Production Blog

JULY 02, 2010

Korean Travel Blog Part 3

DAY 7, May 9th
It’s Sunday in Seoul and even the hard working team at Sun Min takes the day off. One of “War of the Worlds: Goliath”’s key designers, Spencer Ooi, and his wife and studio manager, Chienni Chang flew into Seoul that morning from Kuala Lumpur, so we took this opportunity to spend part of the day playing “tourist” in this vibrant and exotic city.

Allow me to say something about Spencer Ooi. Along with Wei Siong, he is one of the founding partners of Kuala Lumpur's premier film design teams, Studio Climb. A cheerful and enthusiastic man, Spencer is a constantly moving powerhouse of ideas and veritable "drawing machine".

Spencer and S.C. co-founder Wei Siong (center) with team member
and “War of the Worlds: Goliath” prop designer Ngee Siong.
Yes, they are posing in front of a magnificent scale model of the
Goliath Battle Tripod!
(More about that in an upcoming Blog)

Much of the visual look of the “world” of our movie comes from Spencer’s inspired imagination and for me one of the real joys of making this movie is to be able to collaborate with him, Wei Siong and Ngee Seong, put out ideas and rough sketches. and see them return visualized at a level far beyond my own imagination.

A few of the many hundreds of astounding designs that Spencer has produced over the last two years for “War of the Worlds: Goliath”.

You can well imagine my excitement when I found out that Spencer and Chienni were planning to come to Seoul at the same time I would be there. To have him “in-house” at Sun Min for a few days at this crucial time in the production cycle was a terrific opportunity to work together at Sun Min.

With Spencer at Studio Climb in Kuala Lumpur. Park Min is in the background.
With Kevin Eastman during a WOTW “research” trip/photo shoot at the Eastman Compound. Yes, the “small one” in the middle is Spencer.

But since this was a “free” day and an absolutely stunning spring day in Seoul, we took advantage of this to spend it with some of our Korean “chengu” in one of the older parts of the city, “Insa-dong”. Our “driver” and “tour guide” in this endeavor was the mighty Min Park.

A 20 year veteran animator and director in the Korean industry, Min has been one of Tripod’s stalwart artists and a long-term supporter of what we’ve been attempting with “War of the Worlds: Goliath”. He’s boarded a good number of the movie’s sequences (2, 21, 25, and 25A) as well as personally doing the final Layout for Sequence 25A. Min spent 3 months working in-house at Studio Climb in Kuala Lumpur courtesy of our friends and supporters at the Malaysian Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC).

A few samples of Min’s storyboard work.

The “Min” can also “man up” with the best of them and proved it at last year’s San Diego Comic Con where he helped us haul hundreds of pounds of Goliath T-shirts, posters and art books down the street from our hotel, into the convention center and over to the Heavy Metal magazine booth. A truly grueling experience to say the least. And he only complained a little!

Min at Studio Climb.

In any event, Min showed up at the hotel at 2:00 with his friend Ms. Jeong Hee Park and forty minutes later we were in Insa-dong, one of the older districts in Seoul and a center for more traditional Korean arts and crafts, antiques, galleries, restaurants, and the like. It’s a great place to mingle with people in an area that is attempting to retain some of the feeling of Korean culture and community.

After lunch, the sound of drumming drew us to a nearby plaza where a samulnori ensemble was performing to a crowd of several hundred appreciative people. Samulnori is a traditional folk music very dear to the hearts of the Korean people. It’s a bit like Taiko drumming from Japan, but with a wider variety of drums and instruments, including gongs and flutes. As the drummers perform they move in a constantly winding line, weaving in and out across the plaza.

The music is wonderful and very “primal” in its feeling and the way it synchs with your own heartbeat and body rhythm. Even a “gringo” like myself, from a completely different cultural background could feel it deep inside. That was a good thing, because before I knew what hit me, I had been pulled up, handed a big drum and a drumstick the size of a turkey leg and drafted into the band!

“Go forth and drum!” Yikes!

One of the drummers came right up to me and indicated that he wanted to jam with me, so we faced off and got down to it. Wow, what fun, matching him beat for beat for fifteen intense minutes. My only fear was that I’d lose my grip on the “turkey leg” and the drumstick would fly off and bean someone in the crowd!

After that we meandered the few blocks over to the Cheong Gye Cheon river. This is an amazing piece of massive urban renewal, a work of “living art” and a must see for any visitor to Seoul. The river was originally completely covered over in the early 60’s by lane highway, but in 1993 the current Mayor of Seoul, Lee Myung-Bak made it his personal mission to restore the river to the city.

They said it couldn’t be done, but 2 years and $900 million dollars later, they did it and the result is quite beautiful. A six-kilometer long living river running right through a heavily built up part of Seoul. The river is now a civic treasure with sculptures, art galleries, small outdoor movie theaters, plants, fish and much more. And the people of Seoul love it deeply. On this perfect Spring Day, they were out in force, happily celebrating the weather and the river.

Some photos of the many different sections of the river. The last picture features a couple of the remaining support columns from the elevated highway that used to cover the river. The designers incorporated them into the final installation as objets d’ art and a reminder of what once was.

For his efforts Lee Myung-Bak was elected President of South Korea a few years back and I’ve got to say, that he earned the job. The Cheong Gye Cheon river is an amazing accomplishment. We need vision like this in L.A. to restore our sad, concretized “river”.

At one end of the river. From left to right: Min, Spencer, Jeong Hee and Chienni.

DAY 8, May 10th
It’s the end of another good day at Sun Min. It was a real pleasure to be able to finally introduce Spencer and Chienni to the creative team at the studio. Spencer and Studio Climb’s outstanding designs have been prominent on the walls at Sun Min for more than a year and a half, and many of the studio’s artists were eager to meet one of the individuals behind so much good work.

Spencer and the President of Sun Min Image Pictures, Director Sang.
Chienni and Sun Min Production Manager, Mr. Jeon.

Using my computer’s Skype cam I was able to give the members of Studio Climb’s design team that could not make it to Seoul, a virtual tour of Sun Min. ‘Another “sci fi” moment.

Of course, once the “fun stuff” was out of the way, we put Spencer right to work on some of the layouts of the NY backgrounds and crowd scenes in Sequence 3 that I had identified as needing revision the previous week. Having Spencer actually in Seoul and working in-house in Sun Min during the crucial layout phase of Sequence 3 was an ideal opportunity to make any necessary revisions and add the special “Ooi” touch to the layouts.

Watching Spencer at work is pretty amazing. As his hand moves across the page, he is drawing so quickly and accurately it feels almost like time lapse photography as he lays down a layer of steam punk pipes and vents to the NY buildings and materializes an entire crowd of well-dressed New Yorkers and vehicles for the street in front of the buildings. Awesome.

The final results of Spencer’s work will be clearly visible on the screen as we watch Eric ride through the resurgent metropolis in the golden light of an early morning.

Spencer and I also spent a fair amount of time with Director Yang discussing shadow and lighting treatments for a number of scenes. As Spencer speaks no Korean and Yang no Chinese, they had to communicate in English. Aided by lots of hand gestures and visual notes of course.

DAY 9, May 11th

Our team grows. “War of the Worlds: Goliath” co-producer, Leon Tan, flew into Seoul this morning and will meet us later on at the studio.

Spencer and I finish the last of the Sequence 3 Layout revisions and when Leon arrives after lunch we review more effects animations with Directors Moon and Kim and spend time reviewing and discussing delivery schedules of final footage with Director Sang.

Leon and Director Yang.

That evening, Park Min comes by the studio and together with Director Yang we take the subway to Gangnam Station, another one of Seoul’s many restaurant and bar districts. Surrounded by super modern skyscrapers, the side streets of Gangnam are filled with 4 or 5 stories of bars, restaurants and clubs of every description and style. And packed with people. Even on a Tuesday night. The mass of neon, signage and crushed together humanity can get a bit dizzying. (Or maybe that’s the soju)

Director Young Gi Yoon is waiting for us by the subway exit with a big smile on his face. I’m really happy to see him and we “hug it out”. Young and I have been friends since 1996 when Peter Chung first brought him over to my studio in Santa Monica. One look at his portfolio and he was “in”, working steadily with myself and the Epoch Ink team on “Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys”, “Roswell Conspiracies”, “Robocop”, and the “Evolution” video for Pearl Jam. Young can do it all and do it well—storyboard, design, EFX, layout and animation.

Young Yoon in Seoul last Winter.
A sample of some of Young’s striking storyboard work for our movie.

Young is just finishing his first movie in Seoul as a full director. "Ma-bup-chun-ja-moon" is a wild and fun children’s story that’s beautifully animated in glorious 2D. It premieres in Seoul this August, and if we’re lucky, it will make its way to audiences in the West later this year.

After the “Meet and Greet” we trooped over to one of Gang Nam’s many restaurants and bars for a boisterous dinner of Bulgogi (Korean barbequed beef, pork and chicken), laced with soju. LOTS of soju. Toasting and hilarity ensued. To her credit, Chienni more than held her own with “the boys” and her quiet presence at the dinner, kept us from going full “mongo”. Thanks Chienni, from saving us from ourselves.

By the time we finished a “second round” of food and drink at another restaurant/bar (this one was amazingly cool - it felt like a set out of a cyber punk Yakuza movie), we were feeling little pain and it was almost 2 A.M.! An early morning and a certain hangover await, but it was worth it to spend time with good friends.

Finally, a late night Gang-nam picture of Director Yang and I posing in front of our “favorite” soju model, Korean popstar Hyori Lee.

That’s if for this week folks. Stay tuned for the next (and I promise the last) Travel Blog in a week or two.

Production Blog