Animators gather as industry faces transition

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Animators gather as industry faces transition

The ninth Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival, which took place this week at COEX, honored feature films, professional short films, student films and commercial films from all over the world with the most prestigious animation awards in Asia. Out of 804 films from at least 49 countries that were submitted for competition, only 78 made it to the final round.
Out of the five features competing at the festival, the distinctive Hungarian comedy “The District!” took the Grand Prix. “The District!” is a fearlessly profane, roughly animated rap musical that follows a group of kids in a bad neighborhood in Budapest who try to use the power of oil and money to bring together the whites and the Gypsies. The film also took the top award this year at the Annecy Film Festival.
Winners in the other categories included the Russian-American coproduction “Milk” in the professional short film category and “Overtime,” a disinctive French animation starring scores of puppet creatures, in the student film category.
But SICAF is more than a series of film screenings. Many of the directors also came to Seoul to answer questions about their films and give seminars on animation. The guests ranged from Chris Andreth, an experimental filmmaker from Canada known for his animated documentary “Ryan,” to Nishigori Isao, who has worked on films for MTV Japan and took an award home for his music video “SAI.”
Makoto Shinkai, whose debut feature “The Place Promised in our Early Days” took the special distinction prize at the festival, was another of the directors on hand to answer questions after his film was screened.
“I was in the roughest period of making this film one year ago, and I never thought I would be able to come to Korea and show it to Koreans so quickly, so I’m very pleased,” said Mr. Shinkai. “In this film’s setting, Japan is separated into a North and South, and there are many similarities with the real issue in this neighboring country of Korea.”
The festival also featured an exhibit of cartoons and comics from throughout Korean history in honor of Liberation Day.
This year’s SICAF finds the Korean animation industry in crisis. Production work, formerly the lifeblood of the Korean industry, has all but dried up. Five years ago, dozens of studios thrived in Korea, but now even the most prestigious production houses, like Nelson Shin’s Akom Production, are having trouble finding work.
But Mr. Shin, who was the president of the jury at this year’s festival, says it’s simply a period of transition. “Since the first SICAF in 1996 it’s already been 10 years. Now there are over 120 schools with animation classes, which means a lot of students graduate out into the industry, to 3D or 2D or character design or the game industry. They know that the idea is number one, but the don’t have experience. Someday probably Korean animation will be excellent. But now, it’s in the middle of developing.”
Perhaps one of the first signs of this development is the film “Cho Hon,” which was created by six Korean students and won a special distinction award at the festival this year. The film depicts a fugitive independence fighter in occupied Korea in the 1940s.
“Prior to making Cho Hon, I studied Korean kkokdugaksi (puppet theater) and Japanese kabuki, noh and bunraku,” explains Yoon Joon-sang, one of the directors of “Cho Hon.”
Mr. Yoon blames money and the game industry for animation’s malaise. “We must have more young artists joining the industry and challenging animation conventions. But aspiring artists are choosing computer games over animation. And when we do have fresh ideas and the ability to turn them into products, we lack sufficient funding.”

by Ben Applegate
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