In one of the most intriguing tale of friendship yet, Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja tells the story about a 13-year old Korean girl who befriends a crossbreed of pig and a hippo of the same name and takes great pains to rescue him from getting slaughtered.
Starring Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal alongside many Korean stars, Okja is a Korean-American film which has already flattered its audience in Cannes and is now ready to win hearts in US and South Korea.
A Netflix original, the movie orbits around the super-pig Okja which is one of the many genetically created creatures by Mirando Corporation, led by Lucy Mirando (Swinton), in an attempt to resolve the world hunger issue. However, one of them escapes and a young farmgirl called Mija adopts him and they develop a deep-rooted bond.
When Mirando and her associates try to take him back to the slaughterhouse, Mija allies with several animal rights activists group and walks on eggshells to save her beaconer friend’s life.
Now that we know the plot, let’s delve into the creation of Okja.
Filming such a humongous animal involves a lot of CGI, VFX and other special effects. To make Okja look unique, Joon-Ho roped in Oscar winning VFX supervisor Eric De Boer whose visual effects for The Life of Pie won him a Golden Globe.
Starting off with a few concept drawings, De Boer took a dekko over hundreds of pigs, hippos and manatees before altering a bit of the structure of the feet, ears and the overall appearance.
Once Okja was pictured, the makers decided to make a stuff toy out of a laser-cut foam for the actors to enact with and later use CGI to bring it alive on the screen.
A puppeteer brought Okja to life on the set. The production people had a ‘stuffie’ for every part of her body.That was the only way for the post-production (special effects) work to be accurate. Mija is always hugging and grazing Okja’s face. The puppet doesn’t smells too pleasant but it looks lovely.
De Boer, who lead a team of 140 digital artists, talks about the challenges in the making of Okja. He recalls, “Nobody is going to believe a CGI creature if the gravity and collisions with the ground are not properly taken care of. That’s always out first worry.”
To create a crossbreed of a pig, a hippo and a manatee not only requires imagination, but also involves several intricate details of each animal to be studies so as to incorporate them in the cross breed.It really began with a few initial sketches drawn by Director Bong; the size comparison between Mija and Okja, and sort of what Okja looked like fresh from his imagination, before any other artist was involved.
Their team actually went to the zoo and stroked a few hippos because they needed to understand how much tension is there on its skin.A pig has a lot of hair and can be quite furry, whereas a hippo is waxier and smoother.
For all the efforts in making the film, Okja has garnered largely positive reviews from the critics, who are in the awe of the animal. The film has generated an 83% rating so far on Rotten Tomatoes, whereas the IMDB ratings stand at a considerable 7.7, all of this within a week of its release.The movie is streaming on Netflix from 28 July 2017.