In this second blog post of the K-animation series, we begin to briefly go through the history of the Korean animation industry to better understand its development. Let’s start with the 1950’s and 1960’s to see how the K-animation began and took off.
1950’s: Beginning of K-Animation
Before mid-1950’s, the Korean market was dominated by imported animated works from the US (Disney) and Japan. Starting from mid-1950’s, there were some local animated works in the form of advertisement with duration of about 1 minute. One of the well-known animated advertisements is that for Jinro Soju (a Korean alcoholic drink) which was made in full-animation style imitating the Disney works, utilizing 24 frames per second and adopting the new pre-recording technique through which the characters lip movements matched the words they were speaking. You can watch the Jinro Soju commercial by clicking this link.
In 1961, a 5-minute experimental storytelling 35mm colour cartoon called, The Grasshopper and the Ant, based on the Aesop fable was made. After that, there were some more Korean-made animated works based on folktales.
During this period, the environment for producing animation was not favourable. One of the key problems was the lack of celluloid, which was often wiped clean and reused. Although the quality of Korean animated works developed this period was not comparable to the Disney and Japanese ones, they helped develop local arts and technical skills for making animated works, and lay the foundation of the Korean animated industry.
1960’s: K-Animation taking off
1967 was an important year for K-animation since a number of works claiming “first” appeared in this year:
The first full-length Korean-made animated work, Hong Gil-Dong, appeared in January 1967, and was a huge box office success. This work was based on the story about the Korean superhero, Hong Gil-Dong (the Korean version of Robin Hood). You can watch a short clip of this work by clicking this link.
The first Korean-made full-length stop-motion animation, Heungbu and Nolbu, was screened in theaters in June 1967, and the story was based on a traditional tale of two brothers, one poor but kind and the other rich but selfish and cruel.
In August 1967, Hopi and Chadol Bawi , the sequel to Hong Gil-dong, was made and the story was about two supporting characters from the Hong Gil-dong comic and movie–the young axe-wielding Chadol Bawi and the lone thief with the potential for good nicknamed Hopi. As it was an animation, this work included many elements that would have been difficult to depict on screen, e.g., the battle with the flying Goblin King and the wolves. This animated work is the first one exported to overseas – it was screened in Thailand and the 3rd Tehran Children’s Film Festival in Iran.
After the above works, some more animated works were made and they were mainly based on traditional Korean folktales or famous literature works (e.g., Robert Lewis Stevenson’s novel Treasure Island) which could help appeal to wider audience and ensure box office success.
We will continue to trace the history of K-animation in the next post. Watch this space!
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Korean Culture and Information Service, K-Animation: Befriending Children All Over the World, Republic of Korea, 2013
Thomas Giammarco, “A Brief History of Korean Animation – Part II 1967-1972: The First Wave“, Koreanfilm.org, 2006-01-29
Thomas Giammarco, “A Brief History of Korean Animation – Part I: The Early Years“, Koreanfilm.org, 2005-10-30