Sunmin Park talks about producing the Korean anime, Sky Blue
What were you doing seven years ago? Maybe a different job, different city, different school, different wife? For Sunmin Park, the producer of the Korean anime "Sky Blue," which will be released nationwide this spring, seven years ago she was . . . working on "Sky Blue." Bad news for Sunmin, as it gobbled up seven years of her life. Good news for us, as it was worth the wait.
Sky Blue is a thrillingly original piece if sci-fi anime, although calling it "anime" doesn't quite do it justice. It's the first film in motion picture history to incorporate four unique elements: traditional animation, computer generated images, live action, and miniatures . . . into each and every frame. Set in the year 2140, it tells the story of a dark, ravaged, unrecognizable Earth.
Coming straight from the airport after a red-eye from LA, SunMin meets me for a much needed coffee in midtown's Rihga hotel. She's tired but perky. Sunmin, who also produced "The Others" in her spare time, wears a ruffly teal shirt and a fur coat. Given her passion for the environment, something tells me it's not real.
Sunmin gives us the dish on why it took seven years to make "Sky Blue," what the evil "Ecobar" symbolizes, and why much of the delay can be traced to one man: George Lucas.
I understand that it took seven years to make this film. What was the biggest challenge?
Sunmin Park: Well, this is Korean animation. Which sets it apart from Japanese anime. Yes, there's a lot of inspiration, but it was different from any animation that had come along before. The Korean animation industry, as you know, has been much more of a service kind of organization. And it was important to me as a filmmaker, and being a Korean American, to make something more original.
When we first got started, the biggest challenge was to do something different technically. To do 2-D, 3-D, live-action and miniatures. And to have it be seamless, so that the layers co-exist.
It's certainly seamless. Does every frame have each of those elements?
Sunmin Park: Yes. And every frame was shot at least 60 to 100 times. And then those layers were composited. In order to do that, we couldn't do it on film, as you can imagine, so we had to wait for the HD systems to be ready—HD cameras, special lenses, etc. We had to wait for Lucas to finish with his Star Wars trilogy; I guess Sony made some sort of exclusivity deal with him for the HD technology.
So you were waiting on Lucas?
Sunmin Park: [Laughs.] We were waiting on Mr. Lucas, yes.
How long were you sitting on your heels?
Sunmin Park: Probably close to two and a half years.
What kept you busy in the meantime?
Sunmin Park: We were able to do additional miniature-work, and whatever we could, but we couldn't really shoot. So that meant keeping the special-effect teams intact.
Was it tough to keep creative control during this long stretch?
Sunmin Park: No, not really. Samsung, who was the biggest funder of the animation—they were pretty hands off. They respected the creative process we were going through. They understood the technical embarkation we were taking.
But the technology has changed. Now, we could probably make the film in just three years.
Ah, only three years!
Sunmin Park: Yeah, but that's start to finish. Animation takes a long time . . .
What inspired the story for "Sky Blue?"
Sunmin Park: The story came from Moon Sang Kim and his wife. She didn't write it, but it was her idea. He was inspired to do something in multilayer animation because no one had done it. I came along as they were in the development phase.
So you had some creative input?
Sunmin Park: Yeah, I had some input. But it's his vision, so it's really hard. Maybe it's because the Asian and Korean culture is very traditional—I don't know—you argue, but at the end of the day, you have to yield to certain things. We didn't agree 100% of the time, but I think that with both of us being involved, and us co-producing things, it definitely helped.
How is the English version different from the Korean version, aside from the changes in language?
Sunmin Park: The English version is slightly shorter. And the motorcycle ride from the beginning, that was originally in the middle of the film.
The English-speaking audience isn't patient enough for the money shot . . .
Sunmin Park: [Laughs.] Well, we had done some testing, and it's definitely one of those things that we always wanted to do.
So is there some frustration that this got rave reviews at last year's Sundance, and now it's over a year later, and it still hasn't hit theaters in the US?
Sunmin Park: Some of it has been resistance on our part. We had interest from distributors, but I couldn't let this film end up on video after an attempted theatrical release. But when End Game came onboard—they co-financed "Hotel Rwanda"—they gave us some funding and said let's get this in theaters. It was more hopeful.
What's the distribution plan?
Sunmin Park: I think they've booked over 50 cities. And they're going to try and get a DVD out by mid-year.
Back to the story, what does Ecobar symbolize to you? Or is "symbol" a dirty word?
Sunmin Park: When we were making this, I was quite upset about the US's current administration, and what they were doing with the environment. I wanted to do something. Mr. Kim and his wife really had concerns, much as I did. It was as simple as me landing in LA one day, and I was completely overcome by the strips of smog everywhere. It was just terrible. I'd go to Thailand or Korea, and wherever I was landing, it was everywhere. We said we have to do something. And I thought about making a documentary, but we wanted to make something entertaining, something that tells a story.
What are some of your personal heroes and influences?
Sunmin Park: Kubric. I wish he was alive, because I would ask him to do a kick-ass animation with me. Only because he hadn't done one, you know? "A Clockwork Orange" made me want to become a filmmaker. [Laughs.]
I was kind of flirting with journalism, and I had done an internship with Ted Koppel. And I thought, you know, I could maybe be in news media. But I realized that's very confining, and that maybe I wouldn't be able to tell the stories the way I wanted to tell the stories.
And is there a part of you that hopes that someone out there watches "Sky Blue," and it turns them on to filmmaking?
Sunmin Park: Yeah, there's that hope. There's that hope. The older I get, I want to keep entertaining, but I also want to be responsible about it. We don't want to preach, but hopefully people can have a point of view.