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Local Films Get High Tech

2004/05/17 | Permalink | Source

Use of Computer Graphics Adds Realism to Movies

By Kim Tae-jong
Staff Reporter

Sang-hwan and Eui-jin, Taoist superheroes from the movie "Arahan," are able to move objects with "ki," or spiritual energy, and jump from one rooftop of a skyscraper to another in Seoul. Without advanced computer graphic technology, it could have been nearly impossible to render such unrealistic scenes in the movie realistic.

Although local movies have increased the use of computer graphics, most of them were merely mediocre or disappointing in terms of their special effects in the past. But the latest local movies such as "Taegukgi" and "Arahan" seem to now be able to compete with the technology of Hollywood films like "The Matrix" trilogy.

People tend to expect comic book-inspired films like "Arahan" or sci-fi epics like "Star Wars" to be full of scenes enhanced by computers. However computer graphics are also used in such realistic movies as the recent Korean War epic "Taegukgi" and the traditional folk story-based film "Chunhyang" (2000), though it might be harder to tell.

"Computer graphics are usually used for improving the quality of films," said Son Seung-hyun, visual effects supervisor of the digital film studio In Sight Visual. "So, basically what we're trying to do is use computer graphics, but in a way that people don't recognize them as such."

Though the first purpose of special visual effects is to help present a story for a movie in an efficient way, they are also used for reducing the amount of production time, the cost and number of people, Son added.

In battle scenes from "Taegukgi," 500 extras were made into 100,000 soldiers, and images from different locations were merged to create fictional traditional towns in "Chunhyang." Apartment buildings and mountains, if inappropriate or unnecessary, are easily gotten rid of from the scenes behind the settings as well.

"Computer graphics give moviemakers more of a chance to use their imagination beyond the limitation of traditional methods," said Son. "But computer graphic technology alone is nothing since the completion of the graphic work depends on its combination with other important elements like sound, light, and acting within the natural development of a story."

Since its establishment in 1998, In Sight Visual has participated in over 20 local movies trying new methods like creating three-dimensional characters or objects by using motion capture technology and has achieved technical improvement in recent movies.

When they first started with the 1998 horror movie "Toemarok (The Soul Guardians)," in which many scenes were unconventionally generated by computer graphics, many moviegoers were disappointed with the quality of the film, having expected such special effects as that of Hollywood films.

But with the development of hardware and software available in local movies and the growing number of people who know the importance of computer graphics, the technology used in movies has been improved drastically in recent years and used successfully in many local movies.

"We've tried to learn the skills of special effects used in Hollywood films," said Son. "Given the long history and massive production costs of Hollywood movies, the quality of special effects in local movies has already reached an amazing level."

When scenes are shot, the special effects team scans and digitalizes the film. They then use computer graphic tools to combine the real film with imaginary scenes, which have already been planned at the stage of discussion over the screen script, Son explained.

Other scenes are created by first having the actors play their roles in front of a blue screen, pretending as if they were in an imaginary environment or situation. The scenes are then combined with images created by the visual effects team with the end result being that audiences will see the actors fly in the air or surrounded by thousands of people when they watch the movie.

And the visual team also corrects some errors and adjusts color tones of scenes that were taken separately in order to give audiences the impression of continuity throughout the scenes.

In Sight Visual is now working for an upcoming movie "Chongyon (Blue Swallow)," about South Korea's first female pilot, which contains 30 minutes of aerial scenes, and a film about a heavy storm called "Taepung (Typhoon)" that should create big waves.

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