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Astrophotographer KWON, Oh-cheol’s VR Movies
  • November 28, 2018
Astrophotographer KWON, Oh-cheol’s VR Movies

According to mythology expert Joseph Campbell, everyone has a ‘wheel of fortune.’ Campbell said that we must grab onto this wheel by its axle if we want to take control of our own destinies. If we grab onto the outer rim, there will be many ups and downs; however, by maintaining a firm grip on the axle, we can remain in control of our fate. Astrophotographer Kwon, Oh-cheol is one person who has grabbed his ‘wheel of fortune’ firmly by the axle. He quit his regular job and is living as a photographer of the universe and the stars—something he has wanted to do since he was a child.

Kwon told us, “I make less than I used to, but I feel so much more comfortable and have a lot of fun.” He is hard at work today carving out his destiny. From astrophotographer, he is expanding into the realms of scenario-writing and VR movie directing. Just three weeks ago, Kwon completed filming his VR movie Cosmos Odyssey. The production of the movie was supported by the Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA). The journey has taken Kwon to some of the world's leading observatories in Hawaii, Africa, and Chile.

Turning 13.8 billion Years of Cosmic History into a 30-minute VR Movie

“The VR movie I'm working on is about the history of the universe. I'm trying to fit in everything from the Big Bang to what the universe looks like today. Audiences will see not only the history of the universe, but also humankind’s journey in discovering it. We’ll be showing some of the contents of the movie at the Gwacheon National Science Museum in January and February of next year.”

Kwon said that CG played a large role in producing Cosmos Odyssey. CG was used to create the vast expanse of the universe, which is difficult to capture on film. Kwon is also working on simulation technology. Simulation is an IT technology that brings space and the orientation of the universe into perspective. While this is a time-consuming task, it is critical for using VR to recreate the actual shape of the universe.

An experience of the universe that goes beyond Carl Sagan’s‘ Cosmos

When we commented that his Cosmos Odyssey was reminiscent of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos, Kwon was quick to explain the difference between his work and that of Carl Sagan. “Carl Sagan conveyed knowledge about the universe to audiences, but what I’ve done is create a place where audiences can directly experience the universe in 30 minutes. Audiences will find themselves right at the scene of the Big Bang, and go on a journey that transcends time and space.”

Cosmos Odyssey originally targeted overseas markets. Kwon commented “We are working on getting Neil deGrasse Tyson—the voice behind Carl Sagan’s Cosmos—to do the narration for our English version.” “He hasn’t given us an answer yet, but if he does narrate our film, that’s one thing we'll have in common with Cosmos,” he said with a laugh.

Even with Technological Advancements, Nothing Beats a Real Aurora

This is not Kwon’s first attempt at a VR movie. In 2015, he created the VR film Aurora: Lights of Wonder in which he captured the aurorae of Yellowknife, Canada. The film was awarded ‘Best Astronomy-oriented Fulldome Show Award’ at the Fulldome Festival in 2017. What was the inspiration for this astrophotographer to start creating VR films? For years, Kwon had thought of better ways to convey the wonders of the universe he was seeing through his lens. He is working to overcome the limitations of astrophotography, adopting techniques such as time lapses and VR. Kwon’s use of VR technology can best be seen in his photographing of the aurorae. The ripples of the real aurorae cover the entire night sky, and their brilliant glow is reflected off the snow on the ground, bathing the sky in a rainbow of colors. Capturing this phenomenon using traditional photography was nearly impossible. Kwon talked about the aurorae saying, “I got to thinking I needed real-time video VR technology to capture the aurorae because photos just couldn’t do them justice. The thing is, we didn’t have cameras with that kind of technology at the time. Then I heard Sony was going to be launching a camera with the technology I needed, so I had a rig made ahead of time. As soon as they released their camera, off I went to see the aurorae.”

Said Kwon, “Yes, technology is developing fast, but a lot of time I get to thinking that there’s still a ways to go. While it’s quite something to experience the aurorae through VR, it still can’t beat the real thing.” While VR technology is progressing at a blazingly fast pace, there are many technical issues that need to be worked out such as resolution and viewing angles. Asked if he intends to continue producing VR contents, Kwon answered, “I'll be doing VR films for the next 10 years at the least. I've already made a VR movie about the universe, and I can’t afford to backtrack in terms of technology.”

MA, Song-eun | Freelance Correspondent | masongeun@gmail.com

Photos by MOON, Gyeong-rok