Squid Game is a Korean drama series released on Netflix in 2021 and became a global phenomenon, earning the distinction of being Netflix’s most-watched series.
Netflix has now provided an in-depth look at how the series was made and the experiences of the cast and crew working on the project. It explores the reasons behind many of the decisions made by director Hwang Dong-hyuk and how every aspect came together.
Squid Game has already been renewed for a second season by Netflix with Gi-hun set to return as the protagonist.
Dong-hyuk spoke about how he came up with the concept in 08-09 and originally intended it to be a feature film and not a series.
Speaking on the topic, he stated: “The most difficult point while making this was the fact that we did not have any direct references to use. In the past, survival game projects were very gloomy, scary, and they were under similar circumstances as such. But our project was based on children’s games, which was a different approach.”
Dong-hyuk had various criteria when approaching the casting for different characters. For the lead role of Seong Gi-hun, he settled on Lee Jung-jae because of his past playing a vast array of roles.
Speaking on his experience, Jung-jae had this to say: “I had to approach Gi-hun with this duality in mind; the seemingly positive and upbeat attitude and the pain and burdens of life he must carry with himself inside.”
Dong-hyuk was blown away by Jung Ho-yeon’s audition tape and chose her for the role of Kang Sae-byeok despite the fact she had only been modelling until then and didn’t have any onscreen experience.
Park Hae-soo plays the role of Cho Sang-woo, Gi-hun’s childhood friend and the person he faces in the final game. Hae-soo was an experienced stage actor who didn’t have a lot of experience working on screen and Dong-hyuk wanted Hae-soo in this role as he believed Hae-soo would be able to portray the character convincingly.
Oh Young-soo was selected to play the role of Oh Il-nam (001) because he was capable of capturing the duality of an old feeble man who occasionally shows his emotional strength during the games.
There were many moving parts and collaboration from all the different departments that contributed to Squid Game’s rousing success. Every game that was picked out for the series had a different focus and idea it wanted to showcase.
The costumes were picked to be in contrasting colours so that they would pop out and the designs were kept simple so that they put forward a stronger message.
With ‘Red Light, Green Light’, the production designer went for a faux surrounding that looked equally authentic to confuse the contestants and the audience. The walls were painted to create the illusion of a field to blur the lines between what was real and what was fake.
In the second game, a playground was chosen as the setting for ‘Sugar Honeycombs’ to evoke feelings of nostalgia among the contestants only to replace it with fear as contestants were killed after being eliminated. The director chose to show the contrast between harmless childhood fun and the reality of them playing for their lives.
For ‘Tug of War’, the heavy lifting was done by the cinematography, and the set design as the strategic use of harsh lighting to made things more stressful for the contestants.
It took place on the replica of a road to signify the fact that the contestants were abandoned on the side of the road and had to fight not to fall on the asphalt just like they had felt lost in their hopeless lives.
One of the best sets according to Park Hae-soo was the set for ‘Marbles’. It was designed to look like the back alleys that Hae-soo had seen growing up and it was a very realistic recreation. The game itself was chosen to show which contestants were true friends who had each other’s backs.
It served as the setting for Il-nam’s emotional farewell and it was also the first moment that Hae-soo exhibited his character’s ruthless and villainous nature.
Even the editors and music composers played an important role in setting the tone for each episode, be it the length of the episode or the background score.
The fifth game, ‘Glass Stepping Stones’ required multiple sets and the help of CGI to make the falls look more authentic. The far-away perspective added to the drama of the situation as the contestants aimed to get across without falling to their deaths.
The VFX for the final scene where the remaining glass steps exploded was shot in super slow motion using a phantom camera that was recording at 3000 fps.
Squid Game was chosen as the final round because within the game, the goal is to end up where you start after going around the entire field of play. That is why it was held on the same ground as ‘Red Light, Green Light’ for symbolism.
Speaking on why he chose Squid Game as the title, Dong-hyuk said: “The reason why I went with the title Squid Game is because out of the six games featured, Squid Game was the most physical, violent and rough. I remember if someone got hurt or ripped their clothes it was time for us to go home and call it a day.”