Creators of 'Yumi's Cells' talk success of series and what's next
Despite initial concerns about the adaptation of popular Naver webtoon “Yumi’s Cells” into a television series, the final episode finished with a flourish and fans were left anticipating the next season which will be released next year.
During an online press interview Friday, the creators behind the series revealed that production for the second season is already underway, but were careful not to give away any spoilers.
When the news broke that “Yumi’s Cells” was set to be adapted into a television series last year, fans of the mega-popular Naver Webtoon were not pleased.
"Yumi's Cells" centers around an average 30-something-year-old woman named Kim Yumi and some 200 different cells residing in her brain. Each of the cells has a different purpose, with some controlling her thoughts, some her emotions and others her behaviors.
There were concerns that the production companies — Studio Dragon, Marycow and Studio N — would be unable to accurately portray the cells, that Yumi's daily life would be too mundane for a television adaptation and that her love life was too complicated to portray in 16-episodes, the standard number Korean series usually wrap with.
However, director Lee Sang-yeop behind MBC series “Shopaholic Louis” (2016) and tvN series “Familiar Wife (2018) and screenwriters Song Jae-jung of tvN series “Memories of the Alhambra” (2018) and MBC series “W” (2016); Kim Yoon-ju of MBC series “Find Me in Your Memory” (2020) and tvN series “20 Years Old” (2014); and rookie writer Kim Kyung-ran articulately transformed the 2-D webtoon into a collaboration of live-action and 3-D animated scenes. The adaptation marked the first format of its kind in the local television industry.
Three of the creators — Lee, Song, and Kim Yoon-ju — unanimously agreed that while the production process was a long, winding road much like Yumi’s romance, the successful transition was possible due to the dedication of the staff and cast. The following are edited excerpts of the interview.
Q. What scenes were you happiest with when you watched the series?
A. Lee: Oh, there were plenty, but the scene that was most memorable to me was when Yumi and Woong [Yumi's love interest] first met. There were a lot of tall buildings by the water fountain, so they cast a lot of shade and the lighting team had a bit of trouble with that. We finished filming the scene, but both the actors and I thought it wasn’t satisfactory enough, so we went there again to film it and that was the scene that was aired. I think [that moment] clearly portrayed Woong’s love-at-first-sight moment and Yumi’s confusion.
Song: I loved the scene when Woong’s Love Cell disguised itself in a frog costume to get into Yumi’s mind, and the ending scene when they [Yumi and Woong] break up and the last expression on her face before she turns away. I first saw the frog scene in the original webtoon and wondered how it could be naturally portrayed in this particular format [of combining live-action and 3-D animation]. I wondered would the frog actually be impressive enough to move the viewers. But when I saw it on screen, all of the original points were convincing enough to even reach viewers who hadn’t seen the webtoon. I also applauded Lee’s decision to not to put any soundtrack at the end and I was so impressed by actor Kim Go-eun’s [who portrays Yumi] performance.
Kim: The scene that sticks in my mind is near the end when Yumi enters her mind [through her dream] and meets the Bulletin Board Manager Cell. It was also the most crucial moment in the webtoon when Yumi self-actualizes that her worth is not determined by her relationships. So I was half-worried, half wondering how it would be portrayed on the screen but all of my worries immediately dissolved when I saw the scene.
Screenwriters typically stick to scriptwriting but you [Song] were also heavily involved in the production process. Can you describe your role?
Song: Since the original webtoon was so well-recognized and due to the immense quantity of story, I could see that the staff might have trouble turning it into a television series. As a creator, I was part of the decision-making process in matters such as turning it into a seasonal series, animating the cells and turning elements of the webtoon into 60-minute-long episodes.
Were you satisfied with the casting? What were some standards you had set for the main protagonists Yumi and Goo Woong?
Lee: There were a lot of different suggestions about the casting due to the webtoon’s popularity, but the most important requirement for Yumi was to stir empathy, and I wanted an actor around her age to portray what she actually felt and experienced. When I met Kim Go-eun, I saw the bright energy, a positivity that even though Yumi might work overtime or despair from her failures, she has the strength to keep going. For Woong, I thought actor Ahn Bo-hyun might be a little too intimidating for the role because he’s done a lot of serious projects but when I saw his eyes, they were very clear. I thought I could get him to be coy and sensitive like how Woong is, so we cast him.
All of the voice actors for the cells recorded in separate booths without any interaction due to the Covid-19 pandemic. How was the recording process?
Lee: I was surprised by that too. I wondered, how would the conversation connect when they’re each doing the dialogue alone? But when we edited the recordings, they all fit. The voice actors were already accustomed to this one-way process, and the writers had carefully written out the lines to match each character, but there were scenes where animation directors and voice actors, who were already familiar with animated scenes, gave their own ideas which were also incorporated into the scenes. For instance, I think it was in the 14th episode when Yumi’s Stomach Cell sounds like it has lived in the U.S. I’d never thought about it, but the director said that since Yumi’s a big eater, the concept would fit with the cell’s image. I tried it out, and it turned out to be very fun and made that short scene, which could have turned out to be a bit bland, much more comedic.
Can you tell us more about the production process? From voice recording to depicting the animated scenes, and filming and editing the live-action scenes, how long did each episode take to create?
Lee: I’m not exactly sure about how long each episode took, but we started prepping for the animation last summer. The writers had prepared the scripts quickly, so we first drew out some sketches for the animated cells, took some time to adjust the designs, and when they were all confirmed, we transitioned the sketches into moving animations. We then get the recordings from the voice actors. When they were set to go, we did the 3-D modeling of the characters.
So basically it was a long, meticulous process, much longer than we’d anticipated, but all of that needed to be done so that we could intersplice the completed animations between the live-action scenes. After editing, we finally added the special effects and soundtrack.
What are some of the best responses you've heard about the series?
Kim: I read some comments that said they felt like they were vicariously experiencing their [Yumi and Woong's] romance. That’s how much people became immersed in Yumi’s relationship and when she broke up with Woong, it felt like their relationship was over.
Lee: There were some advantages and disadvantages to the viewers becoming overly involved in the series (laughs). I mean, I’m ever so grateful for people’s attention, and feel that we’ve done something right with the adaptation, but I’ve heard some responses that people couldn’t bear to see the ending because they know how it ends.
Song: I thought people wouldn’t be as sympathetic because it’s not a narrative which contains a lot of dramatic ups and downs, but because it revolved around an average woman in her 30s, they were as embarrassed as Yumi when she makes a mistake, and were as sad as she was when her relationship came to an end.
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]