The history of Korean animation is a bit of a mystery as no one is truly sure of when animation began taking place. It is known that animated films were being imported around 1933 due to an editorial by Choi Yeong-su that complained about how unoriginal and repetitive characters’ actions of a film were. Around this era of film history, animated clips would be shown before the film so this would introduce Korea to a gateway of various animations, including ones by Disney. Animation would become so well loved that Chosun Ilbo announced his making of Korea’s first animated film in a news article called ‘The Appearance of Chosun’s First Talking Animation, Gaeggum’ in November 25, 1936.
Including a picture of one of the lead characters, this was an excerpt in the article:”While the names of Mickey Mouse and Betty Boop are known throughout the world, there has not yet been an animated character created in Chosun. Now, due to Kim Yong-woon and Im Seok-gi, in association with Jeongrim Movie Company, the production of Gaeggum (Dog Dreams) has begun.” While they claimed about 400 feet (134 meters) of film was completed, this film has never been mentioned again.
This is most likely because the film was cancelled halfway through the project and never saw the light of day. Albeit, while not an important part of Korean animation history, it still tells Korea has long ways to go before producing their own films.Another announcement of an animated film in the works was by a man called Kim Yong-Hwan. He studied in Japan for animation techniques and had a history of working in propaganda cartoons. He started to establish the Kim Yong-Hwan Cartoon Movie Production Company but it was always set for failure. He established the company at the wrong time due to the war going on so materials needed to make films were scarce.
He also showed no interest and lacked any understanding on how animation was to potential investors. This would cause the company to shut down without producing even a single film. Korean animation would remain silent for a number of years but not silent to say. They began working on perfecting animation techniques as audiences enjoyed the works of Disney movies such as Peter Pan, Cinderella, etc. Finally, the earliest known of Korean animation was created; a commercial for a product called Lucky Toothpaste in 1956.
Only one person produced it and it was the director of the channel HLKZ (now KBS), Mun Dal-bu. He had no previous experience in animation but somehow he did the whole thing as a one man show (art, storyboard, directing.) After this, another animation for a digestive medicine called Hwalmyeong-su was created. Animated advertisements wouldn’t stop there as Shin Dong-heon would create one of the best early animated commercials.
This commercial was for the liquor Jinro Soji (video available on YouTube)|https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yxppjx3Yoas which was released in theatres. It was a fully animated commercial that had a jingle and Disney’s technique of 24 frames per second. This would be the new way of animation for all films by Shin Dong Heon.
Originally, most commercials were shown in movie theaters around the late 50s-early 60s because television was yet to be a common household product. KBS-TV began to broadcast commercials however in December 1961. They were so loved that commercials went from one minute to one minute and twenty seconds in length. This commercial era would bring on new animators such as Nelson Shin. Despite his ads being two minutes, they were extremely well made and lively.
Another animator, Han Seong-hak became known but unlike Shin, he was involved in a scandal. He used a Beethoven Symphony as background music for one of his ads, sparking uproar and angry phone calls to the station.Shin had stated in his novel that companies made as much as 20,000 won but due to production costs and other expenses, profit was barely made. Even in that time, materials for film (celluloid) was expensive so a way to save money was to reuse the used celluloid. He never really thought of commercials creating such an impact on Korean animation history but he is wrong on that one. It would be when animators starting out could practice as well as cameraman and directors.
This would make them all the more to ready to be able to produce fully animated films eventually. April 1961 marked an important time as Han Seong-hak, Park Yeong-il and Jeong Do-bin teamed together to create a 35mm color cartoon called Gaemiwa Bejiangi (The Grasshopper and the Ant), based on an Aesop fable. It was 5 minutes with a budget of 80,000 won supplied by Park Yeong-il. Jeong Do-bin helped Han Seong-hak whenever he wasn’t in the military but they didn’t have enough money or materials to complete the project. They could only draw 240 cells at a time; this meant filming them, washing them off to erase the animation and then continuing. It took about 4 months to get the film completed. 1963 would be a year of several animated productions.
Once again, Jeong Do-bin and Park Yeong-il worked together to produce a PSA called I am Water. Nelson Shin also produced a new animation about the folktale of a frog that never listened to his mother. And finally Korea’s first ever animated action film would be in 1967 from a film called Hong Gil-Dong. This would be the gateway to future Korean films and shows being animated. This film would change Korean animation to what it is today.