The Netflix original film “Okja” follows a young girl, Mija, who risks everything to prevent a powerful company from abducting her best friend, a massive and gentle beast brought to life through computer graphics.
Developed and produced by Plan B, Lewis Pictures and Kate Street Picture Company, the feature centers on a pig-like creature that is roughly 12 feet long, eight feet tall and weighs 12,000 pounds – a full-CG creation by Deluxe’s Method Studios.
Method VFX Supervisor and Academy Award winner Erik-Jan de Boer collaborated with Director Bong Joon Ho from the early stages of productions, refining the look for Okja, developing a highly detailed asset that would seamlessly integrate with practical footage and overseeing shots on set in South Korea, New York and Vancouver. DP Darius Khondji shot the film using Alexa 65 cameras at 6.5K, which was downrez’d to 4K for stunning image quality and depth. In total, Method delivered more than 35 minutes of footage, with an average shot length of nine seconds.
To kick off the project, Bong sent Method a crate from Korea containing a small 3D maquette of Okja. Artists scanned the figure, made sure the model was symmetrical and optimized the asset for the Method pipeline. From there, small design adjustments were made such as number of toes, ear size, the shape of the feet and jowls, and adding fuzz and hair for a more loveable appeal. With the aesthetic dialed in, Method focused on R&D for skin and muscle simulations, developing a new solution for simulating faster and making the results art directable to ensure Okja would have the appropriate mass and realism.
“Realizing Bong’s vision for Okja was inherently challenging because of her size. She is enormous and features prominently in shots, and we didn’t want to restrict the actors so we had to prepare for there to be a lot of contact with her on set. Also, since this is a story about love and friendship, naturally Mija would need to interact closely with Okja. We aimed to make Okja a realistic presence on set and really focused on making the young actress playing Mija comfortable even though her primary costar is an inanimate foam shape. Bong was very generous in allowing us to rehearse and prepare with Mija and gave us a lot of autonomy in how we approached scenes,” said de Boer.
On set, de Boer and Method Animation Supervisor Stephen Clee employed a vast array of pre-designed stuffies, EVA foam pieces, which were 3D printed from Method supplied models and glued into shapes for the most accurate representation of Okja's shape. The stuffy, always puppeteered by Clee, gave actors an eye line and a realistic prop to interact with, and responded in a manner that lent authenticity to the performance; it was also important for casting shadows to achieve the appropriate presence. For the sequence in which Mija rides Okja, instead of building a motion-based platform, de Boer opted to film the actress bouncing on a custom built huge Okja pogo stick, which provided the correct physics and, as a result, more realistic hang time and bounce.
“Being on set was hugely beneficial to the success of this project,” de Boer said. “Standing next to Bong, we could discuss our strategy and take risks we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise. Once we came back to Method and saw what had been captured, we hit the ground running. We had intricate shots with upwards of five people touching Okja at once that we had to legitimize, shots where Okja is in frame for a full minute, and many shots with Mija hugging Okja, allowing time to scrutinize every contact point and shadow. This required lots of roto, paint, rotomation and animation with an incredibly high fidelity. We definitely pushed our craft to a new level.”
In addition to Okja’s interactions with the film’s actors, Method created scenes in which Okja swims, bumps into cars, crashes into a storefront and falls into (full CG) vegetation on a forest floor. Method also created extensive crowd work for a shot inside a feed yard with more than 16,000 pigs.
Starring Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, An Seo Hyun, Byun Heebong, Steven Yeun, Lily Collins, Yoon Je Moon, Shirley Henderson, Daniel Henshall, Devon Bostick, Woo Shik Choi, Giancarlo Esposito and Jake Gyllenhaal, “Okja” is now streaming on Netflix. For more info, visit: https://www.netflix.com/okja