Drawn That Way: Sky Blue
By Kim Hollis
December 30, 2004

The angels celebrate their violence.

A movie more than seven years in the making, Sky Blue (known as Wonderful Days in its native Korea) is a daring visual effects extravaganza that shows Korean animation to be an emerging industry. Hundreds of that nation's most outstanding animation artists and technicians joined forces to create a unique-looking film with a compelling storyline.

The creators of Sky Blue utilized a variety of techniques to impart their dystopian - yet hopeful - vision. The crew layered live action miniatures, 3-D CGI backgrounds, and traditionally animated characters for an animated movie that sets itself apart from the majority of the offerings coming from either Hollywood or Japan.

Set in the year 2140, Sky Blue centers on an Earth that has suffered through a planet-wide disaster. The sun is obscured from view by dark, ominous clouds and human civilization as we know it has ended. The few people who are still alive reside in a living, organic city known as Ecoban. Essentially, the city is akin to a living plant, converting carbon compounds into usable energy.

Along with the privileged residents of the city, there is also a lower-class form of citizen in the refugees who have attempted to gain access to reside in the town. Denied that opportunity, they are instead relegated to the outskirts of the city, known as the Wasteland. Forced to mine the carbonite needed to fuel Ecoban, these unfortunate souls have naturally become resentful of the wealthy and healthy denizens of Ecoban. It's only natural to assume that an uprising would be in the works.

Contrasting with this bleak future is a Romeo and Juliet-style love story. Jay has lived in Ecoban all of her 19 years, and is now a trooper for the city. She works to guard the city against the intrusion of those outsiders - known as Diggers because they work in the mines - who might seek to release Ecoban's energy, which would surely result in the destruction of the city. Her resolve to perform her assigned duties wavers, however, when she discovers her childhood sweetheart, Shua, in the act of working to undermine Ecoban. Rather than turn him in, she keeps his identity a secret. Long presumed dead, Shua is able to continue his efforts to bring blue skies back to the world. In the end, Jay must choose between the comfort and familiarity of the world in which she lives and the possibilities represented by Shua and his colleagues.

The most notable aspect of the film is surely the aforementioned visual effects. The backgrounds are absolutely stunning, and there are also several futuristic vehicles that look as if they could have easily popped right out of a George Lucas film (and I mean that in the best possible way). One might think that the 2-D animated characters would seem out of place with these realistic 3-D renderings, but they actually are integrated quite seamlessly. In particular, the use of some cel shading for explosions and the like looks especially good in combination with the atmospheric elements.

Although the movie's plot is uncomplicated (and reminiscent of Hayao Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind), the conflict between the primary characters is compelling enough to keep the story moving along nicely.

Musical director Il Won's score is haunting and gorgeous, and is a lovely complement to the film's desolate setting and expectant outlook. The music never distracts, but instead helps to move the action along. The sound is at times distinctly Korean, a very welcome sound that has its own exceptional qualities.

The primary complaint I have with the production is that the English-language dubbing does leave much to be desired. Admittedly, I almost always prefer to watch foreign films, even animated ones in their original language with subtitles. Even when the translation is good, it always seems to lose something in the process of being converted from one language to another. The biggest problem is that the two most distracting voice performances come from the actors behind the two primary characters. Catherine Cavadini provides the voice for Jay, and while Cavadini has done some outstanding work as Blossom in The Powerpuff Girls, she simply lacks emotion and range here. As for Shua, portrayed by Marc Worden, his tone is so bland and impassive that it is off-putting at times. Additionally, the film's villains are voiced in such an over-the-top manner that it's almost hard not to laugh.

Despite this flaw, Sky Blue is still well worth watching. The production crew's extraordinary efforts are evident in the wonderful visual effects of the film. There's one scene in particular - involving a barrage of bullets - that is stunning and evocative of techniques that were used in The Matrix. Considering that this is all done with CGI backgrounds and a 2-D animated character, that's impressive stuff indeed. Given the originality and innovative methods that were employed in the creation of the film, Sky Blue should surely be considered a dark horse contender for an Oscar nomination for animated feature. Aficionados of animation in particular should find this film to be a special treat.