[INTERVIEW] 'Frozen' creator pessimistic about Korean animation's future - The Korea Times
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[INTERVIEW] 'Frozen' creator pessimistic about Korean animation's future

Kim Sang-jin at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He headed production of the Korean animation movie 'Red Shoes' that hit Korean theaters in July 2019. Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin
Kim Sang-jin at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He headed production of the Korean animation movie 'Red Shoes' that hit Korean theaters in July 2019. Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin

By Ko Dong-hwan

Kim Sang-jin, who breathed life into the characters of the 2013 meteorite hit "Frozen," says the Korean animation industry faces a gloomy future if poor management of talent continues.

The reputed animator from Walt Disney Animation Studios headed production of the Korean animation feature "
Red Shoes." The movie hit Korean theaters in July and has been sold to about 120 countries.

Also known as Jin Kim, the animator said talented people had been leaving Korea to work overseas because the working environment here was unsatisfactory, with a lack of animation studios capable of producing quality movies. Local theater-goers also have never had a rich selection of attractive Korean animation features.

Kim said that when he came to Seoul to work with Korean animation studio Locus on "Red Shoes," he found that most of the studio artists were not skillful enough to meet his standards honed over two decades at Disney.

"For the first few months I taught what I had learned at Disney to the Locus animators while working on the movie," Kim said.

"It's a common problem in most Korean studios where they suffer from a shallow pool of talent."

Kim Sang-jin has been working for Disney since 1995. Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin
Kim Sang-jin has been working for Disney since 1995. Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin

With the persistent problem in the Korean industry that began with a beverage TV commercial in 1956, there has rarely been a Korean animation movie that has been a commercial success. Even if there were, they were limited to showing signs of the industry's potential but did not lead to ushering in a "meaningful industry," according to Kim.

As of late August, "Red Shoes" had sold more than 755,000 tickets, fewer than Kim had expected.

"I don't know how much longer the figure will stretch, but at this point I am very disappointed," said Kim.

Starting to work with Disney in 1995, Kim's most difficult problem in the office has been language.

"I'm not good with languages," he said. "There were many times I couldn't understand what others understood and misunderstood and had to make up for that by doing the same job again. Now, I am better. But the problem will never go away completely."

As well, he was under constant pressure that demanded creativity and imagination. There were times when the stress was so extreme he could hardly come up with ideas and drew only one or two pages over several days.

"Coming up with ideas about unique characters and breathing life into them for each movie is not easy," said Kim. "It's very stressful."

Sketches by Kim, introduced here by Walt Disney Animation Studios as 'The Art of Jin Kim,' show characters from movies like 'Frozen,' 'Tangled' and 'Big Hero 6.' Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin
Sketches by Kim, introduced here by Walt Disney Animation Studios as 'The Art of Jin Kim,' show characters from movies like 'Frozen,' 'Tangled' and 'Big Hero 6.' Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin

At Locus, the biggest change and advantage compared to Disney was the comfort of using Korean.

After the release of "Red Shoes," he also received a lot of public attention for being its animation director. The movie's high quality tricked many audiences into thinking it was another American movie. Neither did they know the director was behind "Frozen" and other Disney hits like "Bolt," "Tangled" and "Zootopia."

"I guess many Koreans hadn't imagined a Korean was behind such a mega success Disney movie," Kim said.

After completing "Red Shoes" in May 2018, Kim went to Los Angeles to join Netflix's "Over the Moon" as character design supervisor. The production ended in July and is scheduled to hit theaters in 2020.

He has joined a new project at Disney.


Kim Sang-jin at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He headed production of the Korean animation movie 'Red Shoes' that hit Korean theaters in July 2019. Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin
Kim Sang-jin at Walt Disney Animation Studios. He headed production of the Korean animation movie 'Red Shoes' that hit Korean theaters in July 2019. Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin

By Ko Dong-hwan

Kim Sang-jin, who breathed life into the characters of the 2013 meteorite hit "Frozen," says the Korean animation industry faces a gloomy future if poor management of talent continues.

The reputed animator from Walt Disney Animation Studios headed production of the Korean animation feature "
Red Shoes." The movie hit Korean theaters in July and has been sold to about 120 countries.

Also known as Jin Kim, the animator said talented people had been leaving Korea to work overseas because the working environment here was unsatisfactory, with a lack of animation studios capable of producing quality movies. Local theater-goers also have never had a rich selection of attractive Korean animation features.

Kim said that when he came to Seoul to work with Korean animation studio Locus on "Red Shoes," he found that most of the studio artists were not skillful enough to meet his standards honed over two decades at Disney.

"For the first few months I taught what I had learned at Disney to the Locus animators while working on the movie," Kim said.

"It's a common problem in most Korean studios where they suffer from a shallow pool of talent."

Kim Sang-jin has been working for Disney since 1995. Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin
Kim Sang-jin has been working for Disney since 1995. Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin

With the persistent problem in the Korean industry that began with a beverage TV commercial in 1956, there has rarely been a Korean animation movie that has been a commercial success. Even if there were, they were limited to showing signs of the industry's potential but did not lead to ushering in a "meaningful industry," according to Kim.

As of late August, "Red Shoes" had sold more than 755,000 tickets, fewer than Kim had expected.

"I don't know how much longer the figure will stretch, but at this point I am very disappointed," said Kim.

Starting to work with Disney in 1995, Kim's most difficult problem in the office has been language.

"I'm not good with languages," he said. "There were many times I couldn't understand what others understood and misunderstood and had to make up for that by doing the same job again. Now, I am better. But the problem will never go away completely."

As well, he was under constant pressure that demanded creativity and imagination. There were times when the stress was so extreme he could hardly come up with ideas and drew only one or two pages over several days.

"Coming up with ideas about unique characters and breathing life into them for each movie is not easy," said Kim. "It's very stressful."

Sketches by Kim, introduced here by Walt Disney Animation Studios as 'The Art of Jin Kim,' show characters from movies like 'Frozen,' 'Tangled' and 'Big Hero 6.' Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin
Sketches by Kim, introduced here by Walt Disney Animation Studios as 'The Art of Jin Kim,' show characters from movies like 'Frozen,' 'Tangled' and 'Big Hero 6.' Courtesy of Kim Sang-jin

At Locus, the biggest change and advantage compared to Disney was the comfort of using Korean.

After the release of "Red Shoes," he also received a lot of public attention for being its animation director. The movie's high quality tricked many audiences into thinking it was another American movie. Neither did they know the director was behind "Frozen" and other Disney hits like "Bolt," "Tangled" and "Zootopia."

"I guess many Koreans hadn't imagined a Korean was behind such a mega success Disney movie," Kim said.

After completing "Red Shoes" in May 2018, Kim went to Los Angeles to join Netflix's "Over the Moon" as character design supervisor. The production ended in July and is scheduled to hit theaters in 2020.

He has joined a new project at Disney.


Ko Dong-hwan aoshima11@koreatimes.co.kr


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