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Posted : 2013-04-01 16:22
Updated : 2013-04-01 16:22

Visual effects rising as new cultural power

"The Tower," top, and "Haeundae" are big disaster films which heavily rely on visual effects.The visual effects industry, which was once regarded as backwater, is now emerging as the driving force in the ever-flourishing cinema industry. / Korea Times file and CJ Entertainment

Digital effects shines in heyday of film industry


By Chung Ah-young

"The Berlin File" starring Ha Jung-woo uses more than 850
digitally-created shots.
/ Korea Times file
You might be disappointed if you know that some of Ha Jung-woo's adrenaline-pumping action scenes in a spy thriller "The Berlin File" were actually computer-generated and the movie was shot in various locations, not just the German capital alone.

The film has sold more than 7 million tickets in three months, making history in the action flicks genre. Behind the success of the spy thriller are the visual effects which make the film more complete.

While an average 200 computer-generated shots are generally used in a movie, "Berlin" used more than 850 digitally-created scenes.

The flashes on the gun point and its debris were vividly created like real ones in the shooting scenes. Also, a poison which spreads over the body was visualized, escalating the dramatic tension in the movie.

The story was set in Berlin but the film was shot in different locations, including Berlin, Latvia and Korea, as well, due to production costs. The computer technology turned the scenes shot in Latvia and Korea into the Berlin-like backgrounds.

The digital effects generated Ha's dangerous action scenes like jumping from a building and escaping a running subway train, making the audience believe they were real.

The Korean visual effects industry, which was once regarded as backwater, is now emerging as the driving force in the ever-flourishing Korean cinema industry.

"Mr. Go" stars a gorilla baseball player, a computer-generated character
/ Courtesy of Showbox


According to the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA), it has spent some 12.6 billion won for 43 films over the last four years including the joint productions with overseas companies since 2009.

"Berlin" was also part of the agency's support project in 2011 which was created by the 4th Creative Party, a visual effects studio.

"Currently, the Korean film industry cannot imagine films without computer graphics or visual effects but moviegoers can hardly recognize this," an official of the KOCCA said.
"Due to the agency's supports for the visual effects over the last four years, Korean digital technologies are beginning to be recognized from Hollywood filmmakers and others," he said.

From now and then

The digital technologies began making a splash in some disaster films such as "Haeundae (2009)" and "The Tower (2012)" although the early digitally-created movies such as "Reptilian (1999)" and "D-War (2007) by Shim Hyung-rae, now a bankrupt filmmaker, pioneered the industry but ended up in failure in both commercial and critical success.

Last year, the visual effects industry garnered 20-30 billion won in revenues from the domestic productions and co-productions with overseas filmmakers.

Due to the recent cinematic boom, the visual effects industry is likely to grow dramatically this year. The revenues of the industry are estimated to double this year from 2012, according to the Korea Computer Graphics Association.

The Korean cinematic market size was valued at 1.4 trillion won, up by 21 percent last year from 1.2 trillion won in 2011.

"The recent dramatic growth of the Korean visual effects technologies is mainly based on the solid growth of the Korean movie industry. Also, the viewers' standards have been enhanced. Such fundamental changes have helped the visual effects industry prosper together," said Cho Yong-seok, chief producer of the 4th Creative Party, said.

He said that the growth of the local film market has attributed to attracting more investments and budgets in the film productions, which enable the big-budget digital creations.

Knocking on overseas doors

Currently, some 10 studios such as Digital Idea, Power Cast, Macro Graph, Next Visual, Force and Dexter Digital, are leading the nation's visual effects sector. Each studio is equipped with some 80 specialists.

While scoring the domestic success, a slew of Korean visual effects studios have been knocking on the overseas productions.

Young Choi, VFX producer of Mofac Studio, said that as the market size of the domestic ivisual effects industry remains still small, they are turning their eyes to the overseas markets.

"Since we turned our eyes to overseas markets, we have been building up our experiences and raising the quality of technologies to live up to the expectations of the foreign productions' standards," he said.

Mofac made a Hollywood debut with "The Warrior's Way" starring Korean actor Jang Dong-gun and directed by Lee Sngmoo in 2010. The company took part in the post-production of the film through a consortium with other partners, which was a landmark for the studio.

"Although it failed in scoring a commercial success, it gave us a momentum to get the company known in other countries. Due to ‘The Warrior's Way,' international production companies began recognizing our technology," he said.

Mofac has recently finished the production of the Hollywood movie "The Last Knights" starring Morgan Freeman.

Other Korean visual effects firms studios have widely engaged in producing the visual effects in the Chinese films such as "Detective Dee: Mystery of the Phantom Flame (2010)," "Journey to the West (2011)," "A Chinese Ghost Story (2011)" and "Secret Service of the Imperial Court (2009)."

More opportunities

According to Mofac, the current international visual effects houses have some flows and ebbs. The digital technology powerhouses such as the United States, Japan and other European nations have declined due to soaring labor costs, while Canada, New Zealand and the U.K. which offer generous tax credits for such firms are roaring in its realm.

"The Korean visual effects industry is also rapidly catching up with the trend by equipping the infrastructures and atmosphere to draw more investments in the business. On that score, the Korean visual effects industry can quickly have the benefits from this international competition," Choi said.

The industry insiders expect that an upcoming film "Mr. Go" which stars a gorilla baseball player, a computer-generated character, will dramatically uplift the level of the standards of the Korean visual effects technology.

The gorilla baseball comedy which has been purely produced by the Dexter Films, the leading visual effects studio, is expected to leave a watershed in the Korean cinema scene, consisting of 2,000 shots in full 3D imagery. The film will be shown in theaters from July.



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