Cartoon characters save high school from brink of oblivion

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Cartoon characters save high school from brink of oblivion

SEOCHEON, Soutj Chungcheong province - On Nov 6, 197 students from the nearby Chungnam Animation High School were painting a wall at Hansan Public Health Center, in the town of Hansan, Seocheon district, South Chungcheong province. Each one was holding a brush and a paint palette. The students were painting cartoon characters as well as scenes of their town, turning the plain white wall into a work of art. For more than two months, the students have been painting walls in their town, including some near the township office.

The project is the result of the school’s business plan, in which the school received 10 million won ($10,676) from the township office to paint murals. This year alone, the students have made a profit of 21.5 million won from various artistic endeavours. The projects involving the students include creating game and animation characters to serve as mascots for the district of Seocheon.
In contrast to its present success, the school was on the verge of closing just a few years ago. Ever since its foundation in 1971, the number of students has gradually decreased because the younger generation has left the countryside for the city. Its lowest point was in 2002, when there were only 20 students enrolled at the school. Realizing that their school might close for good, the town residents rallied and visited the school, pleading for a second chance, saying that without a school, the town would not be able to survive. “After our teachers researched the condition of vocational schools around Korea, we decided that the economic and career prospects for the animation and cartoon sectors were brightest and decided to turn the school into an animation school,” said Im Seung-hoon, the principal.
In 2003, the high school started two departments ― cartooning and creative animation. They then promoted themselves with flyers to middle schools around the country. The teachers sometimes went to middle schools themselves and held fairs to promote their animation high school.
Classes now include operating special effects equipment, computing and 3-D animation design. Twenty to 30 percent of lectures are given by visiting specialists, including university professors, film directors and producers. The comedian Lee Won-seung has also participated.
Last year, the school built a dormitory for its students. As a result, many students from South Gyeongsang province and South Jeolla province applied, making the competition to attend fierce, with only a one-in-three chance of being accepted.
Since 2004, 11 student clubs have done business with city governments and private enterprises. That same year, the students made a combined profit of 3.25 million won. Last year, the total came to 5.77 million won and this year, it skyrocketed to 21.5 million won. Fifty percent of the profits go to scholarships for students and the rest is used to operate the school.
Most of the graduates get employed to use their skills in specialized fields. Out of 66 students who are set to graduate in February next year, 41 have already won early admission to colleges and universities including Sangmyung University (known for its cartoon/animation department), Hanseo University and the Seoul Institute of the Arts.
A junior at Chungnam Animation High School, Lee Seul-gee, said “I have enjoyed this opportunity to study my passion, animation, in a school with great facilities, without worrying about tuition fees. I want to go abroad to Japan and study this field in more depth.”

by KIm Bang-hyeon
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