Flash: Animation at Lightning SpeedA stick figure of a man with a grossly exaggerated round head is all the rage among young Korean "netizens." They eagerly anticipate the next adventure of this unlikely cartoon hero with spindly limbs who goes about fighting for justice.
The minimalist Zolaman is the reigning champion among a number of animation figures on the web. "Zolaman" has been the most frequently entered key word on the local Lycos search engine for the past 20 consecutive weeks. The character has reached cult status among youths here. Both Zolaman and MashiMaro, another popular animation character, are the creations of amateur Web animators who use Flash, an easy-to-use animation tool.
Using Flash, even a novice can whip up an animated cartoon in as little as 10 hours. At Kyobo Book Center in Seoul, more than 50 titles on Flash can be found in the computer section; even people with no background in Web design can seek a creative outlet. "I am working on building a Web site, and having Flash animation on the homepage will definitely make it look cool," said Kim Young-tae, a college junior, as he flipped through a manual on Flash animation at Kyobo Book Center.
Flash is popular among animators because it uses vector graphics instead of bit maps or photo images, which create large files and are slow to design with. Flash typically produces a high-speed animation show or Web site, thanks to its relatively small file sizes.
Elsewhere on the Internet, Flash cards virtually dominate e-cards. Of the 2,500 e-cards available on Card Korea site, some 1,500 are Flash cards and 90 percent of all cards sent out are Flash, according to the company.
Flash has also attracted online advertisers who are increasingly relying on animated banners to catch consumers' eyes. In Korea, more than 60 percent of all Internet advertising employs Flash, a huge leap ahead of other markets where only 20-30 percent of online advertising uses it, according to DoubleClick Media Korea, a leading Internet advertising solution company.
While the relative popularity of Flash in Korea may be partly explained by cultural differences, it has more to do with technology. "The broadband penetration rate in Korea is an astounding 89 percent, highest anywhere in the world, and with so many people having that bandwidth, it allows us to be more creative," said Baek Jung-suk, a DoubleClick Media Korea marketing manager.
With the technology infrastructure firmly in place to support Web designers' whims, the rich media content keeps getting richer, judging by the size of the banner ads. Wimpy 469 by 60 pixel banners that have been the standard since banner ads were introduced in 1995 no longer exist. The Interactive Advertising Bureau, a global body that defines standard advertising size in cyberspace, now allows for much bigger ads, 468 by 280 pixels. Korean online advertisers are eagerly embracing the new format.
"The current trend is toward larger and heavier Flash ads," observed Mr. Baek, referring not only to the larger dimensions but also to the larger file size. A Flash animation ad for Netsgo, a local online service company launched last month, for example, runs a full two minutes and boasts a file size of 1.3 megabytes. Although the main attraction of Flash is the smaller file size that does not slow Internet speed, the extensive high-speed Internet infrastructure can be of concern, according to Mr. Baek.
Another development facilitated by the new online advertising dimension is the conversion of made-for-television commercials into Flash, which capitalizes on people's familiarity with the TV advertising format.
As people now move freely from the TV screen to the PC screen and vice versa, it is not only the Internet that is taking on the appearance of television. Flash is also making appearances in the mainstream television media. "Jaedong's Family," a two- to three-minute Flash animation series on the Web that follows the daily trials of a family with two young children, is poised for TV rotation next month on a local broadcasting network. "On air, each episode will be five minutes long, to accommodate the television viewing style," said Lee Jin-hee, 36, president of Atoonz, a Web animation company. But the company will not be bringing its Web animation to the television screen without touch-ups. Special sound and visual effects are added to the basic Flash animation, incorporating traditional animation techniques for a more natural look, according to Ms. Lee. Although the final product with its softer lines loses some of the rawness which is characteristic of Flash animation, it is still a more economical way of creating animation, Ms. Lee explained, and Flash animation production can cost as little as one-tenth of what it would cost for cel animation. "Since Flash streams on both the Internet and TV," Ms. Lee pointed out, "you can save both time and money."
by Kim Hoo-ran