Netflix's 'Okja' tells a harrowing tale of a young girl's journey to save the life of her best friend and Super Pig, 'Okja.' The film caused waves amidst viewers for its controversial yet relevant tone while simultaneously winning their hearts. Much of the success can be attributed to the incredible VFX/animation work that transformed Okja into a lovable creature, and we had to make sure to find out more about how the artists behind the movement brought her to life. That being said, we're thrilled to have touched base with Martin L'Anton, rigging artist from Vancouver, who worked on the rig of the film's main creature, as well as most of the secondary creatures. Check out what he had to say about the tools, the process and what it's like to facilitate the animation process for a staple character:

Can you tell us a bit about what daily life was like working on the film? I'm interested in knowing about the culture of the studio, the software that you used as a rigging artist, etc...

The studio has a good culture and everyone is nice. We have beer in the studio every other Friday, barbecue on the rooftop during summer and free breakfast in the morning. There is also a baseball team that competes against other studios during summer, as well as other activities.

For rigging and animation, the studio uses Maya, but most of the tools that we actually used are proprietary tools. I think it was the first time we worked on a creature this big. Edy Susanto Lim, our supervisor, had prior experience with creatures, and that's why it was really helpful to work under his direction for Okja. Since it was the first time that we had something this big and with this many shots, we needed to create a lots of new tools. This made the whole process easier for everyone, and also allowed us to experiment.

It was really great to be involved with so many different aspects of a production, and with such a great team of people.


What type of direction did you receive in terms of how Okja should move? To what extent were you able to put your own creative thinking into the process?

The director wanted Okja to be appealing; it was the key to making the movie emotional. Without having the spectator emotionally involved the film wouldn't work. We had to make her feel alive not only through moving, but also making her having emotions.

We explored a lot of different directions in terms of anatomy looking into hippos and pigs, obviously, but also into dogs. We needed that happiness and playful attitude that dogs have. Those references pushed the animation team to put sometimes Okja in positions that would not be physically possible for an animal this big, so we had to compose with that, and be creative about how to manage her anatomy. The face was particularly tricky, because we used a lot of dog reference for that, but they have a really different facial anatomy than pigs or hyppos. Fortunately, Dan Kim was working on the facial rigging while I was working on the body, so each of us could spend more time on this than if it was only one person on the whole thing. He spent a lot of time working on the face to make it work, but in the end I think it was worth it because it works really well in the movie. This was a really big challenge for all of us, being creative on her anatomy to make work something that does not exist.


What did you use for reference? Okja is a "Super Pig," but we can tell that you probably had to think outside of the pig box for this one.

As I just mentioned, Okja was really interesting to work on, because we had a lot to figure out. I can't think of any movie having that kind of animal - something that does not exist, but could. And unlike all those monster and dinosaur movies, where everything always moves so fast, this one had to be able to move fast, but also to be believable when it was barely moving.

We had a lot of references from pigs, elephants and hippos, but also from dogs, which made it really tricky to work on because we had to invent solutions to make people believe that she could move like that.

She is often in positions that a dog or a human could be in, but that pigs or hippos could not. So in terms of anatomy, she has a bit of all of those, we could not really think in any "box" - we had to think of everything at the same time.

Which part of the rigging process presented the biggest obstacle?

I think the biggest obstacle was to create a way of working that allowed us to constantly test out our ideas. Even though people had experience with creature work, they mostly had experience from other companies with their own tool sets. This meant we had to develop workflows that used our own tools, and write new tools when needed.

Also, in addition to having the animators animating Okja and her muscles, we needed another level of simulation to get all the muscles, fat and skin jiggling properly. All of the simulation setup had been created by Edy, the rigging supervisor. The facial rigging on the other hand, was created by Dan. It was very nice to work with both of them on the same creature, but also really challenging because we had to figure out a way to make it all work together. I learned a lot about this process.


How much interaction did you have with the animation department? We'd love a look into the collaborative process, and how much their feedback/requests influenced your rigging methods.

We had a lot of interaction with the animation team. In fact, we all shared the same room. It was really convenient, because as soon as we had an update, we could just tell them right away, and have them test it in a few minutes. But since we had around 25 animators for one creature, all with different habits and different requests, all those requests had to go through the animation supervisor Stephen Clee. He ensured that we had something that would fit the needs of everyone, as well as meet the artistic requirements. Being in the same room, we could also help animators for a specific shot with a custom solution instead of modifying Okja's rigging everytime, and give them some extra control in the shot.

In what ways did rigging Okja teach you something new about your technique? Are there any methods you used on this project that you carried into future projects?

I learned a lot in particular about simulation, since we had some simulation for the muscle and skin made by Edy. Learning more about simulation allowed me to create some tools that we needed on Okja to make the animators lives easier.

Later on I used the same method and tools re-purposed for another project there. In a specific sequence we needed a lot of simulation but we didn't have anyone available from the technical animation team, and we had little time to get this sequence working. Using the same technique allowed us to skip the technical animation part by giving all the control to the animators. It is nice to know that thanks to this, we managed to get this sequence done with the required quality.


Very interesting! Similarly, how did this project differ from previous ones you had worked on, if at all?

I already worked once on realistic animals before, but it was my first experience working with invented anatomy. It was the first time I had so much to do on a character, so it was really nice to have such a great creature and movie to work on. So in short, it was really different from most of the projects I worked on before, but in my opinion, that's the best way to learn - do something different every time you can.

Looking back, is there any part of the rigging process that you would approach differently if you were to do it all over again?

Okja's facial rigging was done by Dan Kim, and he did a wonderful job on this, but the way we used to integrate this facial rigging to the body rig was really vague and complicated for a long time. We eventually streamlined the process to make it easier for the two of us to work together on this. If I had to do it all over again, I would probably do it the same way, but I would simplify it sooner than we did.


As much as you're able/willing to answer, why do you think that it is that such a stunning, well-executed film was not seen in theaters worldwide?

I don't know exactly. I read somewhere that it got released in some theaters in Korea and USA.

But it's a Netflix production, and they probably have a bigger user base than what they would have in theater. On my side, I just hope viewers enjoy it, and I'm glad that with Netflix, they can watch it over and over again.

CGSociety thanks Martin for giving us a look inside the making of Okja. Be sure to check it out on Netflix, and follow Martin on Vimeo to stay updated on his work!