Korea‘s animation industry and Pororo‘s impact
Korea's animation industry has hardly seen any downtime, keeping rigorously busy for over two decades now. For many in the industry, putting the finishing touches on an episode of a world-famous cartoon is all in a day's work.
"The simplified version of the animation process for studios in the United States is pretty simple," said Alex Ha, a 31-year-old native of San Francisco, California. "The main directors will draw the main drawings and everything else in between is drawn by the Korean directors and Korean animators."
Ha is the lead modeler in the 3-D department at Rough Draft Studios inc., located near Seoul's French district called Seorae Maeul.
The company started in Van Nuys, California, back in 1991 and shortly thereafter moved out to Korea to establish itself as a forerunner in the Korean animation industry. With a sister studio still operating in Van Nuys, Rough Draft is one of the Korean studios in constant communication with all of the major animation and motion picture studios in the U.S.
They have, and still are, working with studios like Fox and Nickelodeon to help produce widely popular shows like "The Simpsons," "Family Guy" and "SpongeBob SquarePants," among others. Rough Draft has its fingerprints on a large majority of animation viewed in the U.S. for one simple reason: talent.
"The talent pool out here is phenomenal," said Ha. "The Korean animators are known for being far superior when it comes to technical skill."
The large bulk of the industry's work has been to receive initial drawings and mock-ups from foreign studios and do final detailing and eventual completion. Even the world-wide phenomenon known as anime sends the bulk of its work to South Korea for finalization.
But the industry is trying to delve into other facets, taking cues from the phenomenal success of a local cartoon series, "Pororo," put out by Iconix Entertainment Co. for pre-school age children. Pororo's success changed the way big distributors approached animation in Korea.
"Since Pororo has had so much success here in Korea, there is a lot of competition for that style," said Kim Tak-hoon, a professor at Chung Ang University. "Every studio is trying to go in that direction, toward the infant age group."
Kim teaches the craft of claymation and stop motion. He is somewhat of a legend because he was one of the original animators for MTV's popular claymation series "Celebrity Death Match." He was also the directing animator for that and other popular animated series in the U.S. before moving back to Korea to teach about five years ago.
If Kim is right, Korea's animation industry will naturally and inevitably target much younger audiences than it used to.
"From what I have seen, there is no animation directed at teenagers," he explained. "At one point, in the 90s, studios were getting really good at making animation for teenage audiences. But not anymore."
One of Kim's theories behind this change is that many kids these days simply are not at home as much. In the past, Saturday morning and weekday afternoon cartoons were common in Korea. But now, with the insertion of the private schools into the everyday lives of most kids between elementary and high school, the sentiment amongst animation studios is that kids simply are not sitting in front of TVs at home at those hours. So, if the only kids at home are pre-school to kindergarten age, the direction of animation will go toward that demographic.
Kim, on the other hand, is attempting to bring a more mature and creative outlook to animation. His latest work is an animated documentary about the cultural and societal impact a North Korean defector has experienced after leaving the communist nation to the South. The claymation stop-motion feature runs about 10 minutes, but it is packed with political commentary, humor and topics such as education in both nations and South Korea's view of North Korea.
The animated-documentary has won several prizes at film festivals like the Nickel Film Festival in Canada, where it won best overall documentary.
But work like this is few and far between.
"One of my goals out here is to create a show like 'Beavis and Butthead,'" Kim said. "But there is nothing like that. And it makes me a little sad. If I pitch the idea to producers, they say, animation is supposed to be for kids. It is either, this or that, there is no middle."
While Kim has his own small independent animation studio, the business model at the large animation studios remains the same as it has for over 20 years: complete and polish the work of foreign animation projects.
"(Video) gaming has changed that a little bit," Ha pointed out. "But all in all, the industry out here will continue to draw the stuff other people can't." (Yonhap)