“Our first ever motion picture produced in-house, ‘Along with the Gods’, is a new beginning for us. Moving forward, we want to become more than just a visual effects (VFX) company. Becoming a video content provider like the Walt Disney Company is our ultimate goal. To do that, we’re going to secure 100 to 1,000 intellectual properties (IP) and push ahead with our virtual reality (VR) projects, which we have been researching for over the past two to three years”, said Jeong Seong-jin, Director at Dexter Studio, whom we met on October 17 at Dexter Studio’s headquarters in Mapo-gu, Seoul, as the company was going full steam ahead filming “Along with the Gods”. Stepping into Dexter Studio’s office felt like stepping into a studio with low lights and well-curated interior features. The first thing to catch our attention was a giant gorilla doll. It was “Ling Ling” that starred in “Mr. Go”, the first Korean motion picture to feature a digital character as its main protagonist.
Founded by director Kim Yong-hwa, who is best-known for “Take Off” that drew more than 10 million viewers, Dexter Studio became the first VFX company in Korea to list its shares on a public securities exchange in December last year. Although it has been in business for just six years, Dexter Studio has become an extremely popular VFX vendor in China. It’s success in the Chinese market has helped the company grow at an average of 83% per year in sales between 2012 and 2015. Last year, Dexter Studio earned KRW 26 billion in sales and KRW 4.5 billion in operating profits. During the first half of this year, sales have reached KRW 14.3 billion with operating profits at KRW 1.4 billion.
“Mr. Go”, a feature film released in 2013, was something no one had done before in Korea. Dexter Studio used in-house tools (software developed by Dexter Studio) for the first time to create every hair on the gorilla’s back and copy its movements. Although the film was not a huge box office success, it managed to garner attention from investors in both Korea and abroad. Last year, Dexter Studio secured USD 10 million (KRW 11.4 billion) in investment each from Wanda Group, the largest real estate conglomerate in China, and from Legend Capital. This helped Director Kim Yong-hwa take a step closer to becoming the George Lucas of Korea.
“Along with the Gods”, which is expected to premiere next year, will most likely be a watershed moment for Dexter Studio. As its first feature film produced in-house using propriety IP, “Along with the Gods” will come in two installments next year. Currently, Dexter Studio is in the process of shooting both films. Although Dexter Studio’s cash reserves stand at approximately KRW 41 billion, it financed part of its KRW 17.5 investment via IP investment funds to minimize its risk. Dexter Studio plans to use funds and other financing options to secure investment from outside investors to secure high-quality IP.
Over the past two to three years, Dexter Studio has also been researching and developing virtual reality (VR) videos and content. Its “VR Room” is a product of its VR research. Recently, Dexter Studio has signed contracts with large furniture companies to provide its “VR Room”, where users can place furniture and interior products using VR technology. In addition, Dexter Studio is using large scanners to copy people and insert them into movies. At the moment, digital data extracted when scanning a single person is too large to process. However, Dexter Studio plans to refine and develop the technology to channel it into a digital portrait rights business in the future.
Director Jeong said, “We have a lot of VR business partners in China, but we haven’t found partners in Korea yet. We’ll discuss things carefully when we sign partnership contracts or execute mergers and acquisitions to increase our presence in the Chinese VR market with our partners.” With Dexter Studio classified as an entertainment company, which includes the film making industry, trade for Dexter Studio’s stock has declined since the deployment of THAAD was announced last July. However, Dexter Studio says that THAAD has had no impact on its business due to the fact that it works as a VFX vendor on Chinese films on a contractual basis. Dexter Studio secured a VFX contract worth KRW 7.6 billion for the Chinese blockbuster movie “Monkey King 3” as recently as September 19. Currently, it is finishing its work on “Kung Fu Yoga” starring Jackie Chan.
“Compared to major VFX companies in the US, we’re like Xiaomi, a company that uses its lower price point as its main weapon. But we believe we can become the ‘Walt Disney Company of Asia’ if we continue to develop new technology and invest in IP. In the future, we will open up subsidiaries in LA and Canada, and make our dream of going to Hollywood true”, said Director Jeong.