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January 17
2023

ISSUE

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DECISION TO LEAVE LEAVES THE VISUAL EFFECTS DECISIONS TO LEE JOEN-HYOUNG

By TREVOR HOGG

Images courtesy of MUBI.

Partial set build, background plate photography, 3D model of mountaintop and depth pass are combined together to create an aerial shot.

Partial set build, background plate photography, 3D model of mountaintop and depth pass are combined together to create an aerial shot.

“The mountain [where Seo-rae falls to his death] is 100% CG, but the background where that peak is situated is a real scene that we shot. There are a ton of mountains in Korea, so it’s a composite of these two. The two main locations of the mountains and sea have this unique form that goes up and down and up and down. We wanted to repeatedly show such up and down patterns, like a wave in an ocean or the landscape of the mountain range, but at the same time we didn’t want to make it too obvious for the audience to say, ‘Ah-ha! I see that.’”

—Lee Joen-hyoung, CEO & VFX Supervisor, 4th Creative Party

Ever since the release of Oldboy, Lee Joen-hyoung, who serves as the CEO and VFX Supervisor at Korean VFX studio 4th Creative Party, has been collaborating with filmmaker Park Chan-wook. Decision to Leave, which revolves around a detective becoming infatuated with a murder suspect, seems to be a less likely candidate for extensive digital augmentation because of the subject matter, but this was not the case. “This was the easiest read of all of director Park’s screenplays,” Lee recalls. “However, in the end, the work that I had to do was the toughest because unlike The Handmaiden or Oldboy, for which I was able to come up with the imagination straightaway in terms of the visuals and mise-en-scène, Decision to Leave was so ambiguous.” About 580 shots were created over a period of six months. “We were done at the end of 2021, but then we had some time left before Cannes and the actual release, so we did some detailing work with only a handful of people to make it even more perfect,” Lee remarks.

Invisible effects include adding photographs to the wall devoted to unsolved crimes, created by Hae-joon.

Invisible effects include adding photographs to the wall devoted to unsolved crimes, created by Hae-joon.

Unwanted natural elements had to be removed from the finale, which took place in a beach environment that was, in reality, three different locations combined together. “Jang Hae-joon’s portion of it was shot at the end of fall, entering into the winter season, so we started to have some snow,” Lee states. “For the sake of continuity, we had to take out snow and also had to work on the mountain that you can see from far. Even though we had to remove the snow and wind, Tang Wei, the actor, still felt those harsh conditions, which reflected the emotional state of Hae-joon. With Son Seo-rae’s portion, there was no problem because the time of day was different.” Atmospherics were also digitally added into shots. “We had to have mist in the latter part of the film because it’s set against Ipo, which is famous for mist and being humid all of the time,” Lee adds. “Mist had to be present in almost all of the outdoor scenes, but we had to define how much for a particular scene.”

“Director Park likes to use insects in his movies, such as the ants in Oldboy or the mosquitoes in Lady Vengeance or the ladybug in I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK. I knew even before that he was going to put some kind of insect in this film, too. We already have a vast library filled with insects and their forms and movements, so we were well-equipped to execute that.”

—Lee Joen-hyoung, CEO & VFX Supervisor, 4th Creative Party

Insects are always featured in the films of Park Chan-wook, with CG ants crawling over the face of Seo-rae’s dead husband.

Insects are always featured in the films of Park Chan-wook, with CG ants crawling over the face of Seo-rae’s dead husband.

“Hae-joon tries to replicate what Seo-rae would have done to kill her husband, and he goes up the mountain, lies down and looks up. Then Seo-rae’s hand comes in and they hold hands together. Director Park told me that the audience should be able to see the callus on her palm because it’s evidence that she is already an expert climber. It was difficult to visually make that happen because when those two hands meet together the palm becomes a little bit dark, so we had to do several retakes. That one scene was the most challenging for me.”

—Lee Joen-hyoung, CEO & VFX Supervisor, 4th Creative Party

The mountain where the husband, Seo-rae, falls to his death was a partially built on a backlot set surrounded by bluescreen. “The mountain is 100% CG, but the background where that peak is situated is a real scene that we shot,” Lee reveals. “There are a ton of mountains in Korea, so it’s a composite of these two. The two main locations of the mountains and sea have this unique form that goes up and down and up and down. We wanted to repeatedly show such up and down patterns, like a wave in an ocean or the landscape of the mountain range, but at the same time we didn’t want to make it too obvious for the audience to say, ‘Ah-ha!  I see that.’” Ants crawl over the face of the deceased spouse. “Director Park likes to use insects in his movies, such as the ants in Oldboy or the mosquitoes in Lady Vengeance or the ladybug in I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK. I knew even before that he was going to put some kind of insect in this film, too. We already have a vast library filled with insects and their forms and movements, so we were well-equipped to execute that,” Lee notes.

The x-ray of an arm and hand transitions into the arm and hand of Hae-joon, emphasizing that he is still thinking of Seo-rae even when having an intimate moment with his wife.

The x-ray of an arm and hand transitions into the arm and hand of Hae-joon, emphasizing that he is still thinking of Seo-rae even when having an intimate moment with his wife.

A clever shot transition moves from the x-ray of a hand to the one belonging to Hae-joon as he is having sex with his wife in bed. “I have already accumulated so much experience with Park Chan-wook-esque transitions!” Lee laughs. “We knew how the output should look like because it was worked out in the storyboarding phase and we subsequently shot the source material. That transition was a nod to what we had already did in I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK. As a long-time collaborator, I already knew what color director Park likes for the x-ray and the timing for the movement of the hand. That transition was the symbol of how Hae-joon is really with Soe-rae even though he is physically next to his wife.” The growing emotional bond between the detective and the murder suspect is visually emphasized in the interrogation scenes. “We wanted the audience to see something happen that is not physically possible,” Lee describes. “For that we had four characters because there were two in front and there are two in the reflection of [the mirror]. We shot the real people, then the reflection pass, and composited these two together so that we were able to control the focusing and defocusing in order to fully realize director Park’s intention and vision for the scene.”

“That transition [shot of the x-ray of a hand to the one belonging to Hae-joon as he is having sex with his wife in bed] was a nod to what we had already did in I’m a Cyborg, But That’s OK. As a long-time collaborator, I already knew what color director Park likes for the x-ray and the timing for the movement of the hand. That transition was the symbol of how Hae-joon is really with Soe-rae even though he is physically next to his wife.”

—Lee Joen-hyoung, CEO & VFX Supervisor, 4th Creative Party

Bunam Beach in Samcheok, Hakampo Beach and Magumpo Beach in Taean were combined to create the environment that appears in the finale.

Bunam Beach in Samcheok, Hakampo Beach and Magumpo Beach in Taean were combined to create the environment that appears in the finale.

Reflections and monitors were manipulated during the interrogation scenes to visually show that Seo-rae and Hae-joon are becoming emotionally closer to each other.

Reflections and monitors were manipulated during the interrogation scenes to visually show that Seo-rae and Hae-joon are becoming emotionally closer to each other.

Driving shots are common place for Korean television series and films. “For our film, we wanted to make sure that the windshield of the car and the reflections on the car and how the lights will change inside of the space would be recognizable to the audience,” Lee remarks. “We had to make sure that the lighting and reflections worked perfectly; that was our full intention. Since our actors are inside the car, we also wanted to make a realistic look for the interior shot.” An unlikely shot proved to be difficult. Reveals Lee, “Hae-joon tries to replicate what Seo-rae would have done to kill her husband, and he goes up the mountain, lies down and looks up. Then Seo-rae’s hand comes in and they hold hands together. Director Park told me that the audience should be able to see the callus on her palm because it’s evidence that she is already an expert climber. It was difficult to visually make that happen because when those two hands meet together the palm becomes a little bit dark, so we had to do several retakes. That one scene was the most challenging for me.”


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