Korean Animation: A Fairy Tale Come True
Nelson Shin's AKOM is completing Empress Chung
Emergence of educational animation programs has been extraordinary; in 1994, only one existed at Kongju National Junior College. With the dwindling of overseas production work, the industry is obviously still too small to absorb all graduates, many entering digital graphics fields instead. Yet, the rush to start training programs has not subsided, even reaching to the high school level. Six high schools have fully developed animation curricula, some with state-of-the-art facilities. Among the associations are three dealing with character business under two government ministries and the Korean Animation Producers Association, Korean Animation Artists Association, Korean Cartoonists Association, Korean Alliance of Cartoonists, and Korean Society of Cartoon and Animation Studies.

One of the results of the government's heavy subsidization of animation, and a government quota system enacted in 1998 requiring that 50 percent of TV animation be Korean, has been the phenomenal growth of television series. In 1999, only three different series were aired; the number doubled in 2000 and again a year later.

The downsizing of the overseas animation industry directed most of the country's 200 studios to switch to production of Korean television series —as well as features—and to prod some of them to diversify services. One such studio is AKOM, which in 1996 produced 20 one-half hour shows monthly for foreign clients, down to five or six now. To compensate for the loss of foreign business, AKOM President Nelson Shin is planning a 39-episode series on an era of Korean history, completion of a US$6.5 million, full-animation feature, Empress Chung, and an entertainment complex of studios, theaters, centers, museums, and theme park to be called Shinanix. Other studios have also spread their services. Independence Digital Visual Effect Studio, with animation, commercial (commercials, music videos, etc.), film production and visual effects, research and development, and contents development divisions, has co-produced Wonderful Days, is finishing another feature Egg Cola, and does overseas animation, short films, TV series, commercials, and visual effects. Sunwoo, owners of four of Korea's largest digital and traditional animation studios, produces many works for Disney, Paramount, Klasky Csupo, and Nickelodeon, but has also brought out the Korean feature Mari Iyagi (My Beautiful Girl, Mari), which won the best animation award at 2003 Annecy International Film Festival, and other original shows, such as Space Hip Hop Duck, The Boogie Brothers, Dooley's Journey to the World, and others. Additionally, Sunwoo makes online and mobile content, commercials, and live-action films.

In line with this redirecting, Korean animators increasingly are seeking an overseas presence for their original works, through screenings at international festivals and competitions and at home-grown events such as SICAF, Puchon International Student Animation Festival (established 1999), seminars, and conferences. At the 2003 MIP-TV conference, the Korean contingent was up 40 percent over the previous year; at Cannes 2003, KOCCA brought 40 Korean animation companies and the Korean Independent Producers Association brought ten. The same year, an animation retrospective made up part of a KOCCA-sponsored Korean comics exposition at the Angoulême International Comics Festival. As already mentioned, Mari Iyagi won the Annecy grand prize.
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