Production Blog

JUNE 01, 2010

Korean Travel Blog Part 1
Like the troops that form ARES, the artists who have banded together to make “War of the Worlds: Goliath” a reality are truly an international team. Production on the film involves more than 300 artists spread across three different countries and time zones.

Script, direction, voice and production management are all being done in L.A. out of Tripod’s Venice Beach H.Q. Back-ground design and color key and the all-important “mecha” design and CG “build” of our tripods and aircraft are provided by the Malaysian offices of Tripod’s design team at Studio Climb. Character design is being done by Director Lee in Seoul and layout, CG renders and all animation, composite and effects are being handled at the studio of Seoul’s Sun Min Image Pictures.

People have asked me about the problems inherent in attempting to direct such a large creative team spread out halfway around the planet. It’s not easy and would have been near impossible ten or fifteen years ago, but now in the age of the Internet, communication via e-mail, skype and secure FTP sites have made this doable. It’s not as easy as doing it all in one central place, but it can be done.

Still, there is nothing like face-to-face communication as ideas and drawings can be shared quicker and easier in person. Collaboration is easier. And just as importantly, it’s crucial to meet and get to know the human beings that you’re working with to share jokes, dreams, meals and drinks together. You can accomplish a week’s worth of e-mail communication and work in an afternoon when you are mano a mano with your crew.

So I attempt to make a two-week long trip to Asia at least once every three or four months, usually flying in a circuit from L.A. to Seoul, then to Kuala Lumpur then back to L.A. It’s often exhausting dealing with the 13—25 hour flights and the resultant jet lag, but I never fail to return home inspired and pumped up by the great talent, enthusiasm and work that I’m exposed to.

I’m going to make the next three “War of the Worlds: Goliath” Production Blogs about my most recent journey, a 10-day production trip to Sun Min Image Pictures in Seoul. I’ve broken it down into a day-by-day “diary” of the trip and will post one every week for the next three weeks. So pack your bags, buckle up your seat belts, and let’s take off for the capital of South Korea—the mighty megalopolis of Seoul.

DAY 1, May 3rd

The iconic LAX Theme Building. You can easily visualize it uprooting and marching across the helpless city, like a rampaging alien “Quadpod”. A pod with some fine dining at the restaurant in the center. “Dine and rampage”? Sounds like an interesting date.

It’s midday as I take the short taxi ride from Venice Beach to LAX and board Asiana Airlines flight 201 for the long flight to Seoul. International travel like this is kind of an SF adventure of its own as you leave LAX at 1:10 on a Monday afternoon, travel for thirteen hours, but arrive at your destination at 6:00 in the evening on a TUESDAY. When you think about it, international travel like this is probably as close as we’re ever going to get to “time travel”.

The mighty Asiana Air 747. As I boarded, I got a rare front-end view of another Asiana jet at just this impressive angle and closeness. How cool would it be to have that window seat at the very front of the aircraft, right up by the nose? Talk about a view…

Actually, the flight isn’t so bad in Business Class as you’ve got the room to spread out and can really get a lot of work done, not to mention catching up on a movie or two that’s been missed at home. And because of the economic downturn of recent years, Business Class is more than half empty, which means that there’s no one sitting next to me and my window seat.

Sweet.

Asiana stewardess and uniform. It’s got a nice paramilitary look that wouldn’t be out of place on an ARES battle zeppelin. “Stand by to deploy primary Heat Ray and serve lunch!”

I spend part of the time on my Mac Book Pro, “Ginger”, reviewing images and footage from a couple of “War of the Worlds: Goliath’s” problem sequences. That’s another major benefit of “living in the future”—being able to own a personal laptop computer that has the memory to store the thousands of images of production art, movie files and correspondence that a movie like ours requires. So at 33,000 feet and traveling close to the speed of sound, I can comfortably sit, nursing a vodka on the rocks and review and comment on the production with access to the equivalent of a room full of filed art and picture.

Here are some of the many images I was reviewing—

“Before and after” shots of a scene from the grim “Boathouse Sequence”. As you can see the revision that Sun Min has done on the bottom shot is a huge improvement. Skin color on the character on the far right has been revised and a nice, brooding backlight shadow has been dropped onto all the characters. Mood!

Another “before and after”, this time from Sequence 13. Again, if you review the revised shot on the bottom you’ll see that the overly “giant” Masai trooper in the BG has been downsized, a third layer of shadow and rim light has been added to the characters, the foreground figure dropped out of focus and a nice graded tone has been added in After Effects to the background and characters. It’s clearly a much richer and stronger scene now.

After reviewing these revisions I spend some time writing out the script, and sketching some thumbnails for the images of each of “War of the Worlds: Goliath’s” 22 title credit cards. I can’t say more about this with giving too much away, but suffice it to say that when you watch the movie, you may get a glimpse of what life was like on the planet of the Enemy, just prior to their first invasion.

I finish my flight with a viewing of Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes”, a movie that I wanted to catch when it was out on the big screen in L.A., but couldn’t break free to see. I’ve got to say that I was really impressed. It’s a terrific film at nearly every level. Fast, beautifully directed, art directed and well acted; it’s a worthy re-imagining of Conan Doyle’s classic sleuth.

I would even say that this film is Hollywood’s most successful venture into the steampunk genre to date (certainly, it’s head and shoulders over the wretched “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” misfire). It had all the ingredients necessary to qualify it in my opinion—a cocky anti-hero (perfectly played by Robert Downey Jr.), high Victorian setting loaded with lots of lovely exposed iron beams and gloomy top hat-wearing Londoners, and a spirit of tongue-in-cheek, anti-authoritarian bohemianism. I especially liked the fight in the massive boathouse/construction shed with the looming mass of the half-finished “dreadnought”.

Perfect.

Well, almost perfect. The movie COULD have used a zeppelin or two, or three.

Actually, there IS another great steampunk adaptation of Sherlock Holmes out there. It’s Hayao Miyazaki’s charming “Sherlock Hound” animated kids series from the early 80’s. It is completely steampunked out with dreadnoughts, airships, submarines and mechanical inventions of all types. It’s good fun for children and adults AND it's directed by the Master! If you are not aware of this little gem, track it down.

This image says it all. Steampunk to the max!

DAY 2, May 4th
I arrive in at the international airport at Incheon at 6:30 in the evening of Tuesday May 4th. It takes only 30 minutes to clear customs, get my baggage and I’m out of the terminal.

The “spacey” architecture of the Seoul Incheon International Airport terminal.

And there’s the President of Sun Min Image Pictures, Director Sang, waiting for me with his usual “big smile”. I’ve known Sang for 20 years and worked with him on numerous series episodes, music videos and shorts, but nothing has been as challenging for the both of us as “War of the Worlds: Goliath” has been. It’s a testament to our long friendship that his smile is as genuine as always.

Director Sang. ‘Smiling as always.

We spend the ninety-minute drive into Seoul reviewing the current production situation on the movie and my schedule for the next ten days. Sang informs me that the movie is nearly ¾ finished with principle animation and most color and initial compositing done on the movie’s first 21 Sequences. Take 2’s are nearly finished on 8 of these Sequences. The last three Sequences are now finishing layout and about to start full animation.

Sang seems very confident that the movie’s animation and camera will be fully finished and ready for Post in Kuala Lumpur by late Summer/early Fall. It’s good news and I’m pleased that we’ll have a number of finished Sequences to screen at the Comic Cons this July in Paris and San Diego.

It’s a little past 8:30 when we arrive at my hotel, the Seoul Kyoyuk Munhwa Hoekwan (the Seoul Educational Center). It’s a mouthful, I know. You should try saying remembering that name and pronouncing it correctly when attempting to give it to a non English speaking taxi cab driver at two in the morning and after a night of drinking with your artists and directors.

The Hoekwan is located on a huge piece of land in the Yangjae district out at the Western edge of the city and only a mile from the studio offices of Sun Min Image Pictures. It’s a beautiful area surrounded by mountains, hills and the lovely Yangjae River. The Center is not a typical Gangnam-style “business-man’s hotel”. Rather it’s more conference/family oriented and a popular place for Spring and Summer weddings. (Or as one large hotel sign bannered, “Spring Weedings”)

Often invaded by hordes of Japanese and Korean school kids, it’s not uncommon (but always surreal) for the elevator door to open to reveal it filled to the brim with a pack of uniformed Japanese Junior High School girls in their iconic uniforms. The Center has a great water park AND a full-on drive-in movie theater on the grounds. There’s something strange, but “right” about standing in the back of a Korean drive-in on a humid summer night, watching “Hancock”, after a 13 hour flight from L.A.

In any event, I’ve been up for more then 24 hours, so it’s lights out for me.

A corner room on the top floor gives you the best views of the city and keeps the sound of rampaging Junior High kids down to a minimum.

DAY 3, May 5th
The next morning Director Young Hwan Sang picks me up and we drive the short distance to Sun Min. It’s always a bit of a reunion with the core team of directors, artists and production personnel. Having worked with them for many years and having made more then a dozen trips to Seoul since 1998, I’ve come to know many of them personally.

Outside of the main Sun Min building in Yangjae.

Sun Min has a separate facility a block away where they house their key teams for the “Ben 10” and “Generator Rex” series that they are currently doing for Cartoon Network.

Some shots of Director Sang’s office.
Sang’s desk and drawing board.
Director Sang at work. The man remains a “hands on” artist.

The first thing I usually do is to “make the rounds” meeting and greeting the crew. First, it’s always good to see Hea Young Yoo ("Hannah), the studio’s Head of Production and Director Sang’s strong right hand.

Hannah in her office.

A corner of Hannah’s desk.
Typical studio animation stand. Timing sheets are posted to the right
of the animation disc.

Then it’s over to re-meet Ms. Shin Ji Kim the chief cleanup artist on “War of the Worlds: Goliath”. She checks and revises nearly all of the final clean line drawings on the movie. This is no easy task with our unique and complicated characters. It’s a tribute to her and her hard work and good eye that Director Lee’s character designs look so good and faithful to the original.

Part of the final cleanup line on a scene featuring our boy, “Eric Wells”.

Back to back with Ms. Kim is Mr. Nguyen Hoang, one of the key layout artists on the movie. A comic book artist from Hanoi in Vietnam, Hoang adds yet another country to the roster of our international team. He’s a talented young man and eager to learn and expand his range.

Mr. Hoang prepping a layout with the interior control center of a giant Martian flying Wing.

While talking with him, I mentioned the similarity of one of Spencer Ooi’s designs for New York to a “Moebius” drawing, but Hoang had never heard of this seminal comics artist. So it was my great pleasure to haul out some classic Moebius works from Director Sang’s office and loan them to Hoang. Throughout the next few days, I’d catch him reviewing them again and again, especially the classic “Arzach” strips. It’s always good to spread the word of the gospel of “the Moeb” to a new generation and country. I hope Director Sang gets his books back, but I wouldn’t count on it.

This image of the damaged "Vigilance" statue was the production drawing by Spencer Ooi that set off the "Moebius" conversation.
A Moebius print on Sang’s office wall.

Then it was downstairs to meet again with the hardworking Mr. Jeon, the main Production Manager on “War of the Worlds: Goliath” and the “man who never sleeps”. Seriously, he seems to live at Sun Min and is always there when I leave at 9 or 10 or even 11 at night. It’s his job to keep the hundreds and thousands of images of art, animation and design flowing between L.A., Kuala Lumpur and Seoul and in-house between all the myriad departments and teams and then back to L.A. for review.

We’ve become quite the “pen pals” over the last few years as he sends me new materials to review on nearly a daily basis as well as quietly aggrieved pleas for missing or new designs. He’s a steady-on kind of guy and we’re lucky to have him tracking on everything.

Mr. Jeon at his command center.
Some of the tens of thousands of studio production scene folders required for a movie like this.

On the same floor as Jeon and his bustling staff is Director Sung Chul Moon, the chief EFX artist on the movie and the man who quite literally wrote THE book on After Effects and its use for the Korean industry—“Ani Graphic”. You can well imagine the scope of his abilities and the outstanding levels of effects he’s creating for “War of the Worlds: Goliath”.

Director Moon reviewing “air burst” explosion EFX with Director Sang.

One more thing about Director Moon. He’s a good-looking man. Almost “actor handsome”. In fact, many of us think that he looks a lot like a Korean version of one of our favorite “Highlander” actors and the voice of our own Eric Wells—Peter Wingfield. Fantastic? Hard to imagine? Well, judge for yourselves—

Brothers from another mother?

Is Director Moon a “closet Immortal”? Any Watcher’s out there and reading this, please feel free to weigh in.

Finally, I got to meet Director Gwang Suk Yang, Sun Min’s new co-director/supervisor on our movie. This was really the most crucial meeting of the trip and one of the main reasons for my making the long journey to Seoul at this time. Director Yang was brought onto the team shortly after my previous trip to Korea in late October of last year. I had not met him personally and felt that it was highly important to meet and get to know this man.

Some of Director Yang’s strong work on these lighting tests from the “Power Plant” Sequence.

He has already brought a lot of quality work and “thinking” to the film since he came on board. I was very pleased with the work I had seen from him regarding lighting and shading revisions so I had high hopes that we could “mind meld” even more in a series of face-to-face meetings. I was not disappointed.

Director Samjin Young Kwang Seouck

When we met, I felt an instant rapport with him. He reminded me a lot of some of my closet Korean chengu (friends) like Young Yoon and Park Min and I knew we would be able to “click” on a personal as well as a professional level.

We set a time on Thursday with Director Sang to hold a long production meeting to review the entire movie in general and then get down to brass tacks on specific sequences.

While the working days are often long in Seoul, the rewards in camaraderie and good food are plentiful. Koreans enjoy a good meal and the district of Yangjae where Sun Min is located is a great place to go for a short stroll and sample some excellent Korean eats.

Director Sang and Sun Min interpreter, Mrs. Cheung.
Good eating in Seoul.
More good eating.

Many people’s sole impression of Korean cuisine is based around the kalbi and bulgolgi dishes with slices of beef and pork that are grilled right on the tabletop. While these are iconic foods, Koreans tend to like a lot of soups and stews like the ones above. They are delicious and pretty healthy foods.

Well, that’s it for Part One of the Seoul Production Trip Blog.

Part Two in one week.

Production Blog