The Here and Hereafter of Korea-China Co-Production PORORO: THE RACING ADVENTURE
As of 2012, the character ‘Pororo’ is a worldwide phenomenon. While Pororo’s TV animation Pororo the Little Penguin
has sold to 127 countries and been airing around the world, Pororo has annually been receiving 15 billion KRW (approx 13 million USD) in royalties, on sales 600 billion KRW (approx 550 million Dollars) for characters with a brand value of 800 billion KRW (approx 734 million USD) (by Korea Creative Contents Agency), and a 5.7 trillion KRW (approx 5 billion USD) economic value (by Korea Creative Contents Agency) which all add up to 1 trillion KRW (approx 917 million USD) in international sales (including televising deals, publication contracts and clothing business). We looked into the power of Pororo’s new movie Pororo: The Racing Adventure
, which achieved a quarter-free release in China thanks to its joint production with the country.
▶ The 10th Birthday of Pororo, and the New Challenge
It has been ten years since the TV animation Pororo
first hit the airwaves on EBS in 2003. To celebrate its tenth anniversary, Pororo: The Racing Adventure
opened in China on January 22nd and in Korea the following day. Pororo has become a legend beyond mere animation to a toy, doll, book, play, musical and theme park.
KIM Il-ho, C.E.O of Ocon Animation Studio which created Pororo, said, “we decided to produce the movie to commemorate its tenth anniversary. Children who were the first fans of the TV animation have grown up to become middle and high school students. I wanted to mark the brand by commemorating ten years worth of memories. We made the decision that it would be a nice present to embrace family moviegoers in the form of a movie, the peak of audio-visual entertainment.” Pororo took it's first stride into movie theaters three years ago just like that.
▶ Concentration on stories and technologies
“The popularity of character does not guarantee a success of its movie. The brand Pororo only has a slight advantage. Audiences open their wallets for quality films. We put all our eggs in stories and technical skills for this animated movie,” said C.E.O KIM Il-ho.
Once they made up their minds to produce the movie, change was a must. They began a large-scale construction to transform the five-minute series into a feature animation. Aside from the main characters of the whimsical Pororo and his friends, every part needed an upgrade. To see the big picture, they created a whole new world called ‘North Pia,’ instead of ‘Porong Village’ in the TV animation. It was a transformation into an adventure.
Concerning the material of snow sleighing, “we considered going with a fantasy genre at an earlier stage, but everyone agreed when the idea of the adventure genre with a sleigh race in the snow was the best,” explained KIM Hyun-ho
, the chief producer of Ocon.
“It was the best decision to show Pororo’s basic instinct to enjoy speed and it was also suitable for delivering its instructive message of courage, justice and friendship, in addition to 3D effects,” KIM added.
The scenario was written by director KIM Eun-sook of movie Ice Rain
and LEE In-gyun of the short film The Execution
, while director JO Ui-suk of Make it Big
took charge of post-production. The original two hours and 15 minutes running time were pared down to 77 minutes, regarding children’s level of understanding and concentration time.
They also replaced the shape of the sleigh designed after bobsleigh with a newer one. The mechanical designer JOO Young-sam, who was the art director for the film, created the new sleigh by connecting a short ski plate to the body of a car and putting a propelled rocket on the back. That was how Pororo, who wishes to fly just once, gets to ride on the super sleigh which can go as fast as 400 kilometers per hour.
▶ Behind the Joint Production Between Korea and China
Actually, Pororo: The Racing Adventure was a project closer to failure than success. Even though Pororo is a character with great popularity, there wasn’t a high possibility to beat out Hollywood animations produced by Disney-Pixar or Dreamworks or Japanese animations, considering the market size for Korean animated movies.
Ocon started the project aiming at overseas market from the beginning. The production period of three years and a budget of 8 billion KRW (approx 7.3 million USD) was worked out early on. KIM Il-ho said, “no matter how we standardized the size, a 3D animation seemed to cost at least 50 to 60 billion KRW (around 50 million USD). There was no other way but considering overseas market.”
Of course it would be hard to beat out Hollywood animations with 200 billion KRW (approx 180 million USD) budgets, but we had confidence. Because it is a hit TV animation beloved in127 countries, we believed that they would buy the movie if it was good. We also took the demand from the DVD market into account.
Ocon chose China as the main target. The frontier, where TV animation wasn’t properly introduced and the government put harsher deliberation standards on foreign works, was the land of opportunity for Ocon. If they could release its and increase its awareness, they thought they could seek bigger chances to introduce the TV animation or export other contents.
Pororo: The Racing Adventure
opened in China outside of the screen quota system. This was made possible after five companies from the two countries, such as the Chinese entertainment special investment firm ACG and China Animation Group, joined the film. Therefore, it was distributed equally with Chinese films by the China Film Group. The film landed at No. 7 during its first week and its gross-sales reached 5.9 million CNY (approx 0.9 million USD). This sales record outnumbered the first two weeks' score of 3.9 million CNY (approx 0.6 million USD) by Leafie, a Hen into the Wild
, the first officially-released Korean animation in China back in September 2011.
The key to it all was that they made it a partial joint production with China. By working with Chinese staff, they succeeded in building a bond of sympathy with them so that the film was not one to exclude but to develop. Ocon drew 2.2 billion in investment, which accounted for 30% of the production budget, from ACG, the investment company under the Chinese government.
KIM Il-ho said the secret is “to show it as it is and approach with sincerety.” He showed the outcomes that Pororo had made, and offered to make a foray into overseas market together along with the co-investment and joint production. Chinese sides nodded at that point, and they embarked on the project together.
▶ The Production of a Sequel, Advancing into Broader Overseas Markets
Ocon took part in the European Film Market of the Berlin International Film Festival in early February to knock on the doors of the global market, beyond China. Officials from CJ Entertainment
, in charge of the movie’s overseas marketing, said, “after a 3D preview, European and American buyers said the film is ‘better than expected.’ Though the animated movie is mainly for children, they rated high on its quality.” And this is why we need to keep our eye on the international sales result of Pororo: The Racing Adventure
Production crews are planning to keep the big screen series in the future. They took three years this time, but with the know-how from this experience, they will make a concrete plan to complete the sequel in two years and open it in the summer of 2015. They hope to produce franchise installments for release every other year afterwards. C.E.O KIM Il-ho didn’t hide his ambition. “Due to the emergence and success of Pororo, the animation market targeting infants is now activated. It is time to draw the bigger picture. We’d like to be a front-runner in the overseas market, too.” The real adventure of Pororo: The Racing Adventure has just begun.
Director PARK Young-gyun of PORORO: THE RACING ADVENTURE
“I put more emphasis on the unique aspects of the characters”
- What was your basic task for Pororo: The Racing Adventure?
It was of course the finished product and how good that had to be. The main target group for the TV series was 4 to 6 year olds. The film version has the same target group but we added more varied episodes and life lessons so that parents could emphase as well. Almost everything including the main setting and the characters changed but we put more emphasis on Pororo himself as well as his friends.
- Compared to the TV series, more care seems to have been taken in the setting.
We wanted to show more varied mise-en-scene as well as different settings. When we show a background using a wide angle, we wanted the screen to seem richer and deeper. We took care in details such as props and surrounding objects as well as lighting. Compared to the TV series, there is more of a sense of reality. We gave the characters more joints in the rigging process so their movements seemed more natural. What we had before was just Pororo tottering like a duck.
- The 3-D effects are also good.
It was important to have the 3-D effects but the more important issue was not to tire the children's eyes. We focused on giving depth to scenes and reducing thier tiredness by doing 3-D scenes in slow motion.
- How did Chinese members get involved in the production?
We passed on portions for our Chinese staff to work on bit by bit and they worked on animation, lighting, FX and rendering in their Chinese studio. Also, the chief producer from Ocon stayed in China for three months overseeing the process there.