Jun 2016 VOL.62


  • PADAK, Sign of a Boom in Korean Animation
  • by LEE Eun-sun / 08.06.2012
  • LEE Dae-hee, Director of Padak
    Padak is an animation with dynamic characters in it. It is so dynamic that the fish characters swimming around in the animation seem likely to jump right out of the screen. With five years of effort and sweat in every frame of it, Padak has been highlighted as a promising successor to recent Korean animations Leafie, a Hen Into the Wild (2011) and The King of Pigs (2011). It is not only a well-made animation but also a social satire. Padak clearly shows just how far Korean animation has reached.
    - One of the strengths of Padak might be its realism. It even looks like a live action film.
    One specific part I put the most effort into was the background. I already had imagined several images when working on the script. For example, I wanted to have the sea seen through the fish’s eyes. I was quite lucky when I found a sushi restaurant in the town of Sokcho, Gangwon Province, which was the very spitting image of what I had imagined. I constantly begged the owner of the restaurant and finally he let me take pictures of the place. Then I visited there whenever I had a chance.
    - The facial expressions and motions of the fish were particularly outstanding. What steps did you go through to achieve that?  

    I used so-called ‘Facial Animating’ to work on poses, facial expressions and the timing of fish. It was very time consuming. I had to check every detail until I got natural images. I especially focused on the facial expressions to show the fish’s emotions. When I finished making story boards, drawing continuity, mapping and rigging, it was three years after I had started. The entire staff was 50 people and they all lived like warriors for those three years.

    Did you say 50? Isn’t it a bit too big for an animation staff?
    As far as I know, they need at least that many people in live action filmmaking too. Making an animation also requires a lot of people because the entire process is divided into detailed steps. About 20 core members made Padak and the rest were part-time staff members. To be honest, 50 isn’t really that many. The ending credits for the Hollywood animation How to Train Your Dragon (2010) had about 2,000 names on it.
    Then is a detailed process the key factor to completeness?
    The division of labor certainly improves the quality, but we always have to consider the market size. At DreamWorks and Disney-Pixar, each has a different method they follow. I’ve seen some Koreans who studied in Hollywood stick to the Hollywood method and fail over and over. What really matters is the scale of the divisions, which depends on what kind of animation I make.
    Did it take five years to make?
    Padak was first planned five years ago. At that time, nobody was willing to invest in a feature animation for the theater. None of the investors or distributors could imagine making an animation. After that, even hearing the word ‘animation’ stressed me out. After much meandering, I barely succeeded in finding an investor. But yet again, the investor pulled out for a while, so the production was delayed.
    What would be the reason that investors are reluctant to invest in an animation?

    Most of them believe it costs a lot of money and time to make an animation, but this is not true. As long as the budget is secure, it can be done within one to three years. When investment obstacles halt the production process, it can lead to a vicious circle.
    What do you think is necessary to improve the poor circumstances of the animation industry?
    First of all, we need know-how to predict the production costs precisely, but we don’t have such a system that can make a good prediction yet. This is why producers sometimes waste money and investors turn their backs. To make a good animation, we must compute precisely how much it costs to make what we want.
    How much did it cost to make Padak?
    Including about KRW 1 billion (USD $881,000) for the production cost and some more for the P&A (Purchase & Assumptions), a total of KRW 1.25 billion (USD $1.1 million) was spent.
    How did you procure production support?

    The Korea Creative Content Agency (KOCCA) lent us software and workrooms in the form of industry-academy collaboration and supplied us with equipment. The Seoul Business Agency (SBA) helped us with the post-production stage including sound, color adjustment and printing, which cost a lot. The Korean Film Council (KOFIC) also supported us by securing at least 50 screens for a premiere.
    The delay of the production maybe ended up giving you more time for preparation though.
    I was very careful in my preliminary research. Because pictures are very crucial for animation making, I spent about two years checking facts and collecting data. I also could strengthen my narratives in the meantime. Preparing for the production, I worked at a sushi restaurant and kept a journal about the restaurant. I studied hard to figure out how a cook uses the knife, what the fish in the tank do, how they deliver fish and so on. I think I probably learned enough to open a restaurant myself.
    As someone who currently works for Korean animation industry, what do you think about that field?
    While Hollywood animation is enjoying a golden age, Korean animation has just started. It is like an infant who can barely work on his own. At the moment, what we need is try to find an optimized system for our circumstance rather than just following Hollywood. We have to be able to grow on our own. Korean animation is very weak in every manner including infrastructure, human resources, investment and other fields, so we should work on the basic factors.

    After the consecutive successes of Leafie, a Hen Into the Wild and The King of Pigs, people say that Korean animation is on the right track now. Do you sense positive signs in the production environment?
    The environment has greatly improved by fighting against the poor condition of the industry five or six years ago. I would say the soil has become pretty fertile by now and is just starting to bear fruit. It’s common knowledge that an industry grows every ten years. Having suffered a harsh environment, the soil of Korean animation is becoming fertile, more and more. Investors are yet unwilling to invest in animations, but they no more see us as strangers like they did in the past. I recently heard YEUN Sang-ho, the director of The King of Pigs is hopefully going to attract funding from an investment and distribution firm.
    What is the most important factor for a Korean animation to be competitive?
    The scale of the domestic market is about 300,000 people/admissions. Some say we have to go abroad because the domestic market is too small, but I don’t agree with that. 300,000 is big enough in my opinion. We must first find a breakthrough in the domestic market before looking at the global market. Let’s say an American director makes a drama similar to Jewel in Palace (MBC) and tries to sell it in Korea. Who is going to watch it? In other words, we have to come up with a story and image that fares well in the domestic market first. Then we can try aiming at the foreign market.
    Specifically what kind of story and image will they need to make?
    How about something with Korea’s typical color and background? It is important to use images exclusive to Korea. I think even an alley with telephone poles and electric wires on the side can strike up Korean emotions very well. Those images can induce sympathy from domestic viewers and offer a new experience to foreign viewers.
    Does this opinion have to do with the direction that your company pursues? (LEE founded his own animation studio and Padak is the first animation from the company).
    Ultimately, yes. The studio needs to stand at the center of the division of labor to make the production smooth. The polish of a film can be improved only when every process flows smoothly. You can see my animation studio as a frame for the overall process. With the studio, I’m expecting to gain a lot of production know-how from the staff and fluently communicate with them. I didn’t plan to found a studio at first, but I realized later that I might need one to make good animations. As for live action films, sometimes an entire crew can jump in if they like the planning, so it is quite flexible. However, a fixed team works best for an animation. So I figured a studio could control the overall process.
    Do you have any plans for another work?
    I’m in the middle of treatments for a story that happens outside of the fish tank. It might as well have a robot in it. Actually, Padak is not really aimed at children, but I hope everyone from children to grownups like the next one.
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