and are familiar with, and also make it fresh.”

To make it new while not jettisoning what made “Ninja Turtles” so beloved, Kassai says, “you anchor yourself enough in the familiar elements of it so that it is easily recognizable but then you either add or enhance some of the existing charm of
the franchise.”

With modern animation tools and 3D, he feels a responsibility to make something cool for the new movie similar to “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and “The Mitchells vs. the Machines.”

“The franchise deserves that, I think.” — Shalini Dore

Sung Shin

Photo : Courtesy of Shin Sung

“Star Trek: Prodigy”

Shin brings to Nickelodeon’s “Star Trek: Prodigy” a love for telling a story filled with adventure and characters that embody the franchise’s “humanistic” philosophy and inclusiveness.

But, there’s also humor in the stories as well. “It’s really fun,” Shin says, “the comedy is not forced and it comes from within the characters.”
Shin took a roundabout route to the animation world. He studied English literature in college with the aim to become a writer. “Comparatively, to most other animators, I do feel like I started a little bit later.”

Shin took classes at community college in art, where he was encouraged to take his art career further, and attended CalArts for a year. “I was in love with hand-drawn animation at the time, and 2D animation was kind of shutting down in the U.S., so I went overseas to [work at] Studio Mir” in South Korea, where he worked on “The Legend of Korra,” among other projects.

His connections there led him to animation jobs in the U.S., including “Avengers Assemble,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Young Justice” and “Voltron: Legendary Defender” while also directing live-action shorts.

Animation “is just a different form of storytelling, but it all connects,” he says. “I do kind of see myself as a filmmaker slash storyteller first.”

Does Shin worry about leading a new iteration of such a beloved franchise with devoted fans? The team behind the show is confident that the characters and stories capture the spirit of “Star Trek” — “we have amazing writers” he says, and credits exec producer Ben Hibon with his visionary leadership.

He’s continuing to take classes and develop his voice as a filmmaker. — Carole Horst

Remember to check out all the awesome animators who made this year's 10 Animators to Watch list on!

Variety will celebrate its seventh annual 10 Animators to Watch with a virtual event on Oct. 19 in partnership with Nickelodeon. The event will also honor Academy Award-winning filmmakers Phil Lord and Chris Miller with the annual Creative Impact in Animation Award.

Lord and Miller have spent their careers pushing boundaries to find new ways of telling unique visual stories and are responsible for some of animation’s biggest franchises, including “The Lego Movie” and Academy Award-winning “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.” This year they produced “The Mitchells vs. The Machines,” which was released on Netflix in production with Sony Pictures Animation.

Guests will receive a virtual experience kit curated by Variety and Nickelodeon. Kits will include food and beverage items, and a pair of keepsake wine glasses.

“I am so excited that we can all come together for the seventh year to see Variety’s 10 Animators to Watch event continue to grow and celebrate animation. A huge congratulations to the 10 artists spotlighted, especially Nickelodeon’s very own Sung Shin and Yashar Kassai for their incredible work on ‘Star Trek: Prodigy’ and ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Next Chapter,’ respectively,” said Ramsey Naito, president of animation at Paramount and Nickelodeon.

“Phil and Chris have made one of the biggest impacts on our industry with so many landmark achievements, and I’m honored to present them with this year’s Creative Impact Award as they continue to create the very best work on screen,” Naito continued.

This year’s 10 Animators to Watch include:

Joaquín Cociña & Cristóbal León (“The Wolf House”)

Chris Copeland & Justin Copeland (“Kipo and the Age of Wonderbeasts”)

Aphton Corbin (“Twenty Something”)

Emma de Swaef & Marc James Roels (“The House”)

Lucy Heavens & Nic Smal (“Kiff”)

Yashar Kassai (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”)

Lindsey Olivares (“The Mitchells vs. The Machines”)

Sung Shin (“Star Trek: Prodigy”)

Gaelle Thierry (“Summit of the Gods”)

Victoria Vincent (“We the People”)

Originally published: October 15, 2021.

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