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Korean sci-fi films up the ante with latest VFX technology

Actress Kim Hyun-joo portrays two characters - a human version of her character Jung-yi and the humanoid warrior Jung_E in the Netflix Original Movie Jung_E.  The visual effects (VFX) studio eNgine Visual Wave, a subsidiary of the film distributor NEW, took over the management of the project. [ENGINE VISUAL WAVE]

Actress Kim Hyun-joo portrays two characters – a human version of her character Jung-yi and the humanoid warrior Jung_E in the Netflix Original Movie Jung_E. The visual effects (VFX) studio eNgine Visual Wave, a subsidiary of the film distributor NEW, took over the management of the project. [ENGINE VISUAL WAVE]

The latest special effects technology implemented in Korean sci-fi movies kills two birds with one stone – it’s cheaper and higher quality.

Director Choi Dong-hoon’s sci-fi fantasy adventure film Alienoid Part 1 failed to gain popularity domestically after its launch in local theaters last summer, but gained traction abroad. Following the film’s release on Netflix in December, it received rave reviews from overseas media outlets such as the New York Times, who said, “This is the rare film that makes it incredibly entertaining to get off track.”

It scored 89 percent fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, a US-based ratings aggregator, up from Marvel’s latest Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania, which earned 83 percent fresh upon its release in theaters worldwide last month.

“Jung_E,” a Netflix Original film directed by Yeon Sang-ho, who is also behind hits like “Train to Busan” (2016) and “Hellbound” (2021), was released in January and became the most-watched non-English film on Netflix January 16-22.

Set in a post-apocalyptic future, the film follows a determined researcher in an artificial intelligence lab trying to clone her mother’s brain and a legendary soldier named Jung_E in order to arm humans with an anti-robot force. Actor Kim Hyun-joo portrays the android warrior in the film.

It caught the interest of the local film industry as the first Korean title to feature an android robot as a full-fledged protagonist. It’s the first time a character created from computer graphics has dominated screen time from start to finish.

Robots in domestic sci-fi films combined with visual effects (VFX) technology have come a long way: in one of the short films for the omnibus film Doomsday Book (2012), an android robot attains enlightenment through Buddhist teachings that cause a dispute as to its existence; In Sori: Voice from the Heart (2016), a father searches for his missing daughter with a robot that can locate a person by voice; In The Prayer (2021), a caregiver-built robot deciphers life and death.

These films used dummies to film the scenes involving robots, or actors applied special makeup to portray the robot’s features. “Jung_E”, on the other hand, shows how far the film industry has come in terms of visual effects.

The VFX studio has pre-visualized the mechanical operations of the robot, which does not appear in the film

The VFX studio has pre-visualized the mechanical operations of the robot, which does not appear in the film “Jung_E”. [ENGINE VISUAL WAVE]

Although critics criticized the muddled narrative in “Jung_E” and Shinpa Code – a Korean term referring to overly emotional scenes stemming from stereotypes such as relationships between lovers, friends and family, or the sacrifices they make for loved ones – has been highly praised in terms of its visuals.

CNN likened the film’s visual effects as “most like the Will Smith film ‘I, Robot’ in terms of the androids, with a dash of the sordid dystopia of ‘Blade Runner.'”

The VFX subsidiary eNgine Visual Wave of the film distributor NEW was involved in the effects for “Jung_E”.

“I’ve heard from overseas that the visuals of ‘Jung_E’ are on par with Hollywood blockbusters that have spent billions of dollars,” said VFX supervisor Jung Hwang-soo, who worked on Jung_E. “With the current technology that the domestic industry has, we can fully display the effects of Hollywood’s robot series. It is now possible to realize content where Robot Taekwon V [a popular character from the hit animated series with the same title between the 1970s to 1980s] goes against Megatron from the Transformers franchise, right here in Korea.”

Pre-production Artistic Director Na Il-hwan emphasized that the appearance of CG-based robot characters that closely resemble a real person represents a major advance in film technology.

“We worked with Yeon from ‘Peninsula’ and ‘Hellbound,'” Na said. “We tried to strengthen and expand technologies that could realistically represent the apocalyptic future. In a world that’s submerged due to climate change, we envisioned it being full of wrecked ship remains and recyclable junk, so we built that into the robot too, using stainless aluminum and plastic to used to visualize the character instead of traditional metal in other sci-fi films.”

The film’s attempt to stand out from other sci-fi genres involves focusing on the character or the robot’s emotions, as it is stored with memories of a middle-aged woman with a young, ailing daughter, rather than the female’s physique Robot to highlight other films have done.

For this reason, the film pays special attention to the face of the humanoid character – even in scenes where the actor’s face is nowhere to be seen, the robot’s facial features, such as the shape of her mouth and her face contour, closely resemble Kim’s. Their eye movements, on the other hand, resemble robotic mechanisms. The eye components were carefully designed to allow the character’s emotions to be seen beneath the robotic exterior.

VFX image of

VFX image of “Jung_E” [ENGINE VISUAL WAVE]

“Just as actors in the ‘Avatar’ series used motion capture for their characters’ movements, we did the same for Kim’s face,” Jung said. “Specific movements down to the shaking of her eyes were drawn by the animators for the CG character. Kim repeatedly repeated the emotional scenes that we captured and referenced to include her various facial movements.”

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According to Jung, Hollywood already has the technology and devices to capture an actor’s multiple movements simultaneously. He predicted that local industry could use them soon.

BY NA WON-JEONG [[email protected]]

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