Seoul, Korea. The ICCON International Creative Content Fair. I realized on this trip that I’m just not very good at attending conferences. I forget my business cards. I leave my hotel room key inside my hotel room. I don’t remember anyone’s name. And I’d rather be outside running.
So, whenever nobody was looking, I snuck out of the pristine Coex Center, put on my sneakers and ran aimlessly through the streets of Seoul. I found my way to a hilly park where elderly Koreans were dotted through the woods like wild mushrooms doing tai chi. I ran along dirt paths covered by straw mats and up stairs made of round, wooden logs. I ran past the stone horses that guarded the tombs of an ancient king and queen. And afterwards I drank persimmon juice.
All in all, it was a good conference. And in between runs, I did do some work. I gave a speech that I felt very proud of. My theme was typical blog fare: Create shows from within, don’t follow trends, fear is a compass, be really bold, etc.
I got the distinct sense that Koreans are not usually encouraged to trust their own creative instincts. One young conference attendee wrote me a really beautiful e-mail:
“My characters live only in my head. I never showed my imagination to someone, even very close friends. Your speech touched important parts of my heart. I’ll try to overcome my fear, try to be up front about me, myself. Thank you.”
For me, that e-mail alone was worth the 14-hour flight.
There’s a tremendous amount of animation talent in Korea though it appears that most of the big studios survive by doing service work for American and European companies. On the preschool front, there are a few studios creating and producing their own shows, including the local hero, Iconix, who makes Pororo the Little Penguin, a Korean preschool juggernaut that they will happily tell you airs in over 100 countries. (I was impressed; I didn’t even know there were 100 countries.)
In general, the Koreans have a penchant for cute, small, rounded characters with pupils that change shape when they emote. These characters are carried around on key chains, printed on notebooks and used on packaging for everything from coffee to kimchi. Most of the characters don’t have TV shows but some manage to become licensing successes anyway.
I met a few owners of these characters on my trip. Some appeared to have learned only one phrase of English that they repeated like a mantra from the time we met until the time we parted: “We are looking for co-production partner. We are looking for co-production partner. We are looking for co-production partner.” When I had my fabulous and brilliant translator, Michaella Kim, press them on what they meant by “co-production partner,” it became clear that they didn’t really know but had been told it was the magic bullet that could transform a cute key chain into Thomas the Tank Engine.
I did my best to tell them this was simply not the case.
There were also some pretty big misconceptions about what constitutes a preschool series. I had one meeting with a director who showed me his pilot for a “preschool” show that featured a cute, small, rounded character who could not stop farting. I watched in horror as a second cute, small, rounded character showed up with a cigarette lighter, lit it and blew up their whole house. The director smiled at me and said, “We are looking for co-production partner.”
But my very last meeting in Korea was fabulous. It was with a young company called Goldilocks Studio whose members included two animators who spent years mastering their craft in Canada. They showed me their preschool series, Hello Kioka, about a little Asian girl who has adventures inside her snow globe. It was just beautiful. If I were a buyer, this is the kind of show I’d buy. I invite you to check it out at: www.goldilocksstudio.co.kr.
I’d like to thank the organizers of the International Creative Content Fair for inviting me to come to Seoul. It was a flawlessly organized event. I’d also like to thank KOTRA and Michaella Kim, for being so very kind, helpful and supportive to Tom Brown and me on our respective trips to Seoul this summer. Long live the fourth dimension!