Last year, filmmaker Erick Oh was nominated for an Oscar for his expansive and thought-provoking animated short “Opera,” which contemplated the contemporary world by exploring a huge pyramid where hundreds of little figures were born, lived, loved, went to war and died in a continuous loop.

He’s back in Oscar’s sights this year with a film that again looks at the cycle of life, but this time with an intensely personal, yet still universal, lens. “Namoo,” which was created in both 2D and VR with Baobab Studios, follows a man from birth to death. The short is on the Academy’s shortlist for consideration in best animated short film.

“’Namoo,’ which means tree in Korean, was inspired by the loss of my grandfather a long time ago,” Oh explains. “At the time, it was a sudden goodbye and we weren’t prepared for it, so during my grieving process I made up this little story of a man who hangs his memories and belongings to a tree.”

After putting aside the story for a while, Oh thought of it again while talking with the creatives at Baobab Studios, including co-founder and CEO Maureen Fan.

“About two or three years ago, I was hanging out with Maureen and the amazing people at Baobab. I don’t know why but I decided it was about time to take this little story I had tucked in my mental drawer and share it with the world,” he recalls.

“I’ve been a fan of Erick Oh’s for a while,” Fan says. She was particularly drawn to work he’d done for fellow Bay Area animation studio Tonko House with “The Dam Keeper Poems.” “The animation is so subtle and so moving and said so much with no words. We, at Baobab, are all about bringing in amazing visionary creatives to help them achieve their vision. Erick’s vision was one that really spoke to us.”

Oh and the team at Baobab, known for its award-winning animated shorts in virtual reality, wanted to bring the story to life in both 2D and VR.

“The reason why we wanted both is because for the 2D specifically, we wanted you to be able to put yourself into the mind of that character and let the experience wash over you,” Fan explained. “That’s why we wanted it to be two different versions because they achieved completely different things. There are huge differences between the two experiences.”

Both versions were made available alongside each other, during the pandemic no less, using an Oculus tool for animators called Quill. Oh discusses using Quill and the making of “Namoo” in an exclusive discussion with Variety.

Oh shared that animating with Quill offers “a whole new way to animate.”

“When animators watch this, they are blown away because they’ve never seen this technique ever from anywhere. It’s a great mixture of 2D traditional animation, like Disney, old-time classic Disney animation, and Pixar CG animation,” he explains. “The three-minute featurette may make it more clear.”

“Erick’s vision is about all the joys and sorrows and imperfections in life and how it’s still beautiful at the end, no matter how many imperfections, which meant that he really wanted it to have this hand-drawn feel because it has to feel very human,” Fan explains. “Being able to literally hand paint and draw every single frame meant that the imperfections of using our hands and drawing makes its way into the film. That’s why we ultimately chose to use Quill.”

“There is no frame interpolation inside Quill, which means that you have to literally paint every single frame in there; it’s literally a painting,” she continues. “There’s also no rigging. So it’s literally puppeteering or stop motion — moving the arms, moving all the pieces. Also there are no lighting tools, which means that every single night-to-day, every single season, every object had to be repainted under every single lighting scene and every lighting scenario.”

While making the 2D version was important, Oh was excited to do the film in VR as well. “I really thought this VR medium is a perfect tool to tell this particular story, because ‘Namoo’ is all about the journey to yourself. It is very internal. I love for the audience to find themselves and it’s more about immersion than just linear storytelling.”

“I also didn’t want give up this amazing language of cinema,” Oh said, explaining why there were two versions of the project. “We planned everything ahead: All the footage, all the shots and all the characters are exactly the same, but the post-production was slightly different. So we finished the VR version first, and then we spent another three, four months retranslating everything into the 2D short.”

“Namoo” has made the rounds at major 2021 film festivals, including Sundance, Tribeca, SXSW and SIGGRAPH, but it’s about to get a big visibility boost on HBO Max thanks to a deal with WarnerMedia OneFifty. “Namoo,” executive produced by actor John Cho and produced by Baobab’s Fan, Eric Darnell, Larry Cutler and Kane Lee, will be released on the streaming platform on Jan. 27. The acquisition could mean a lot to a project looking to be seen ahead of Oscar nominations, which are scheduled to be announced on Feb. 8.

While a nomination would be especially sweet for this project, Oh is ready to move ahead and tell more stories.

“I want to explore storytelling from many different angles and directions, including traditional, like narrative, linear storytelling as well as more immersive, thinking-outside-the-box types of storytelling,” he said. “I have plans to do all those things and keep pushing forward, pushing my limits.”