History of Korean animation

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The history of Korean animation, the manipulation of images to make them appear as moving, began with Japanese and American characters dominating the industry. The first sound animated character was created in 1936. The first feature-length animated character appeared in 1967. Dooly the Little Dinosaur revolutionized the character market in 1987. As animation characters specific to Korea appeared, the Korean character market continued to grow. Since then, Korean character franchises have even exported their characters to other countries.


Pororo with Petty in Lotte World II Hotel
Tayo bus 'Gani'
Tayo bus 'Rudolph'

Han Chang-Wan, a professor at Sejong University, published the history of animation character design in Korea at the Character Licensing Fair 2016. This study became the first to have rabbit and turtle illustrations as Korean animated characters. This was revealed in 'The Independent' newspaper.[1]

According to records, the first sound animated character was 'Gaekkum' (개꿈), who was created in 1936. This first feature-length animated character appeared in 1967, in the namesake movie about a character named Hong Gildong (홍길동).[2]

With American and Japanese characters dominating the Korean animation industry until the 1970s, it wasn't until 1983 when Dooly the Little Dinosaur (아기 공룡 둘리) appeared in Bomulsum—a monthly magazine for kids—and changed the Korean character market.[3] In 1987, Dooly the Little Dinosaur first aired as a six-part TV show, with another seven parts airing in 1988. In 1995, Kim Soo-jung, its creator, established a company named 'Dooly World' and went into the character design industry. The following year, the animated movie 'Dooly the Little Dinosaur' was released. In the 30 years since Dooly the Little Dinosaur launched, its related market generated 2–3 billion won per year (about 1.7–2.7 million dollars as of July 2018). This paved the way for the character market in Korea.[4]

In 2003, Pororo the Little Penguin (뽀롱뽀롱 뽀로로) aired on EBS and became the new representation of Korean animation characters. Pororo aired in 127 countries around the world and was the first domestic animation to make a contract with Walt Disney Animation Studios directly. It was estimated that its brand value was worth 850 billion won (about 750 million dollars) and its economic impact amounted to 5.7 trillion won (about 5 billion dollars) in 2013.[5]

Currently, many other domestic Korean animations have gained popularity, such as Tobot (변신자동차 또봇), Larva (TV series) (라바), and Tayo the Little Bus (꼬마버스 타요).[6]

The animated Larva (TV series) (라바) recorded 10 billion won (about 9 million dollars) in sales in 2013. In addition, domestic characters such as Tayo the Little Bus have earned considerable sales due to the support of young children.[7]

Transition in character production methods[edit]

The designs of Korean domestic characters have matured with the media transition. The market flow for domestically-produced characters can be classified into three periods based on media and Marshall Mcluhan's expansion of senses. The first being the 1980s and 1990s (the era of published cartoon characters), the second, the 2000s (the era of two-dimensional Flash-animated characters fueled by the spread of internet), and the third, the era of computer-animated three-dimensional characters.[8]

Period of published cartoon characters (1980s–1990s)[edit]

The expansion of cartoon characters was mainly because:

  • The internet was not widespread in the 80s, therefore comic books were popular.
  • The characters of this period had great stories.
  • The symbolism in the images.[9]

Two-dimensional Flash animated characters (early 2000s)[edit]

When internet use became widespread in the 2000s and Flash was introduced as a moving-image creation tool for the internet, Flash-animated characters flourished in this environment. The Flash program developed at that time was a vector-based animation program which enabled easy animation production through relatively simple methods. Small file sizes allowed high-speed transmission, and vector-based graphic images did not turn blocky or pixelated. Graphics of various stage sizes or resolutions could be generated, and the program provided optimal settings for online transmission. All these merits attracted internet users, and Flash diffused rapidly gaining much popularity. Representative Flash-animated characters from the period include Mashimaro, Pucca, Jolla Man, and Raincoat Boy.[10]

The prevalence of Flash characters in Korea was because:

  • They facilitated production. In the files, scaling doen't affect quality and are much smaller, which increases speed of transmission.
  • Their popularity and rapid dissemination online.
  • Story lines were aimed not only at children but also at adults. [10]

Three-dimensional animation characters (mid-2000s)[edit]

In Korea, 3D animations are mainly done with 3D STUDIO MAX or MAYA software[11] and their production costs are much greater than for 2D Flash animations. Therefore, 3D animations are made with the option of their addition into other media formats from the initial stages.[12]


  1. ^ Gu, Jungmo (2016-07-14). "한국 캐릭터 변천사를 살피다…'캐릭터·라이선싱 페어'" [The history of Korean character...'Character·licensing fair']. MSN. 
  2. ^ Kim, Hyungseok (2011-12-08). "한국 애니메이션 베스트 15" [Best 15 of Korean animation]. Naver movie. 
  3. ^ Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy, Official blog (2013-04-19). "황글알을 낳는 거위! 떠오르는 '한국 캐릭터 산업'" [The golden goose! Growing Korean character industries]. Korean Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. 
  4. ^ No, Jawoon (2013-05-01). "'둘리' 이후 30년…캐릭터 시장 규모 8조원 육박'" [30 years after 'Dooly'… The size of Character market is closing in upon 8 trillion won]. Chosun Biz. 
  5. ^ Choi, Yonghyeok (2014-05-02). "뽀로로는 왜 세계적 캐릭터가 됐을까" [Why Pororo can be world wide character]. Business Post. 
  6. ^ Lee, Yoonjung (2015-08-13). "'뽀로로'…130개국 수출 경제효과 6조 육박" ['Pororo'…Export for 130 countries around the world]. E daily. 
  7. ^ No, Jawoon (2013-05-01). "'둘리' 이후 30년…캐릭터 시장 규모 8조원 육박'" [30 years after 'Dooly'… The size of Character market is closing in upon 8 trillion won]. Chosun Biz. 
  8. ^ Hyeyoung Chu, hyunju Lee, Hyehyun Cho, Mirae Hwang (Winter 2014). "Periodic Features of Korean Character Designs" (PDF). 3. Classification of domestically-produced characters based on media formats. 
  9. ^ Hyeyoung Chu, hyunju Lee, Hyehyun Cho, Mirae Hwang (Winter 2014). "Periodic Features of Korean Character Designs" (PDF). 3.1 Period of Published Cartoon Characters (1980s~1990s). 
  10. ^ a b Hyeyoung Chu, hyunju Lee, Hyehyun Cho, Mirae Hwang (Winter 2014). "Periodic Features of Korean Character Designs" (PDF). 3.2 Period of Two-Dimensional Flash Animated Characters (The early 2000s). 
  11. ^ OSMU is a kind of sales strategy that develops contents service on various media such as book, movie and game. It is referred to as Media franchise in America and Media mix in Japan.
  12. ^ Hyeyoung Chu, Hyunju Lee, Hyehyun Cho, Mirae Hwang (Winter 2014). "Periodic Features of Korean Character Designs" (PDF). 3.3. Period of Three-dimensional Animation Characters (the mid-2000s). 

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