K-Animation Series – A Brief History (21st century)

In this blog post, we will talk about the development of K-animation in the 21st century, which saw the global expansion of K-animation and the great advancement in the quality of Korean-made animation.

At the start of the 21st century, the K-animation industry gained more government support and benefited from the skilled workforce which was developed in the past years.  In 1998, the Korean Government announced the 5-year plan (1998-2003) for the development of the cultural industry, resulting in the establishment of the Seoul Animation Center (1998), the Korea Film Council (1999) and the Korea Creative Contents Agency (2001).

Before 2011: Quality Animated Films But Without Box Office Success

During this period, many quality animated films were released. For example:

  • My Beautiful Girl, Mari (마리이야기)(2002) was different from the conventional animated films in that it emphasized imagery over storytelling and used watercolor tone visuals. This film received the Grand Prix for Best Feature Film at the 2002 Annecy International Animated Film Festival in France. You can watch a short clip of this animated film by clicking this link.
  • Oseam (오세암)(2003) was adapted from a children story which in turn was based on a traditional folk tale. This film portrayed a still world with subtlety and lyricism and was distinctly Asian in its style, and has become the model of K-animation. This animation also won the Grand Prix at the Annecy festival. You can watch this animated film’s trailer by clicking this link.
  • Wonderful Days (원더풀 데이즈)(2003) was a landmark work because it had the then largest scale of production (with a huge budget of KRW 15 billion over the course of 7 years) and the advanced technical skill of combining 2-D and 3-D shots of miniatures. You can watch this animated film’s trailer by clicking this link.
  • Flying Pig Pirate Mateo (날으는 돼지 – 해적 마테오)(2004) was an international collaboration with funding provided by the Korean Cultural Contents Association, participation of American animation writers, and Hideki Sonoda of Pokemon fame leading the project. You can get a glimpse of this animated film by watching this video.
  •  Life is Cool (그녀는 예뻤다)(2008) was the first Korean full-length animated film which used rotoscoping (a technique through which the animators trace over live action movement in each frame and use it in an animated film, making the animated characters and settings look like real-life ones). You can watch the trailer of this animated film by clicking this link to see how the rotoscoping technique makes this animated film different from the usual cartoon-like animated films.

Although there was great advancement in the quality of Korean animated films, before 2011, Korean animated films failed to appeal to the Korean market because of the weak public awareness of Korean animation and the dominance of American and Japanese animation.

Turning Point in 2011: Box Office Successes

The turning point was the release of Leafie, A Hen into the Wild (마당을 나온 암탉)(2011) which was based on a popular children’s story depicting the motherly love of a hen which raised an adopted duckling, and was exported to more than 40 countries. In South Korea, it attracted 2.2 million viewers, generating a revenue of KRW 15 billion. This film had a strong storyline, a meticulously planned pre-production schedule, and methodological marketing strategies. This animation won Best Animated Film at the Australia Film Festival, Best Family Film at Sitges, and Best Animation at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival. You can watch this animated film’s trailer by clicking this link.

Another great success was a low-budget indie film, The King of Pigs (돼지의 왕)(2011), which attracted a wide audience and was well-received.  This animated film was based on a true story and portrayed heavy discussion topics like class gradations in the Korean society and the dark side of human nature. This animation won the Best Animated Film award at Canada’s Fantasia Film Festival and received invitations from more than 30 films festivals around the world.  You can watch the trailer of this animated film by clicking this link.

TV Animation Boom

On the other hand, the revision of the Broadcasting Act in 2003 required 1% of all broadcasting time to be allocated to Korean animation on terrestrial TV channels. This led to huge growth in Korean TV animation production.  One notable success of Korean TV animation is Pororo the Little Penguin (뽀롱뽀롱 뽀로로).  Pororo and his friends have now become very popular characters and you can refer to my blog post dated 18 March 2017 for more details on Pororo.

Other popular Korean TV animations include Larva (라바) and Pucca (뿌까) :

  • Larva portrayed all kinds of accidents and events happening to two larvae called Yellow and Red with each episode being only 100 seconds long, and highlighted the unique Korean sense of love and closeness for another person called “jeong”(정). Red is hot-tempered and Yellow is a bit silly and always abused by Red. There is no dialogue between the two larvae and there are just sound effects and slapstick elements providing the comic effects. Viewers do not need to think hard about its content and can just laugh. This TV animation was exported to more than 20 countries and was popular in the merchandised product market.  The mobile game called Larva Link has also become extremely popular with more than 1 million downloads.
  • Pucca started as Flash animation and was about the story of Pucca, an Asian-looking girl with her name drawn from the sound a baby makes and good at martial arts. Pucca loves the ninja, Garu, who does not share the same feelings for her. The episodes were about Pucca’s attempts to steal kisses from Garu. Pucca has become very popular abroad with 90% of its income coming from overseas. The mobile game called Pucca Restaurant was also a big hit internationally.

You can listen to the theme songs and get a glimpse of the characters of Pororo the Little Penguin, Larva and Pucca by clicking the links below:

Pororo the Little Penguin Season 5 theme song

Larva Season 2 theme song

Pucca’s theme song

Conclusion

In fact, the contents industry has already become a core part of the creative sector which the Korean Government provides a lot of support.  For example, the Asia CGI Animation Center was established by the Ministry of Science, IT and Future Planning and the Jeju Island government in Seogwipo on the Jeju Island in 2016. This center acts as an incubation center for animators, providing support from production to distribution.

Nowadays, K-animation has achieved considerable growth and with the support of the government and the Korean wave, the continued expansion of K-animation is expected in the years to come. So, apart from American and Japanese animation, please do try to watch some K-animation as well.  Happy watching! 🙂

Reminder: You can follow my blog by clicking the “Follow” button on the sidebar to receive email notifications of new posts.  For flash news on Korean culture, you can also follow me on Twitter (Kalbi8888).

References:

Kim Young-won, “ICT Ministry to transform Jeju into animation hub of Asia“, The Korea Herald, 2016-05-20

Korean Culture and Information Service, K-Animation: Befriending Children All Over the World, Republic of Korea, 2013

Rotoscoping, Wikipedia

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