How 'Okja' Brought a Fantasy Animal to Life

Okja Still 1 - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of Netflix

In Netflix’s Okja, directed by Bong Joon Ho, a young girl named Mija lives in the Korean countryside with her best friend, the title character, who is an enormous fantasy animal inspired by elements taken from a pig, hippo and elephant.

The creature started as a 3D maquette from creature designer Hee-Chul Jang, who envisioned Okja as weighing six tons, with a height of approximately eight feet, and measuring roughly 13 feet long. This character was then created in CG at VFX house Method.

“We built this creature from the inside out using an anatomically correct skeleton/muscle rig with several skin simulations,” said VFX supervisor Erik de Boer. “We art-directed the simulations on the muscle level.”

As Mija's BFF, Okja also had to project a personality, which in this case was inspired especially by dogs. Said de Boer: “We also made sure the animal was always clearly looking, listening and smelling and that her six-ton weight was properly connected to the world.”

Key to the work was the interaction with Mija, and so VFX were a careful consideration during the live-action shoot, led by cinematographer Darius Khondji on location in South Korea as well as British Columbia and New York. “Mija hugs, rides, brushes teeth, pushes and pulls and sleeps on top of Okja,” de Boer said. “On set, animation supervisor Stephen Clee puppeteered a wide range of custom-designed stuffies and props to give lead actress Ahn Seo-hyun and the cast a guide to interact with and inspire consistent and authentic performances with proper physicality and eyelines.”

Compositing and lighting completed the integration of the creature into the live action.