With KOCCA putting aside enough cash each year to shoulder as much as 35% of production costs on three projects it deems to have strong legs, Korea’s animation industry is arguably one of the most supported in the world right now. And judging from the winners of its latest Star Project competition, this generous government backing seems to be doing exactly what it was designed to do: improve the caliber of Korean animation production and help producers with exportable programming do business in the international market.
Now in its fifth year, the Star Project 2007 process started back in May, when submissions were assessed and seven animation projects singled out to comprise a shortlist. Then KOCCA brought in a panel of judges from the US, the UK and Japan – programming and consumer products execs, mostly – to come to Korea and assess them first-hand. (As a bonus, KOCCA piggybacks this round of judging on the Korean Character Fair’s dates, giving panelists added incentive to make the trip.)
The creative teams behind each show had 15 minutes to present it to the jury (using whatever they wanted to make an impression, be it animation reels, co-production partners, detailed budget info, etc.), followed by a 15-minute Q&A. Without any group discussion (although they confabbed afterwards), each judge then awarded points to the projects based on elements such as strength of financing plan and partners, global distribution potential, merchandise potential, unique positioning in the market and strength of overall concept, storyline and materials. At the end of the day, points were tallied, projects ranked, and then KOCCA announced its final selections in mid-August.
This year’s four animated finalists are Oasis (Tuba Entertainment), Lamimila (Characterplan), Element Hunter (Heewon Entertainment) and T5 (Cocoban).
First-time judge and PBS senior director of children’s programming Linda Simensky describes Oasis as Road Runner meets Ice Age, and remembers it had real potential to be funny. The producers presented a completed pilot for the 52 x 11-minute CGI series, so it was easy for the judges to see where the stories could go.
Preschool cut-out series Lamimila, a 65 x seven-minute co-pro with Taffy Entertainment, really knocked the judges’ socks off with its beautiful style. ‘It was the most unique project,’ says Simensky. ‘But I felt like the dialogue and storytelling needed a bit of punching up.’
Anime-esque Element Hunter stood out with a collectibility hook that has a built-in educational component. Instead of collecting little creatures à la Pokémon, this 39 x half-hour show’s characters are on a mission to find elements in the periodic table and put them together into compounds. ‘It needed to be developed a bit more, but I thought the concept was really interesting,’ says Simensky.
And finally, T5 scored points with its cute design and for blending comedy with action-adventure really well. The 52 x 11-minute CGI show is about five household pets who run a car-racing league in the house when their owners leave for the day. On paper, the series is aiming for a six to eight target demo, but Simensky thought the design skewed closer to four- to six-year-olds.
Simensky was surprised in a good way by all the concepts she looked at as a Star Project judge. ‘The Korean animation industry is way more innovative than we realize,’ she says. ‘And it was nice to see that Korean producers are just as passionate, just as excited and just as creative as North American producers. You don’t get a sense of that by working exclusively with service studios or meeting with companies that just send out their guys in suits.’