Korea a computer graphics hub?

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Korea a computer graphics hub?


Posters of recent Korean films that use computer graphics, from left to right: “Jeon Woo Chi: The Taoist Wizard,” “Haeundae,” and “The Host.” Provided by the production companies

It’s not something Koreans haven’t heard before: a promise to make Korea “a hub” of something. We’ve had proposals for business hubs, logistics hubs, R&D hubs and the list goes on.

Well, this time the Korean government says it will make Korea a hub of computer graphics, taking its cue from the explosive success of the 3-D film “Avatar,” which is laden with computer graphics.

As of last week, James Cameron’s Hollywood blockbuster had racked up more than $1.6 billion in sales worldwide, according to U.S.-based Box Office Mojo, becoming second highest grossing movie of all time after Cameron’s 1998 film “Titanic,” which earned $1.8 billion worldwide.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism unveiled last week an ambitious plan to inject 200 billion won ($178 million) into the computer graphics industry through 2013 to transform Korea into the Asian hub for computer graphics. Its strategy includes measures such as financial and tax benefits, technical and equipment support, training and research and development projects.

“Korea’s CG technology has already reached a notable level,” said Culture Minister Yu In-chon at a recent press conference. “We believe given the right direction and support from the government, it will just be the matter of time before Korean CG businesses become global market leaders.”

Meanwhile, experts believe the VFX, or visual effects, including computer-generated imagery, is becoming more important than ever.

But it does make one wonder about the relationship between Korea and CG technology. Is Korea really ready to compete with its foreign counterparts in U.S., Europe and New Zealand, markets with advanced computer graphics technology?

Korean officials do have a list of recent CG films and dramas that were made in Korea and that have been successful, including “Jeon Woo Chi: The Taoist Wizard,” “Take Off,” “Haeundae,” “Iris” and “The Host.”

For example, Haeundae, a natural-disaster film, spent up to 40 percent of its budget on computer graphics. That is a significant amount, considering that Korean-made films usually spend 5 percent of their budgets on CG. Films made in the United States, meanwhile, allocate somewhere between 20 and 30 percent of their production budgets for computer graphics, according to data from the Motion Picture Association of America.

“The positive sign is that these days the use of computer graphics is discussed in the very early stages of a film’s production,” said Jeong Seong-jin, the president of EON, which did the computer graphics for Take Off, an action film about Korea’s national ski jumping team.

Jeong showed in his presentation how the actors’ faces were put on the faces of real ski jumpers.

But the reality is that it will be a challenge for Korea to build its CG industry to keep pace with the rest of the world.

The size of Korea’s film CG market is about 25 billion won, experts say, which is about 1 percent that of the U.S. film CG industry. Equally surprising is that there are only about 25 major CG companies in Korea, and each operates with an average of just 35 people.

Although not unattainable, one may argue, it certainly seems like there is a rather long way to go before Korea can label itself a hub in this field.

By Kim Hyung-eun [hkim@joongang.co.kr]
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