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Friday
Jan122018

FYC: "Okja" for Best Visual Effects

by Ilich Mejía

With all due respect to Transformers: The Last Night and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, neither one made me fall in love with a creature forty times my size—mostly because I skipped both, but other reasons, too. Okja's titular superpig, however, had me smitten after her opening scene cavorting across a Korean forest with her best friend, Mija (played by Ahn Seo-hyun, a revelation). 

Okja tells the story of one of twenty-six superpigs genetically engineered by a controversial corporation to be raised in different farms around the world. Her name is Okja and she's being raised in South Korea by Mija and her grandfather. Their care for Okja is so attentive and love-filled that she's selected as the healthiest, most exemplary of the twenty-six. Unfortunately for Mija, this means she'll have to say goodbye to Okja as she's taken to New York City for future, more corporate plans. The film's conceit, under the direction of Bong Joon-ho (Snowpiercer), hinges on the plausibility of Okja as a creature that the audience can believe is actually chasing day-to-day adventures with her caretaker. It sells this successfully almost exclusively thanks to its outstanding visual effects.

The visual effects of this film, supervised by Life of Pi's Erik de Boer, are essential to the narrative because, like a skilled actor's emoting, they provide one of the main characters with a palpable existence and a wagon of affection. Recently, other films that have tried to nail this connection between the viewer and a character born through CGI include Paddington and the 2016's remake of The Jungle Book. Unlike Okja, these film's CGI characters all had voices—more often than not provided by familiar actors—that helped them build emotions and convey warmth. Additionally, de Boer's team constructed an endearing creature whose physicality, even out of context, avoided any unflattering memes despite being so unrecognizable.

De Boer's team initially used large foam "stuffies" for Seo-hyun and the other actors to interact with while filming. The elephant-like skin and final details added to Okja in post then amplify the effectiveness of Seo-hyun's performance, reminescent of Naomi Watt's turn in 2005's King Kong as both establish humane, grounded relationships with creatures both performers didn't ever get to meet. Okja's movement and body language is also realistically constructed to comfort the viewer while watching her run across the North Korean subway station and New York streets with a calm certainty. In a film filled with grotesque performances (Tilda Swinton's hammy twins, Jake Gyllenhaal's scenery-starved TV zoologist), it's the CGI superpig that comes across as the most convincing. 

Following the precedent set by Ex Machina's 2016 win in the same category, a nomination for Okja should be encouraged considering how much the visual effects inform the main character's authenticity despite otherwise sedate sceneries. Okja's shy eyes pushed the story's narrative faster than Spider-Man's web can swing him across buildings.

If you don't want Mija rubbing Okja's backside back and forth over your desk, consider their work and maybe go vegan.

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Reader Comments (1)

Excellent Post!!! The Visual effects in the movie have explained clearly in the article. Waiting for your new articles regarding upcoming movies.

October 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterDinesh

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