The CEO of leading Korean VFX company Dexter Studios talks changing producers’ perceptions towards visual effects and his home cinema set-up.
Kang Jong Ik is CEO of Dexter Studios, the leading Korean VFX company that produces its own films, such as the blockbuster franchise Along With The Gods. Further credits include Parasite and Yeon Sang-ho’s upcoming Netflix series Jung_E, as well as virtual-reality project The Tide. Kang started his first company, In Sight Visual, in 1998 and was a founding member of Dexter in 2011. The studio now operates with more than 300 employees, alongside co-CEO Kim Wook. Kang has been coming to the office throughout the pandemic.
What is the first thing you do when you sit down at your desk each day?
I read industry news — mostly cultural and IT news, how entertainment companies and production studios are doing. Since we work in the technical field of computer graphics and these days the metaverse and digital humans are trending issues, I look through related articles.
How did you start out in the film industry?
Working on director Im Kwon-taek’s Festival in July 1995. When the Asian economic crisis hit in 1997, the company I was working for went bankrupt. I went to the production company for [sci-fi horror mystery] The Guardians and told them I would do the VFX by myself. They agreed on the condition they only give me a deposit and wouldn’t pay the balance unless the film became a hit. Fortunately, they broke even in two weeks. I did get the balance, but they never paid the box-office bonus they promised and shut down afterwards.
Who helped you most when you were starting out?
Director Im Kwon-taek. He is a great elder, but what surprised me working with him was that he was more enthusiastic about using computer graphics technology than any young director at the time. When I’d go on set, he was very good to me and never got angry even when there was a problem that delayed our work. He understood everything.
What are you most proud of professionally, so far?
One of the most important things for me was establishing contracts in the Korean film industry that aren’t disadvantageous to post-production companies as the one for The Guardians was. I felt if I didn’t change producers’ perceptions, other people would have to go through it. I fought a lot in those days.
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the film industry at the moment?
For the Korean film industry, the standards of the people making and consuming the films are very high. The greatest challenge is to pull out stories and visuals that are on par with Hollywood’s when the size of the market and amount of investment is so much smaller.
What excites you about the future of the industry?
The expansion of the OTT market is a desirable phenomenon, because Korean films can be consumed so much more easily across the globe. It’s a good window for the excellence of Korean culture to be introduced through. But there are positives and negatives. For instance, Squid Game was a massive global hit but how much did the production company make? On the other hand, Korean films have gotten another distribution channel that provides more opportunities to production companies and crews. We worked on Space Sweepers, which ended up being released on Netflix and people overseas got to know there is a VFX company in Korea that can do this sort of work. When I talk to other post-production companies, they say they are all busy with OTT work. We are, too.
What are you working on now?
Jung_E is in production. We are about to start Arthdal Chronicles 2. As for films, we just signed to do VFX for Toei Animation and Sony Pictures Worldwide Acquisitions’ Knights Of The Zodiac, a live-action film based on the anime Saint Seiya, and are in post for Choi Dong-hoon’s Alien, Kim Tae-yong’s Wonderland and Kim Yong-hwa’s The Moon.
What was your favourite film growing up?
Star Wars, of course. It greatly influenced people in art and VFX.
What do you do to unwind?
I watch films at home. I bought an 85-inch TV and set it up with speakers and a drinks fridge in a room where I can spend some time alone. The screen isn’t that big but if you put it in a small room it gives the sense of being in a theatre. I recommend it.
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