Move Over America and Japan, Here Comes Korea's Turtle

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Move Over America and Japan, Here Comes Korea's Turtle

Interest in animated film production is now greater than ever in Korea. According to the Korea Animation Producers Association, more than 90 animated films are currently being planned or produced in Korea. Some of the releases you can look forward to this year include "Don Quixote," "Turtle Hero," "Wonderful Days" and "Hip Hop."

The animated film market in Korea is huge. Industries directly involved in the production of animated products, including original equipment manufacturing, television programming, video tapes and animated characters, posted revenues of more than one trillion won ($8 billion) last year, and turnover is predicted to grow this year. Industry observers say the market has the potential to reach 1.5 trillion won, almost double its size three years ago.

The industry's growth spurt is due to a sudden reduction in subcontracted production. The Korean animation industry was founded on demand for subcontracted work for Japanese and American animated film companies. But since the late 1990s contracts have been going to China, which offers high-quality work at prices about 30 percent lower than in Korea.

The Korean animated film industry suffered from the siphoning of work to China, which surged from 1998 onward, and searched for ways to combat the losses. Creating a homegrown animated film industry seemed a good solution, and many companies jumped right into the process.

But the sudden boom in production has some commentators worried. Saying changes in demand have created "abnormal currents" in the industry, they express fears that producing films in a hurry without much consideration for the effects on allied industries and the problems of obtaining financing for their projects could have unwelcome long-term results.

For example, according to Kwon Young-hun of Puchon Cartoon Network, Korean producers of animated do not follow the "one source, multiple use," maxim, by which producers squeeze multiple utility from concepts to maximize income.

Another characteristic of the Korean animated film industry is to put together products with foreign companies. This type of production has its own problems. Most of the time, Korean companies obtain only financial or technical support and not the all-important know-how from their foreign partners. Analysts say that for Korea's animated film industry to grow and expand into foreign markets, securing expertise and distribution networks is necessary.

"Don Quixote," "Ark" and "Space Zero" are examples of Korean animated films produced in cooperation with American companies that provide investment and distribution channels. "Turtle Hero" was made under contract with CEO Films, an American film distributing company. It will be released in Korea and the United States this summer.

"Space Zero" was planned jointly with Fox TV Studio, an American production company, and has received a proposal from Western International Syndication, one of the biggest distribution companies in the United States, to distribute the film.

Another noteworthy feature of animated films produced by Korean companies and their counterparts in Japan and the United States - the industry leaders - is the high volume of 3D films. To offset risks in the early developmental stages, they have joined forces with Korean companies to explore the new possibilities.

An official from the Korea Animation Producers Association lauded the growth of the animation industry, but warned that without a long-term strategy the industry will not be able to maintain sustained growth.

by Ki Sun-min

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