Korean artist behind 'Kung Fu Panda'
By Yang Sung-jin
Published on The Korea Herald: June 6, 2008
"Kung Fu Panda," a new animated feature from DreamWorks, thrives on its sophisticated cinematography. When the main character named Po suffers a punch, the screen shifts into slow-motion for greater effect. When Po provides a slapstick gag, the camera does not move, allowing the audiences to enjoy the scene as it is.
The enhanced techniques have been spearheaded by Jhun Yong-duk, head of layout at DreamWorks. His job is equivalent to cinematographer or director of photography in conventional filmmaking.
It was Jeffrey Katzenberg, chief executive officer of DreamWorks, who asked Jhun to revamp the cinematography to give "Kung Fu Panda" its seamless and uninterrupted visuals.
"One day, I had a breakfast with Mr. Katzenberg, and he told me that 'Kung Fu Panda' should be made as a really cinematic film, so I did my homework, for about two months, and then gave a presentation to him about the cinematic camera technique, and he liked it," Jhun said in an interview with The Korea Herald on Wednesday.
It was a critical and rewarding moment for Jhun because he received not only Katzenberg's recognition but also got a chance to incorporate his own ideas into a global animated feature - something he had dreamed of when he began in the animation industry.
Jhun Yong-duk, head of layout at DreamWorks, incorporated new cinematic techniques into "Kung Fu Panda."
Jhun, 36, was born in Seoul and graduated from the University of Seoul in 1996. He entered Keumkang Communications, an advertising agency, and started his work in the design department. But he decided to study in the United States in order to achieve his dream of working in a major animation studio such as DreamWorks and Disney.
After graduating from the prestigious School of Visual Arts, he briefly worked at an art studio in New York. "At the studio, we analyzed the art of Marcel Duchamp, using computer graphics, but after five or six months there, I realized that's not what I really wanted to do," Jhun said.
In 2001, he moved to Chicago to Big Idea Productions to work as a layout artist, formally starting his career in the animation industry. But he confronted an unexpected challenge in April 2003 when Big Idea Production went bankrupt following the failure of a major animation project. "Suddenly, I got laid off, and at the time, my son had just been born, so I was really worried about what I had to do," Jhun said.
Jhun scrambled to find a new job because, if he couldn't, he would have had to return to Korea due to visa problems. He frantically sent his portfolio to various animation companies. Fortunately, he got a call from an animation company in New Jersey. And then something unexpected happened. As he was settling in New Jersey, he got a call - this time from DreamWorks.
After a telephone interview, DreamWorks hired him, opening up a new career path for Jhun - as an animation artist at the very studio he wanted to work for. Jhun worked on various projects at the studio, but "Kung Fu Panda" was special for him because it was his first as head of layout.
Working on "Kung Fu Panda" was a combination of happenstance and talent. As the project was delayed longer than expected, the original head of layout moved to Disney. DreamWorks had to find a new layout chief.
"I applied for the job, and I stressed that I was born in Korea and I knew a lot about Asian culture and sensibility, and if the company wanted to incorporate Asian culture and include many action scenes, in which I have expertise, I said I would do it better than the others," he said. The next day, Jhun was told he got the job.
Jhun said "Kung Fu Panda," which took five years to make, showcases not only a very interesting story, but also rich Asian flavors, in terms of distinctive visual effects and angles.
Jhun, who is now working on "Shrek 4," said the new installment of the Shrek franchise will be dramatically different. "The new Shrek film is being produced as a three-dimensional feature that will require audiences to use stereoscopes, so it will come as a very new movie," he said.
"Kung Fu Panda," distributed by CJ Entertainment, was released nationwide yesterday.