Korean Animation: A Fairy Tale Come True
Korea has been an important animation country for more than 30 years, mainly as an overseas producer for North American, European, and Japanese studios. Shortly before and during this time original works were made, including the first Korean animated feature Hong Gil Dong in 1967, but at a sporadic pace.
The propellant for the industry was a 1994 government report showing animation (mostly for hire) to be Korea's top cultural product export. Immediately, the government primed animation studios with many incentives—changing the industry's status from service to manufacturing (triggering a 20% tax break), launching the Seoul International Cartoon and Animation Festival (SICAF), and inaugurating the annual Korean animation awards, all in 1995. Results were equally swift with the release of five feature-length films and the creation of a 24-hour cartoon cable network, some animation schools, additional festivals, and a slick animation periodical, Animatoon.
A second metamorphosis occurred in 1997, when the three major US TV networks quit hiring out production work to Korea and after the economic debacle that hit Korea and most of Asia that year. The government again came to the rescue of animation, supporting and promoting it as a national strategic industry. Animation was listed as part of culture contents technology, one of six designated high-tech fields for the future. To coordinate cultural contents, the Korean Culture and Contents Agency (KOCCA) was set up in 1997 under the Ministry of Culture & Tourism to handle animation, comics, film, television, music, and games. KOCCA annually has at its disposal US$10 million for the advancement of animation.
The national government's financial support spurred local governments and the private sector to get involved with animation. Seoul authorities fully support the multi-purpose Seoul Animation Center with its training academy, museum, libraries, theatres, exhibition halls, festivals, and incentive award programs for animators, and will donate US$1 million annually for the next decade to SICAF. Bucheon and Chunchon City officials have offered help for office rent and production costs to animation studios in their provinces; Bucheon also sponsors the Bucheon Cartoon Information Center, Korean Comics Museum, and annual Bucheon International Comics Festival.
Development and professionalization of animation proceeded at breakneck speed after 1997, with the establishment of the already-mentioned animation and cartoon centers, museums, and libraries in Seoul and Bucheon; about 150 university, college, and high school animation and cartoon schools and departments; various animation-oriented agencies in the ministries of Cultural & Tourism, Telecommunications, and Energy & Resources, and professional associations.