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Fast, cheap and uncanny: Generative AI changes playing field in Korea’s film industry

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AI technology is rapidly transforming the film industry, allowing directors to create films and television series in mere days, as well as replicate the voices of actors with remarkable accuracy.

A still from sci-fi fantasy film ″Wonderland″ [ACEMAKER MOVIEWORKS]

Director Kwon Han-seul’s short film “One More Pumpkin” was created in just five days, utilizing generative AI for all scenes and sounds, from the vibrant Grim Reaper and pumpkin ghosts to the elderly couple protagonists. According to Kwon, he needed no actors, live-action filming or computer graphics. For this, it won the Grand Prize and Audience Award at the inaugural Dubai AI Film Festival in February.

“One More Pumpkin” tells the story of an elderly couple running a pumpkin farm. The couple kill Grim Reapers by luring them with pumpkin porridge, but eventually, their farm becomes cursed as evil souls take over the pumpkins located where the Grim Reapers are buried.

Korean sci-fi fantasy film “Wonderland,” which premiered on June 5, also incorporated AI technology in its production. The film’s storyline involves a company providing a video call service with AI versions of deceased loved ones. Some lines of the AI character Sung-joon, played by actor Gong Yoo, were generated using the actor’s voice through generative AI.

“AI voice cloning technology became feasible only recently, a development unimaginable when we shot the film four years ago,” said Kim Tae-yong, director of “Wonderland.”

A still from director Kwon Han Seul's AI-generated film ″One More Pumpkin″ [BIFAN]
A still from director Kwon Han Seul’s AI-generated film ″One More Pumpkin″ [BIFAN]

“We tested the technology using Gong’s voice, and it was so similar that we included it in the film with the actor’s consent.”

Generative AI was also used for scenes featuring actor Lee Eol, who died in 2022 from esophageal cancer.

“The scenes depicting the younger days of actor Lee were created using generative AI,” Kim said. “Previously, actors had to dress up or use body doubles to portray younger versions, but now AI technology simplifies this process. The technology for creating realistic visuals will continue to improve.”

Generative AI is proving to be a valuable tool for creators, significantly reducing production time and costs. In tvN’s hit drama “Queen of Tears,” a scene in the second episode where Hong Hae-in, played by actor Kim Ji-won, sees an illusion of herself walking through a snowy birch forest, was crafted using generative AI. The scene, which appears to be shot in the Swiss Alps, was actually filmed on CJ ENM’s virtual production stage in Paju, Gyeonggi.

A scene from tvN's series ″Queen of Tears,″ crafted using generative AI [CJ NEWSROOM]
A scene from tvN’s series ″Queen of Tears,″ crafted using generative AI [CJ NEWSROOM]

Although generative AI is just beginning to penetrate the content industry in Korea, it has already made significant waves globally. Generative AI was a major topic of discussion during the Hollywood studios’ negotiations with the U.S. actors’ union Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA).

The primary issue was ensuring legitimate consent procedures and compensation for actors in situations where AI is used to replicate their voices or distinct characteristics. This issue was later settled between Hollywood studios and SAG-AFTRA after the union’s four-month-long strike last year. AI was also a hot topic at the Cannes Film Market, which was held during the Cannes International Film Festival in May.

During a panel discussion titled “How AI Powers Next-Generation Storytelling,” Microsoft announced that AI can now analyze a synopsis structure and recommend suitable shooting locations and actors by simply uploading a PDF of the scenario.

Domestic film festivals in Korea are also recognizing the potential of generative AI.

On June 15 and 16, North Gyeongsang hosted Korea’s first AI-Metaverse Film Festival, and the Busan Cinema Center is preparing to launch an AI international film festival in November.

The 28th Bucheon International Fantastic Film Festival (Bifan), slated to begin on July 4, introduced a new international competition section for AI films and will host a conference featuring AI video creators. The festival’s AI film production workshop attracted significant attention, with over 600 people registering for 30 available spots.

A scene from AI generated film ″Be An Elephant,″ directed by Grukan Atakan [BIFAN]
A scene from AI generated film ″Be An Elephant,″ directed by Grukan Atakan [BIFAN]

“The reason Hollywood was able to dominate the global film industry was due to its large capital. However, in the era of generative AI films, imagination will become the most crucial factor,” said Bifan’s festival director Shin Chul, noting that director Kwon’s AI film “One More Pumpkin” was able to cut down a huge amount of its production cost because of AI.

However, there are concerns and limitations to AI as well as ethical implications for its use in the film industry.

Of the 15 AI films competing at the upcoming Bifan, all are short films with running times of less than 10 minutes.

“Current AI technology struggles to maintain consistent images and characters over extended periods,” Bifan stated. “As a result, short films are being used to experiment with possibilities.”

AI-generated videos also raise concerns about infringing on original creative works and individuals’ rights and voices. In May, Hollywood star Scarlett Johansson claimed that OpenAI, the operator of ChatGPT, used her voice from the sci-fi romance film “Her” (2013) without her consent.

“To address these concerns, films screened during the festival undergo an administrative process to identify any potential disputes,” an official from Bifan said. “As AI technology is developing at an unimaginable speed, we remain vigilant about potential copyright or publicity rights infringements.”

BY NA WON-JEONG [kjdculture@joongang.co.kr]