Archive for the ‘Animation’ Category

China seeking to outsource animation to DPRK…

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

The article is badly translated, but [seemingly] according to the People’s Daily (h/t Go East) China is looking to outsource programming/animation services to North Korean workers in Dandong:

The main reason to select Dandong city as the China-North Korea animation game service outsourcing base is aimed to draw North Korea’s animation game talents to Dandong. Xu Aiqiao, chairwoman of the Hangzhou national animation game public service platform limited, said that North Korea has become the global animation industry processing “plant”.

With a total staff of 2,500, the base will not only reduce at least 5,000 yuan per minute for the production costs of animation companies, but inject more energy into the creative plans, original scripts, and other areas of China’s high-end animation talents of the animation game.

Read the full article here:
Hangzhou game service outsourcing base to make up 80 pct of domestic animation production
People’s Daily
4/29/2008

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Pyongyang International Trade Fair and IT delegation

Monday, March 31st, 2008

GPI Consulting is once again hosting an IT business delegation in conjunction with the Pyongyang International Trade Fair this spring. 

Marketing language:
Business trip to the “11th Pyongyang International Trade Fair” (May 2008)
North-Korea is slowly opening up to the outside world. The trade with neighboring China and South-Korea is already growing fast, and also several European companies are conducting business. An excellent way to collect information and to make new contacts is by visiting the annual “International Trade Fair”, wich takes place from 12-15 May in Pyongyang. Companies interested in exploring business opportunties in North-Korea are invited to join our 10-17 May IT-business mission. The participants will be offered a tailormade program, with a focus on the International Trade Fair. For European companies, it is possible to make use of a collective European stand: for only 600 Euro, they can present their products or services to the public (or have them presented by local staff).   
 
IT- and multimedia study tour to North-Korea (May 10-17, 2008 )
The main focus of our business mission is to explore IT opportunities in North Korea. The goal of this studytour is to give the participants detailed information about offshoring. The IT-participants will visit firms in Pyongyang in the field of IT, animation, 2D and 3d design, cartoons, computer games, mobile games,and BPO. The business mission will have an informal character, with some attention to cultural or touristic elements. The trip will start in Beijing, and after returning from North Korea, an extension of the stay in China is possible in order to visit additional firms. The program of the tour has been added, and can also be found at: www.gpic.nl/NK-IT-tour.pdf   
 
Contact Information: 
Paul Tjia (sr. consultant)
GPI Consultancy, P.O.  Box 26151, 3002 ED Rotterdam, The Netherlands
tel: +31-10-4254172  fax: +31-10-4254317 E-mail: [email protected]  Website: www.gpic.nl

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Surfing Net in North Korea

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Korea Times
Andrei Lankov
11/12/2007

Kim Jong-il loves to surf the net. In 2001 he asked the U.S. Secretary of State for her e-mail address, and in 2002 he told a visiting North Korean dignitary that he spent much time going through South Korean sites. He repeated this statement during the recent summit describing himself as ”an internet expert.”

Despite his relatively advanced age, Kim Jong-il takes the IT industry seriously. He obviously believes that the IT industry might become a wunderwaffen (super weapon) which one day will save the ailing North Korean economy (Kim Jong-il has always believed in simple, one-step, technology-based fixes for problems).

Now and then, news agencies report on North Korean efforts to train software specialists, or on a technology firm established by the North Koreans, or even on Kim Jong-il’s plans to create a large industrial complex which would become the North Korean reply to the Silicon Valley.

Efforts to create a computer industry go back to the late 1970s. In those days, the U.N. Development Program helped the North build a small pilot integrated circuit plant. Its history was plagued by one misfortune after another: the plant’s building proved to be badly insulated, the electricity supply was unreliable, and the engineers who were sent overseas for training arrived too late (most of them did not speak English, anyway). However, by late 1985 the plant was operational, producing ICs, an essential component of a computer.

By the early 1990s, the North was producing some 20,000 computers a year. Not much, but enough to provide for the military and even earn some money from export (over 60 percent of them were said to be exported).

In the early 1990s the North Koreans developed their own software, including a word processor. The latter had, among others, a peculiar function: it could automatically insert the names of the Great Leader and Dear Leader through a specially designated hot key.

In the North the PC was never meant to be a personal computer. It is reserved for office or industrial use, not for home – not least because the Internet is unavailable. For a regime which (correctly) assumes that its survival depends on its ability to keep the populace ignorant about outside world, the internet presents a mortal danger. Matters are further exacerbated by the unique success of the South Korean internet. If North Koreans were allowed to surf the numerous Southern sites at will, the carefully constructed picture of the world would instantly fall apart.

Thus, the internet is outlawed – but not completely. In recent years, foreign embassies have been allowed to connect to Chinese internet providers, but they have to pay the exorbitant fee for an overseas call (currently, $2 a minute). The connection is unreliable, but if your bills are paid by your country’s taxpayers, you probably can check your email… Access to email through business centers and even Internet cafes is becoming possible as well _ as long as one is a foreigner and is willing to pay exorbitant prices.

Only the privileged few have unlimited high-speed access to the Internet. But these trusted people are numbered in the hundreds or, perhaps, count a few thousands. Access is provided for the military, intelligence, and few privileged research centers only. Rooms where the internet-connected computers are installed are considered off limits for the North Korean personnel, and only people with proper security clearance can access this source of dangerous knowledge.

Less privileged institutions have access to local networks with limited connections to the World Wide Web. Their task is to let scientists and engineers retrieve the data they need without unduly exposing them to the dangers of overseas decadence.

There have been attempts to make money through IT. None of the grand plans for selling locally developed software on the international market have come to fruition, but there are easier ways to make a buck. In 2002 the North Koreans started an on-line gambling site in cooperation with a South Korean company. It targeted South Koreans, since gambling is illegal here. Its message board attracted much popularity since it was a place where the Southerners could exchange messages with the North Korean staff. The ability to chat with the Northerners was exciting (even though the largely young participants probably did not realize to which extent their interlocutors were controlled). The combination of gambling and propaganda obviously terrified Seoul, and the site was closed down.

Another area where North Koreans are trying their luck (and obviously not without moderate success) are game development and computer animation. Indeed, even major studios are sometimes inclined to outsource their animation work to North Korea.

The Internet remains a hot potato for the North Korean leaders. They understand its importance, but they do not know what to do about its political dangers. While facing such a choice, they have always opted for political security.

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Cinema Offers Look Inside North Korea’s Evolution

Friday, July 27th, 2007

NPR, All Things Considered (Hat Tip LDP)
7/27/2007

One of the first indications of North Korea’s interest in opening up to the West came not at a diplomatic summit, but at an international film festival. For the first time in its history, North Korea had a film screened at the Cannes film festival, held earlier this year.

Korean film scholar Souk Yong Kim says movies can open a unique window into life in the mysterious country.

What most outsiders know about North Korea is its history of human rights abuses and nuclear proliferation.

In the United States, that has made North Korea a target for satire, in movies such as Team America: World Police by the creators of Comedy Central’s South Park series.

Kim teaches at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and studies North Korean popular culture. She says the country hasn’t been better at portraying us. Especially during the height of the Cold War, propaganda films featured brutal Americans.

One melodrama from 1966 shows a U.S. soldier coming onto a beautiful North Korean woman. When she resists his advances, he shoots her.

“It’s quite in-your-face, blunt propaganda to incite hatred of Americans,” Kim says.

The film scholar says that everything in North Korea’s state-run entertainment industry serves as propaganda.

In North Korea, film has traditionally been a cheap and easy way to spread the revolutionary message to rural peasants, and the medium is beloved by North Korean leader Kim Jong Il.

“He is known to be an extremely artistic person by all accounts, and he tapped into that artistic talent to really prove his filial piety for his father, Kim Il Sung,” says Souk Yong Kim.

Kim Il Sung founded the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea. When he died, his son’s documentary about his funeral helped cement Kim Jong Il’s path to power. The aspiring young director showed masses of wailing citizens. Grief even overcomes the narrator.

“This is the moment when the first hereditary socialist nation is born,” Kim, the academic, says. “Now, Kim Jong Il is in charge, and he is showing this to the entire country and the world.”

But by the late 1970s, traditional propaganda films bored the man known as the “Dear Leader,” and he needed something new.

“This crazy man obsessed with film, probably a megalomaniac, went so far as to kidnap a South Korean film couple to make good communist film for him,” Kim says.

A popular South Korean actress and a leading director disappeared over the border in 1978. According to their account, they were abducted by North Korean agents and imprisoned for years in re-education camps. Then Kim Jong Il forced them to make movies. That transformed North Korean cinema.

Director Shin Sang Ok and his wife made seven movies before their dramatic escape in 1986. He made musicals that tackled new themes to North Korean films, like romantic love. He made a Godzilla-like movie that has achieved some cult status. And he supervised others that borrowed from Hong Kong action films, such as one about a North Korean Robin Hood who steals from the rich and gives to the people.

North Korean movies have continued to evolve — albeit under the Dear Leader’s guiding hand. Film professor Kim says he “helped” with the script and production of North Korea’s entry to Cannes, The Schoolgirl’s Diary.

Kim says it’s interesting to note that the teenage girl at the heart of the film carries a Mickey Mouse backpack and sometimes uses English words while chatting with her friends.

She ascribes such influence to the pirated DVDs and other merchandise from the West and Japan that peddlers carry across the border from China, and says that this movie proves that borders are opening.

“Just the fact that they submitted The Schoolgirl’s Diary to Cannes … this year shows they are interested in joining the rest of the world,” says Souk Yong Kim.

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Freedom of the Press 2007 Survey Release

Saturday, May 12th, 2007

Freedom House
5/1/2007

North Korea comes in last place again: 197

Asia-Pacific Region: The Asia-Pacific region as a whole exhibited a relatively high level of freedom, with 16 countries (40 percent) rated Free, 10 (25 percent) rated Partly Free, and 14 (35 percent) rated Not Free. Nevertheless, Asia is home to two of the five worst-rated countries in the world, Burma and North Korea, which have extremely repressive media environments, as well as several other poor performers such as China, Laos and Vietnam, all of which use state or party control of the press as the primary tool to restrict media freedom.

Several bright spots worth noting include Nepal, where wide-ranging political change led to a dramatic opening in the media environment, and Cambodia and Indonesia, which also featured positive movement. Asia saw many negative developments in 2006, however, continuing the downward regional trajectory noted in last year’s survey. Coups and military intervention led to the suspension of legal protections for press freedom and new curbs imposed on media coverage in Fiji and Thailand. Intensified political and civil conflict during the year contributed to declines in Sri Lanka, East Timor and the Philippines. Heightened restrictions on coverage, as well as harassment of media outlets that overstepped official and unofficial boundaries, negatively impacted press freedom in Malaysia, China and Pakistan.

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Samjiyon Information Technology Center (SITC)

Monday, April 2nd, 2007

Samjiyon Information Technology Center was established as a professional multimedia technology department under the control of KCC on October 24, 1990.

From that time down to this day, SITC has been conducting research & development activities about fields of multimedia communication, image processing, audio & video processing, embedded application, educational application, multimedia contents and authoring tools, and the many powerful and good products were developed.

Our products are being on sale on home and foreign markets, and well received by the customers.

SITC is making inroads actively into the foreign markets based on cooperative relations established with several companies of Japan and China in fields of marketing and joint research & development.

SITC is very proud of its employees, among them more than 80% are qualified with masters or doctoral degrees.

Distribution ratio of technical personnel by fields
pie.gif

Strategy
  – Continuous improvement of the qualitative growth of technical forces
  – Strengthening of the cooperative relations between enterprises and educational & research institutions
  – Maximum intellectual property

Management Goal
  – 3 unique products and services
  – 10 unique core technologies
  – Certification acquisition from ISO9001 Pyongyang Certificate authority and CMM3 acquisition

As in the past, SITC will meet customers’ expectations by superior technology and improved service while amplifying cooperation and exchange with home and foreign partners. 

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US cartoons ‘made in North Korea’

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Asia Times
Sunny Lee
3/14/2007

North Korea is well known for its nuclear ambitions. But it is relatively little-known fact that the country is a hidden outsourcing mecca for the international animation industry, producing such well-known movies as The Lion King.

Even while North Korea has been under US-led sanctions that include a ban on commercial trade, several US animated films have allegedly been outsourced to the country, according to Beijing-based businessman Jing Kim, who says he was involved with American animation producer Nelson Shin’s filmmaking business in the Stalinist pariah state.

Shin, a 67-year-old Korean-born American, is best known for the television cartoon series The Simpsons, which was actually drawn in Seoul by a team of animators led by him since its premiere in 1989.

Shin and Kim first met in Singapore in 1999 at an international animation film fair, where Kim led the North Korean delegation. There, Shin asked Kim to help him to connect with the North Korean animation industry, Kim said.

China-born Kim, 47, has been doing business with North Korea for nearly 20 years and owns a restaurant in Pyongyang. Through his company in Singapore, where he holds a resident permit, Kim used to sell North Korean products to South Korea during a period when direct commerce between the two ideologically opposed neighbors was not possible.

After seven years of cooperation with North Korea’s state-owned SEK Studio, employing as many as 500 North Korean animators out of its staff of 1,500, and 18 visits to the country, Shin finally completed Empress Chung in 2005, a famous Korean folk tale about a daughter who sacrifices herself to a sea monster to restore her blind father’s eyesight. It was the first cartoon jointly produced by the two Koreas.

Apparently, however, according to Kim, Empress Chung was not the only film made by North Korean cartoonists. Shin, who heads Seoul-based AKOM Production, a unit of KOAA Film in Los Angeles, allegedly outsourced to North Korea part of the animation contracts that his firm had originally received from the United States.

On one occasion, for example, North Korean animators employed by Shin came to Beijing from Pyongyang to work exclusively on several US animation movies, staying there for months, according to Kim.

When asked whether any of the movies were actually broadcast in the US, Kim said, “Oh, a lot, a lot. The ones that I participated in were as many as seven.”

But Kim declined to name the US films, citing the sanctions imposed on North Korea. “If the names of the US companies are known, they will be screwed,” said Kim.

Kim said “many people will be hurt” if he went into details, adding, “We worked very carefully.”

When asked whether the US film companies involved actually knew that their cartoons had been made by North Koreans, Kim said: “They don’t want to know. If they knew, it wouldn’t be fun. After they make contracts with the South Koreans, they just assume that it is made there. They only care about the delivery [of the products] and their quality. It is too much for them to ask where they were actually made. We don’t have the obligation to tell them, either. The only thing they claim is the copyright.”

However, Nelson Shin denied the allegation. “There were no American cartoon movies made in North Korea,” Shin said from Seoul. “As far as I know, there were some Italian and French movies made in North Korea. But I am not aware of any American cartoons made in North Korea.”

Shin also noted the technical difference of production origination between “made in” and “made by”. He took the example of The Lion King. “It’s a Disney film. However, if Disney Europe, not the Disney company in the US, gave North Korea the production order, then it is not a deal placed by an ‘American’ company.”

Kim in Beijing, however, said his cooperation with Shin led them to employ eight North Korean animators in 2005 to come to Beijing, where the North Koreans stayed for six months, from June 10 to November 18. That was followed by a second group of North Korean animators, who came to Beijing and stayed for much of 2006, returning to Pyongyang on December 27-28, according to Kim.

When it was noted that Kim mentioned all these dates without referring to any written memo, he tersely said: “That’s how I make my living.”

Kim said he didn’t pay the North Korean artists in person for their work. Rather, he wired US$170,000 to North Korea directly for their 2006 assignments.

Kim said most North Korean animators are highly educated, including graduates from the prestigious Pyongyang College of Arts.

Animation involves the grueling job of grinding out tens of thousands of drawings for a single 22-minute cartoon. “They worked without complaint,” Kim said, while also praising the quality of their work. He said hiring North Korean artists meant that the usual company benefits, such as medical insurance, welfare and overtime, did not need to be provided.

“It’s a system that is doable,” Kim said.

North Korea’s cartoon industry has become quite sophisticated as a result of its cooperation with France and Italy in their animation projects since 1983. North Korea’s animation skills now rank among the world’s best, experts say.

“They are highly talented. That’s something I can say,” said Shin in Seoul.

South Korea itself was once the largest supplier of television animation in the world during its peak in the 1990s, churning out more than 1,000 half-hour episodes. However, its status has since declined with the rise of labor costs there, pushing animation companies to find alternatives such as India, the Philippines and North Korea. The Chronicles of Narnia, for example, used Indian animators for some characters. It’s unclear how much North Korea contributes to the world animation market today.

Meanwhile, when asked about the similarity of cartoon characters between Empress Chung and the ones seen in recent US animation movies, Shin said, “It’s inconvenient to talk about it on the phone.”

However, Shin said he is working on a new joint North-South Korea animation movie called Goguryeo, the title a reference to an ancient Korean kingdom that existed until AD 68. He expects it will take about two years to complete.

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North Korean animation

Monday, February 26th, 2007

(updated): Youtube is a great time killer…recently I found these North Korean cartoons that I recommend…

    squirrel.JPG                   ammunition pencil.JPG
   Squirrel & Hedgehog                    Ammunition Pencil   
     (Part 1), (Part 2)

    racoondogwolf.JPG                   frogguard.JPG
Racoon, Dog, and Wolf                   The Frog Guard
    buzzofparadise.JPG                  
The Buzz of Bee Paradise
     (part 1), (part 2)

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North Korea supplies laughs as well as lethal weapons

Monday, February 5th, 2007

AFP (Hat tip DPRK Studies)
Park Chan-Kyong
2/5/2007

Nuclear-armed North Korea is notorious for selling its missiles overseas but the hardline communist state also has a more improbable export — cute cartoon figures.

South Korean experts say the North’s animated movie industry brings the isolated country both precious hard currency and access to global IT expertise.

“Animation is one of the rare sectors where North Korea is following the global trend,” said Lee Kyo-Jung, an executive at the Korea Animation Producers’ Association (KAPA).

“It has been subcontracted to produce animation for North America, Europe and Asia,” Lee told AFP. Among the major clients are studios in France, Italy and China, he added.

Lee has visited the North to discuss the feasibility of the two Koreas jointly producing animated features, with North Koreans providing manpower and the South supplying equipment and finance.

The North for decades has used cartoons to imbue its own children with socialist ethics. Other cartoons screened there also bring some fun into drab everyday life.

“Tom and Jerry” is a prime-time hit in the communist state, Lee said. “They just love it. They see the US in the headstrong cat and North Korea in the wise mouse.”

The centre of North Korea’s animation industry is the April 26 Children’s Film Production House, known to the outside as SEK Studio. Its 1,600 animators have been downsized to 500 with the introduction of computerised equipment.

“SEK is one of the largest hard currency earners in North Korea,” said Nelson Shin, a North Korea-born US producer who worked on “The Simpsons”.

“SEK is a rare North Korean company that can directly engage in foreign trade and deploys representatives overseas,” said Shin, a frequent visitor to the North.

The state-run company worked for Shin’s US-South Korean studio KOAA Films on his 6.5-million-dollar animated feature “Empress Chung,” a Korean equivalent of the Cinderella story.

The movie was screened simultaneously in Seoul and Pyongyang in August 2005, becoming the first feature film jointly produced by the two nations.

“I was taken by surprise at their manual skill. I dare say the North Koreans are better than their peers in the South in terms of their hand skills,” Shin said.

Shin said Disney had subcontracted the TV series made for European viewers of the “Lion King” and “Pocahontas” to SEK.

North Korea’s animation industry began years before South Korea’s own in the mid-1960s. It dates back to the mid-1950s when it sent young artists to what was then Czechoslovakia to learn the craft, according to Lee of KAPA.

But South Korea has come from behind on the strength of its plentiful animators and computer technology. It earned some 120 million dollars through subcontracted work when the subcontract trade was at its peak in 1997.

Latecomers China, Vietnam and India are taking a growing share of the subcontracting market while South Korea is graduating from the labour-intensive work into creative products.

The growth in North Korean animation reflects the patronage of all-powerful leader Kim Jong-Il, a movie buff whose personal archive is said to comprise tens of thousand of films.

The country, becoming priced out of the lower-end work by latecomers, is now seeking to go upmarket to focus more on computer-assisted animation.

“For North Koreans, animation is not only a source of hard currency but also technology from the outside world. They are really keen on obtaining things like graphics technology,” said Kim Jong-Se, marketing director of Iconix Entertainment.

Iconix trained North Koreans in 3D animation when it subcontracted work to a company called Samcholli. The firm produced part of a cartoon series entitled “Pororo the Little Penguin” in 2003 and 2005.

The series turned out to be a big hit, selling in more than 40 countries.

Kim in late 2001 also helped produce “Lazy Cat Dinga,” the first animated series short of a full-length movie co-produced by the two Koreas.

“North Koreans are very good at doing what they are told but they have problems in using creativity,” Kim said.

Iconix Entertainment CEO Choi Jong-Il said both sides could benefit from splitting their roles.

“Joint projects will certainly bring benefits to both sides, with the South doing the overall planning and the North carrying out the main production,” said Choi.

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Korean Dramas Regulated, 109 Groups Dispatched

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Daily NK
Kwon Jeong Hyun
1/25/2007

Since last year, North Korean authorities have been attempting to cut off all kinds of capitalist culture. Hence, another extensive hunt for Korean videos and radio broadcasts continues on.

North Korean authorities formed “109 Inspection Team” consisting of authority officials, inspectors from the National Safety Agency and Social Safety Agency, who have been focusing on regulating the major cities for watching and selling foreign VCDs. As of this year, the regions for inspection has extended to the provinces, an inside source informed. The regulations seem to have become an annual event.

The source from North Korea said “About 50 people who were caught watching foreign videos in the district of Woonsan, North Pyongan and now are being investigated” and “The preliminary hearing for about 10 people with no connections or who could not offer bribes, also the people found to be directly circulating the videos has ended and are now waiting a sentence.”

During the 80’s, video tapes were controlled by intercepting with electricity and any family found with videos in their video players were individually restrained. However, many families with video players also had chargers and so this method was ineffective. Now inspector groups consisting of 10~20 people have search warrants to thoroughly check all parts of the home.

The source said “The people sentenced will probably get sent to the labor training corps but of these repeaters if any person has issues with ideologies or are condemned as responsible for selling the videos, then they will be sentenced to jail.” The source added “People who are sentenced to jail because of videos are normally imprisoned for 4~5 years, but many are released after 2~3 years on special occasions like Feb 16th (Kim Jong Il’s birthday) or April 15th (Kim Il Sung’s birthday).”

On a different note, the latest issue of Democratic Chosun (issued on January 13), the government paper, obtained on the 20th stated “Imperial activists are sticking to us from within until death in order to sow the seeds of capitalist” and ordered a firm response “We must stick to them (capitalists) and austerely cut them off.”

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