Hollywood is the next destination for Korean computer graphics, as the American market is ready to embrace a new partner in action, says Lee Seung-hun, one of the few, talented Koreans at Industrial Light & Magic, a Lucasfilm company.
“But to enter the vast U.S. market, tax and other forms of incentives are imperative. American film producers are looking to cut down the costs while maintaining the quality, which is possible by working with Korean counterparts,” Lee said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
Currently, much of these sales go to New Zealand, Canada or the United Kingdom where attractive incentives are available: A large part of the filmmaker’s initial investment is returned to them.
“For these reasons, an increasing number of filmmakers are choosing to outsource major functions except only the core operations, which is now causing related industries in the U.S. to wane,” Lee said.
While it was too bad the industry is contracting, he stressed that for local CG artists and companies, this spells out a golden opportunity.
“With the support of the Korean government, namely the Korea Creative Contents Agency, we can bring these jobs to Korea,” Lee said.
It would be a sufficiently lucrative business proposition, he added, noting that the budget for computer graphics in a single Hollywood blockbuster is around 60 billion won ($54 million) ― double the 30 billion won the entire Korean film industry spent on computer graphics last year.
Computer graphics require intricate planning and endless devotion to details, and are in many ways pushing movies to explore new boundaries.
But it’s not always about the visual effect, Lee said, explaining that if the “real thing” is better and costs less, it’s almost always better to go for the real McCoy instead of simulation ― unless, that is, it’s an enormous Godzilla tearing up an imaginary city.
He adds that for Korean CG designers, it’s vital to realize that the money is not in such high-scale graphics.
“Destroying whole fleets of monster-sized battleships in a whiplashing ocean should be the last thing on the mind of Korean computer graphics companies,” Lee said. “It should be about storytelling and doing what Koreans do best, which is touching people’s hearts.”
Subtle and artfully used graphics is what Korea should aim for, advised Lee.
“Simply stoking fear or amusement or sympathy or whatever emotion the director wants to convey is enough, instead of going in for the kill,” the senior graphics director said.
Movies like “Jaws” and “Cloverfield” are good examples, as computer graphics are sparingly used to keep the audience on their toes, but not so much in their faces.
Otherwise, there’s just too much equipment and data-handling ― the basic unit of data for CG work is the staggering terabyte ― that pose too much of a challenge for the Korean industry.
China, meanwhile, has grown into a formidable player in the filmmaking and computer graphics market, Lee noted. Some major names in the industry, such as Rhythm and Hues, are now under Chinese management.
Lee says that his dream to become an artist in this field was powered by his chance view of the epic “Star Wars” in the ‘70s.
His work at ILM is now recognized internationally. Lee’s personal favorite among the scenes he has constructed is one in “Avatar,” for which he received a prize for Best Simulation. To keep up with graphics trends, Lee constantly watches animated films and cartoons, he said.
His latest work was featured in “Pacific Rim,” an American sci-fi film released last year in which giant robots defend the world against an alien invasion. What he’s working on now is still under wraps.
By Kim Ji-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org