Film industry grows with graphics innovation: Some of Korea’s recent blockbusters have pushed the envelope with the introduction of new filming technologies

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Film industry grows with graphics innovation: Some of Korea’s recent blockbusters have pushed the envelope with the introduction of new filming technologies


Korea’s first big budget zombie movie “Train to Busan” that hit the theaters in July, used computer graphics to portray hundreds of zombies all at once. Left is the actual shooting of the scene when the glass door breaks in Daejeon Station as zombies push hard against the locked gate. Right is the result after the computer generated zombies are added. [DIGITAL IDEA]

In the early days of computer graphics, films were often laughed at for having sloppy and unnecessary visual effects so distracting that it hurt the overall quality. But in recent years, with the development of the technology, life-like images created using computer graphics have become a crucial part of movie making, and even one of the determinants of a box-office hit. The quality of Korea’s computer graphics technology has also been on the rise, attracting foreign film producers to the country who wish to learn new techniques from Korean filmmakers.

Korean films have been skillfully adopting realistic computer generated images in features such as “The Admiral: Roaring Currents” (2014) and “The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale” (2015), and more recent releases like “Train to Busan,” which hit theaters in July and “Asura: The City of Madness,” released in September. Many of the scenes in these films became the topic of conversation for their high-quality use of computer generated images.

How, then, did some of the much-discussed scenes get made?

The JoongAng Ilbo took a look at the four films to find out.


Asura: The City of Madness

This violent action thriller directed by Kim Sung-soo that hit the theaters in September received mixed reviews from moviegoers. The film was criticized for being excessively brutal, but both lovers and haters of the movie acknowledged the car chase scene as the best part of “Asura.” The scene where a shady cop Han Do-kyung, played by actor Jeong Woo-sung, chases gang members in the rain, was indeed fast and furious - something that’s never been seen in theaters from Korean films.

The key, according to the producers, was the use of sophisticated computer graphics on top of a set that took three months to build. Demolition, a local special effects company that worked on the film’s special effects, became the first in the country to develop the so-called “car action gimbal device” that allowed the spine-tingling car chase scene in the film. This device allows the camera to shoot two cars that move in all directions, giving increased tension to the chase. The previous technique only allowed filming one car and could only move sideways. 4th Creative Party, a visual effects company that worked on “Asura” also said they used a 3D program to create the film’s screenplay in moving images and to compliment the rain drops that were created using a sprinkler truck, the company said they used graphics to make the raindrops look more realistic.

On top of this, stuntman Kwon Kwi-deok, who is a member of the car stunt team at Seoul Action School, personally played the character of Kwi-deok, an ethnic Korean from China, and realistically portrayed the car chasing scene with actor Jeong, the protagonist, without having to use a stand-in. If a stand-in is used, the creative team has to edit the scene thoroughly to make it look real, the production company explained.

Since the stuntman had been cast as one of the characters, the director was able to smoothly use close-ups and zoom outs.

“For Hollywood films that involve car action scenes, it’s general to use their own gimbal device they already have. But in Korea, it was a difficult decision for the director and the production team to spend about 200 million won for this device to shoot this short car chase scene,” said Jeong Do-ahn, head of Demolition. “By using this device we filmed director Bong Joon-ho’s upcoming film ‘Okja’ that will be released in theaters next year.”

Train to Busan

If “Asura” was the movie that proved the possibility of creating thrilling car chase scenes in Korea by balancing the use of special effects and visual effects, it was “Train to Busan” that proved that well-made zombie films are also possible in Korea. Directed by Yeon Sang-ho, the country’s first big-budget zombie movie portrayed hundreds of realistic-looking zombies running towards humans. The memorable scene where zombies chase after the protagonist Seok-wu (played by Gong Yoo), clinging on the train and getting flung to the ground, was made thanks to the collaboration between a visual effects company and Park Jae-in, a body movement composer.

Park, who used to work as a choreographer, came up with the idea of bending ankles and necks in visually uncomfortable positions, while the visual effects company created the so-called “digital humans” that can follow orders made by artificial intelligence. Thanks to these digital zombies, it was possible to shoot scenes that required hundreds of zombies to appear at the same time.

“It’s not difficult to show a large crowd sitting down in a stadium or something, but we needed a new technology to show such large crowd moving fast and changing directions after crashing into a wall or an obstacle,” said Jeong Hwang-Su, the film’s visual effects supervisor.

Another fascinating scene in “Train to Busan” is the landscape that’s seen outside the window of a rapid KTX train that’s going 300 kilometers per hour. The producers adopted the so-called rear-projection technology, the first in the country, and installed 300 LED panels outside the windows of the train and screened the fast moving landscape scenes that have been filmed in advance. It helped the actors get more absorbed in the scene while producing a more natural environment. Before the new technology, such scenes were filmed by installing blue screens on the windows and inserting the landscape in post-prodcution.


“The Tiger: An Old Hunter’s Tale”

The main character, tiger, in the film “The Tiger: An Old Hunger’s Tale” directed by Park Hoon-jung that came out last December, is not real, but created entirely by using computer graphics. After filming a real Siberian tiger at Samjung The Park, a zoo in Busan, the graphics team created the tiger in detail, from head to toe.

“After the tiger took shape, we went through 11 steps ranging from the texture process of planting fur to the rigging process of creating bones for the tiger,” said Cho Yong-seok, visual effects supervisor for the film.

The highlight of this film is the confrontation between the tiger and protagonist Chun Man-deok (played by Choi Min-sik), a tiger hunter. Veteran actor Choi once said in an interview with the media that the film’s computer generated imagery (CGI) team should take all the credit if the film is successful, but Cho said that Choi also contributed a lot in creating this tiger as its face was modelled after Choi, “who looks very commanding and has a sense of weightiness like the tiger.”


The Admiral: Roaring Currents

Some of the most difficult things to create using computer graphics are fur and water. CGI specialists say they are the most challenging because it requires great attention to detail and expertise. Especially water, which has different textures for the surface and underwater, and the splashes and foam created by a moving ship makes it much more difficult to make it look realistic.

“The Admiral: Roaring Currents,” which came out in 2014 and garnered a record high of 17.61 million viewers, went down in history with the great CGI works of the time. In the film, a total of 342 ships appear but in reality, only eight were used.

“We combined the use of a special effects tool called Houdini that’s out in the market, and a tool called ‘Parang’ that we developed on our own to create the roaring currents in the film,” said visual effects supervisor Kang Tae-kyun of Macrograph.

After working with “The Admiral,” Macrograph also worked in creating ocean scenes for “Second Battle of Yeonpyeong” (2015), which was seen by over 6 million viewers and the Chinese film “The Mermaid” (2016), which broke profit records in China for making more than 3 billion yuan ($442 million). Now, Macrograph is known as the place to go when filming movies set on water.

“We focused on portraying more realistic scenes for ‘The Admiral,’ while being more imaginative for “The Mermaid” as it deals with fantasy,” said Kang. “Just in water graphics, development opportunities are endless.”



An image of a fish demon that appears in “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons” (2013), directed by Stephen Chow. The demon was developed using computer graphics. [MACROGRAPH]

China’s top filmmakers turn to Korea for movie imagery expertise

The country’s computer graphics market has been rapidly increasing since Korea adopted the technique in local films, starting with “The Fox with Nine Tails” (1994) and “The Soul Guardians” (1998). Now, there are films like “Mr. Go” (2013) that spent 10 billion won ($8.7 million) just on computer generated imagery (CGI). According to the National IT Industry Promotion Agency, the market size of this year’s computer graphics industry is predicted to be about 30 billion won. The overseas sales of Korea’s CGI technology reached 28.8 billion won in 2014, and is going up to 43.7 billion won last year, according to the agency. The Chinese film market that’s been growing rapidly over the last decade, has been the main contributor behind the growth. The market size of China’s CGI industry is about 500 billion won, and since the country produces a lot of fantasy films, the money that’s put into CGI works is said to be immense. Rather than turning to the U.S. or New Zealand, home to the leading CGI industries, China has been turning to Korea’s CGI companies that are cheaper and closer, yet provide quality work.

The most active company is Dexter Studios run by director Kim Yong-hwa, who directed “200 Pounds Beauty” (2007) and “Take Off” (2009). In 2011, he established a visual effects company and after just three years, he established a foreign corporation in China. Last year, Dexter Studios reached sales of 26 billion won and, according to the company, nearly 70 to 80 percent came from China.

Macrograph is also one of the rising companies among Chinese movie producers. It worked on “Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons” and “The Mermaid” with director Stephen Chow and both received great reviews from viewers and critics. Thanks to the success of films that Korean computer graphics companies worked on, more Chinese producers are said to be turning to Korea for help.

[지식충전소] 아찔한 빗속 추격전, 몰려오는 좀비떼 “CG가 주인공”

“와, 그 장면 죽이더라.”

요즘 영화의 성패는 한 장면으로 갈린다. 꼭 극장 스크린으로 봐야 하는 영화와 이동 중 폰으로 봐도 무방한 영화도 이 한두 장면으로 나뉜다. 관객들의 치솟는 눈높이 덕에 허술한 컴퓨터그래픽(Computer Graphics·CG)은 비웃음을 사기 십상. 특히 블록버스터에서는 스타 배우나 스토리 못잖게 시각적 특수효과(Visual Effects·VFX)가 진짜 주인공이란 이야기가 나온다. 최근 국내 CG의 수준이 높아지면서 ‘CG 한류’란 말도 나오고 있다. 영화 속 눈길을 사로잡는 그 한 방은 어떻게 탄생했을까.

◆ ‘아수라’=지난달 개봉한 영화 ‘아수라’(김성수 감독). 지옥 같은 세상을 살아가는 악인들의 혈투를 잔인하게 그린 만큼 작품에 대한 호불호는 갈렸지만 자동차 추격신만큼은 압권이라는 평가를 받았다. 총을 빼앗긴 경찰 한도경(정우성)이 빗속을 뚫고 조선족 일당의 차를 쫓는 ‘분노의 질주’ 장면은 한국 영화에서 본 적이 없는 구도와 장면 전환으로 압도적 몰입감을 선사했다.

비결은 3개월 동안 준비한 세트 플레이와 정교한 CG에 있었다. 특수효과업체 데몰리션은 국내에선 최초로 ‘카 액션 김블 장치’를 만드는 데 도전했다. 카메라가 상하 혹은 좌우로만 움직이는 차 한 대에 붙던 기존의 방식 대신 사방으로 움직이는 차 두 대를 동시에 촬영해 추격신의 긴박함을 더하는 장치다. VFX 업체 포스크리에이티브파티는 3차원(3D) 프로그램으로 영상 콘티를 만들고, 살수차를 불러 찍은 수중 추격신을 보완하기 위해 와이퍼 위로 흐르는 촘촘한 빗방울까지 CG로 구현했다.

여기에 서울액션스쿨의 카 스턴트팀 소속인 권귀덕이 직접 조선족 ‘귀덕’으로 출연, 대역 없이 정우성과 합을 맞추면서 액션이 한층 살아났다. 대역을 쓰면 일일이 잘라 이어 붙여야 하는 장면들이 클로즈업과 줌 아웃으로 매끄럽게 연결되면서 속도감과 긴박감이 더해졌다.

정도안 데몰리션 대표는 “카 액션이 많은 할리우드의 경우 김블 장치를 자체 제작하는 게 일반화돼 있지만 국내에서 짧은 장면을 촬영하기 위해 2억원의 비용을 투자한 것은 감독과 제작사의 쉽지 않은 결정이었다”며 “이 장비를 활용해 봉준호 감독의 ‘옥자’를 촬영했고 향후 자동 프로그래밍하는 방안을 연구 중”이라고 설명했다.

◆ ‘부산행’=‘아수라’가 특수효과와 VFX 시너지로 새로운 카 체이싱 시대를 열었다면 지난여름 극장가를 강타한 ‘부산행’(연상호 감독)은 인상적인 ‘좀비 떼샷’을 남겼다. 테크노댄스를 추는 것처럼 현란하게 움직이던 좀비들이 줄줄이 석우(공유)를 쫓아 열차에 매달리는 장면은 박재인 바디무브먼트컴포저와 VFX 업체 디지털아이디어의 합작품이다.

안무가로 활동하던 박재인은 고개와 발목 등을 인간과 반대 순서로 꺾는 독특한 움직임을 고안해 냈고, 디지털아이디어는 인공지능(AI) 룰에 따라 작동하는 ‘디지털 휴먼’을 만들어 덧입힘으로써 화면을 가득 채웠다. 정황수 VFX 수퍼바이저는 “경기장처럼 한 공간에 가만히 앉아 있는 군중을 표현하는 것은 어렵지 않지만 벽이나 장애물에 부딪히면 자동으로 방향을 틀어 움직이게 하는 건 새로운 기술이 필요했다”고 말했다.
‘부산행’에서 또 하나 주목해야 할 것은 시속 300㎞로 달리는 KTX 창문 밖으로 보이는 풍경이다. 국내 최초로 후면 영사 기술을 도입해 창문 바깥에 300개의 LED 패널을 설치하고 미리 촬영해 놓은 차창 밖 영상을 틀었다. 배우들이 연기에 몰입할 수 있을뿐더러 자연스러운 조명 효과를 연출해 냈다. 창문마다 블루 스크린을 설치해 놓고 촬영 이후 CG 작업을 통해 일일이 배경을 그려 넣었던 예전에 비해 기술력이 돋보인 사례다.

디지털아이디어가 떼샷에 강해진 것은 그들이 걸어온 필모그래피와도 무관하지 않다. 세계 챔피언에 도전하는 권투선수의 이야기를 그린 ‘챔피언’(2002·곽경택 감독)에서 군중 소스를 합성해 대규모 군중샷을 연출하기 시작해 대규모 전쟁영화 ‘태극기 휘날리며’(2003·강제규 감독)와 재난영화 ‘타워’(2012·김지훈 감독) 등을 거치면서 노하우가 쌓인 덕분이다.

◆ ‘대호’=지난해 12월 개봉한 ‘대호’(박훈정 감독)는 100% CG로 호랑이를 만들어 내면서 크리에이처 기술력을 한 단계 끌어올렸다는 평가를 받았다. 부산 삼정 더 파크에 있던 시베리아 호랑이를 모델 삼아 카메라와 비디오로 촬영 후 애꾸눈부터 항문까지 꼼꼼한 모델링을 거쳤다. 포스크리에이티브파티의 조용석 VFX 수퍼바이저는 “형태가 갖춰지면 털을 심는 텍스처 작업과 뼈를 심는 리깅 작업 등 11가지 공정을 거쳤다”며 “눈 내리는 겨울에 피가 튀기는 장면이 많아 퍼(털) 시뮬레이션에 특히 신경 썼다”고 설명했다.

이 영화의 백미는 조선의 명포수 천만덕(최민식)과 대호가 대치하는 장면이다. 적인 듯 벗인 듯 만덕과 교감하는 대호를 보고 있노라면 그가 호랑이인지 사람인지 헷갈릴 정도다. 조 수퍼바이저는 “지리산의 산군으로 군림하는 대호는 그에 걸맞은 위용과 무게감이 필요해 최민식 배우의 얼굴을 참고했다”고 밝혔다. 여기에 모션캡처 역할로 투입된 곽진석 배우의 움직임이 더해져 “‘김대호’를 신인상과 기술상 후보에 올려야 하는 것 아니냐”는 말이 나올 정도로 실감 나는 동물 배우가 탄생했다.

◆ ‘명량’=물은 털과 함께 CG 중에서도 정교함이 요구되는 고난이도 작업이다. 물의 표면과 내부의 질감이 다를뿐더러 물이 부딪히며 포말이 생기거나 배가 지나가면 굴곡이 생기는 등 변화무쌍하게 움직이는 탓이다. 2014년 개봉해 역대 최다 관객 수(1761만 명)를 기록한 ‘명량’(김한민 감독)은 특수효과사에서도 한 획을 그은 작품이다. 영화에는 조선배 12척과 왜선 330척이 등장하지만 실제 만들어진 배는 8척. 잔잔한 바다에서 피와 물을 만들어 가며 피 튀기는 해전을 찍었다.

매크로그래프의 강태균 VFX 수퍼바이저는 “현재 상용되는 FX 툴 ‘후디니’와 자체 개발한 프로그램 ‘파랑’을 병행 사용해 효율성을 극대화했다”고 설명했다. 이후 이들이 참여한 ‘연평해전’(2015·김학순 감독)이 600만 관객을 돌파하고, 중국 영화 ‘미인어’(2016·저우싱츠(周星馳) 감독)가 중국 박스오피스 사상 최고 수익 30억 위안(약 5014억원)을 달성하면서 ‘물은 매크로그래프’라는 공식이 생겨났다. 강 수퍼바이저는 “‘명량’이 자연의 움직임을 표현하는 데 초점을 맞췄다면 ‘미인어’는 판타지 요소가 강해 인어 꼬리로 바다를 내리치면 물이 치솟아 오르는 등 상상력이 많이 가미됐다”며 “물 CG 하나에서도 VFX의 발전 가능성은 무궁무진하다”고 말했다.


특수효과(Special Effects·SFX)는 특수분장과 미니어처 등을 활용해 영화 속에 등장하는 장면 중 실제 촬영할 수 없는 것을 만들어내는 모든 기법을 의미한다. 시각적 특수효과(Visual Effects·VFX)는 영상제작 기법 중 컴퓨터 그래픽(Computer Graphics·CG)에 바탕을 둔 모든 디지털 기법을 뜻한다.

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