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Ko - production in Busan
  • LEE Jae-sung, Production Designer of SEVEN YEARS OF NIGHT
  • by SHIM Eun-ha /  May 09, 2018
  • The Process of Giving Life to the Text

    The film adaption of bestselling novel Seven Years of Night has been highly anticipated, especially since CHOO Chang-min, the director in charge, recorded over ten million admissions with his previous film Masquerade (2012). In addition to the director’s interesting new interpretation of the story, the visual embodiment of the novel’s fictional places immediately stood out and Seryeong Village itself came alive as another protagonist in the film. The design was done at the hands of production designer LEE Jae-sung. Although this is his third commercial film project after The Shameless (2015) and DONGJU; The Portrait of A Poet (2016), LEE has been working in the field for ten years and is a highly regarded production designer. He started out under PARK Il-hyeon, one of the most celebrated production designers in Korean cinema, and gradually built his reputation through hard work.
    Tell us about the production design's theme for Seven Years of Night.

    Many people must have pictured Seryeong Village in their own minds when they read the novel so no doubt the fans of the book would want to see for themselves how the places in the story were visually embodied on the big screen, which would lead to inevitable comparisons. This put a lot of pressure on me as the production designer. The key was to create a universal image that everyone could identify with. For that reason, I focused on expanding and reinterpreting the general feeling of the locations in the text rather than following faithfully the detailed descriptions of the original novel.

    Both a dam and a reservoir appear in the film. What big scale elements did you have to create?

    The machine room where OH Young-je and CHOI Hyun-su have a fight towards the end of the film is a good example of a big decor. The set was actually created on top of the Daecheong Dam. When I first visited the dam, I was struck by the sight of those massive floodgates and started thinking about how I could incorporate that image into the film. In reality, at night, the top of the dam is no different from a two-lane road. However, by elevating the building of the machine room by two floors, I was able to show the dam’s unique spatial features in three dimensions. On top of the dam, which is as high as a 25-story apartment, I constructed a two-story building. Taking into consideration the importance of ensuring a good balance with the existing structure and the set's safety measures, I opted for the same type of H-beams used for the Daecheong Dam.

    The image of the submerged village is very impressive. How did you embody it through production design?

    The part they walk through was a set and the rest of the frame was CG work. The set was constructed inside a water tank and designing it alone took me about two months. In the end, due to budget constraints, I could only make about 20% of what I had in mind. It’s what I personally regret the most.

    In contemporary films, it’s difficult to tell real sets and CG apart. In Seven Years of Night, can you give me examples of CG work that looks like real sets and vice versa?

    There is a scene at the dock where Seung-hwan stares at Hyun-su from afar as he throws something away from the intake tower. Many people thought we had built the dock so that it would be easy to shoot and added the distant intake tower with CG but actually the dock was constructed at a spot that offered the best view of the tower. We had to build the intake tower too. There was already a tower but its modern design didn’t quite match the tone of the film so we refurbished its exterior and created a new set. As for computer-generated images that look like part of the production design, the best example is the scene towards the end of the film of Hyun-su climbing the dam on a ladder. Although necessary for the scene, we couldn’t install a ladder like that so we only made a 5m-long ladder and shot the scene against a green screen. The rest of the scene was completed by our CG team after that.

    Who is responsible for deciding what will be done in physical sets or in CGI?

    It's a collaboration. Based on the overall theme or space design suggested by the production design team, both teams share ideas and discuss the most effective way to embody it. And through this process, it becomes clear what each team should be responsible for.

    Could you talk about the process of production design?

    At first, you must analyze the script. Once you’ve decided on a basic theme through this process, you can start designing the space. From this stage, it’s important to communicate with the director and other staff members as well as keep modifying and improving the space design. Once the space design is done, it’s time to bring it to life. All this is what a production design team normally goes through. The duration depends on the scale of each project but it normally takes about three months, more or less.

    Which recent film stood out for you in terms of production design?

    The Shape of Water. Not only did I find the film’s production design and mode of expression effective but I was also very impressed by the fact that Sally Hawkins and Richard Jenkins were neighbors with only a wall between them. That was an interesting idea.

    What would you say is the role of production design in a film?

    It builds the concept of the film from start to finish.
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