When Yoojin Seong put the final touches on her fantastical, magenta-hued water world, it was hard to see herself working with a design and effects company 9000 kilometres away from her home in Seoul. But that’s exactly what happened.

Yoojin, along with fellow designer Si-heon Kim, took out top honours at the 2015 Gwangmyeong International Fantasy Conceptual Design Competition, which is now in its second year, having been instigated by Mayor Yang of Gwangmyeong City. Richard Taylor was invited to take on the role of head judge, offering mentorship to the artists who had competed in the competition. The top prize: a month-long internship at Weta Workshop. For the competition’s second year, Mayor Yang opened it up to the creative institutions in Wellington and the winning artist, as selected by Richard, flew to Korea for a week-long immersive experience in Seoul and Gwangmyeong.

World-building is Yoojin’s passion. For her graduate exhibition at Seoul’s Hongik University, she brought the dystopic setting of George Orwell’s 1984 to life in a series of digital artworks.

Upon graduating, she spent six months in the game industry as an environmental concept designer. It was a no-brainer, then, that she would seize the opportunity to learn first-hand from the experienced Workshop crew.

“From Lord of the Rings to King Kong, everyone in Korea knows the movies Weta has worked on. When Avatar came out, I was obsessed with the Na’vi world and I knew I wanted to create my own alternative worlds someday. That was why I decided to become a concept artist.”

Yoojin’s winning submission, Planet Wasser, reimagines Earth as a sunless world almost completely submerged in water (‘Wasser’ means ‘water’ in German). A powerful energy, collected and traded by the planet’s human residents, drenches the landscape in bright pink light. It was clear to Richard who helped select the finalists that, with work like this, our intrepid interns would fit right in with the innovative spirit of Weta Workshop.

And fit in they did. Using Photoshop to conceptualise various characters and environments, Yoojin and Si-heon helped to see several top-secret Workshop projects through to their next stage (we can’t tell you anything yet, but watch this space!) The young designers’ experience was made all the better by the helpful Workshop crew, who were always on hand to share their wisdom, encouragement, and just a friendly hello. Yoojin especially wishes to express the pair’s sincere gratitude to Richard, project managers Tasha Guillot and Meg McMahon, and project coordinator Talei Searell.

“Weta Workshop is honestly like heaven for artists! Thanks to the guidance of Richard, Tasha, Meg, Talei, and the rest of the Workshop family, I’ve improved so much as a designer. I came back to Korea with a lot more confidence in myself.”

Tasha says Yoojin and Si-heon proved themselves to be extremely capable artists during their time at the Workshop.

“It is a big ask to fly halfway around the world and be challenged to design and create whole new worlds and characters, but Yoojin and Si-heon really stepped up to the plate. All of us here at the Workshop look forward to seeing how they will continue to create and grow in their talent.”

From Richard’s perspective, Tasha’s sentiments are spot-on.

“It was incredibly rewarding to have these two talented young Korean artists join us here at Weta Workshop. Their ability to build unique, fantastical worlds really impressed me and the design team, and their absolute enthusiasm and can-do attitude made them a real treat to have around. I really enjoyed getting down to the design room to see what they were working on.”

At its heart, the Gwangmyeong Design Competition sought to nurture the next generation of budding conceptual fantasy designers from Korea and New Zealand. For Yoojin, a career in that field now seems very much within reach. The 24-year-old’s parting message? “Visiting Weta Workshop can change your life.”

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