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NO.411 07.16.2018

‘Flawless’ Digital Imagery and the ‘Traces of Labor’

On June 6, the new film “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” had its world premiere in Korea and sold over a million tickets just in the first day, demonstrating a stellar viewer response. One of the reasons for its popularity is the vivid and domineering visual effects.

CGI (computer generated imagery) offers viewer entertainment through its spectacular imagery. However, Professor Hye Jean Chung of the School of Global Communication questions the aesthetics of this “immaculate” digital imagery. What story hides behind the seemingly perfect visuals? Are there traces that reveal changes in filmmaking techniques, resulting from the adoption of new digital technologies?

Professor Chung publishes Media Heterotopias at Duke University
The process, through which answers are sought to the question above, has been depicted in a new book released in February. Published by Duke University Press, Professor Chung authored Media Heterotopias, which addresses the influence of the multinational film industry on visual aesthetics and storytelling approach in the digital age. It opens the doors for the audience, exposed to a variety of digital media not limited to film, to the possibility of more in-depth analysis of digital work, with an ethical perspective.


Digital technology has changed the film industry in a pivotal way. Changes in technology, brought about by the digital camera and CGI, had the effect of distributing the film production crew and locations throughout the world. The various stages involved in filmmaking that occur throughout the world and their physical backdrop are hidden behind the spectacle gracing the silver screen.

Professor Chung used the 2006 film The Host directed by Bong Joon-ho as an illustration. Many globally distributed talents, such as Korean game designers, sound effect studios in California, and artists in New Zealand, were involved in giving birth to the movie. Another similar example is the creation of ‘San Fransokyo’ in the Disney animation Big Hero 6 (2014). San Fransokyo, which synthesizes real-life San Francisco with Tokyo, presents a virtual space that is simultaneously familiar yet unfamiliar. It is the image rendered through various layers of labor that is “Media Heterotopia,” as she defined.


Proposing solutions both nationalistic and supra-nationalistic

According to Professor Chung, “Media Heterotopia” refers to the composite imagery created by digitally synthesizing real-life images and digital imagery, each captured and processed in various locations and spaces. Using this concept, it becomes possible to analyze the visual art of space, which is the outcome of the digitally connected global filmmaking network and marks of cultural exchange.

She warned about the risks involved in misconstruing the digital filmmaking process and said, “When we misunderstand the filmmaking process that produces digital art as an automated process, the numerous stages of digital labor can be grossly undervalued. As a result, digital special effects studios and professionals often experience financial hardship, and are frequently mentally and physically challenged by unreasonable deadlines.”

It is essential to develop a new means of appreciating digital media, to confer justice on the multiple layers of labor that go into producing the flawless outcome of digital movies. Professor Chung explained: “The concept of ‘Media Heterotopia’ refrains from assuming that national boundaries are easily crossable; at the same time, it urges us to break away from the restrictions created by national boundaries. Hence, it provides an alternative solution that can be both nationalistic and supra-nationalistic, and regional, as well as global.”

Plans to study the intersection between scientific technology and the humanities

Professor Chung stressed: “Rather than focus exclusively on digital technology, when it concerns humans, we need to develop a more ethical perspective. As our ability to interpret images have been enhanced, it is important that we also develop the perspective to delve deeper below what is visible on the surface.”

She now plans to study the diverse imaginative powers of science fiction in film and the post-human body in the posthumanist discourse. Her goal is to rethink the value of existence, and the evolving meaning of life and death, in humans that live in the age of posthumanism. Professor Chung shares her future plans. “Because the advancement in science and technology is rapidly outpacing the changes in social institutions or ethical values, there is a need for introspection. I would like to study the various contact points where scientific technologies intersect with humanities.”

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