3D shifts course in Korea

Emphasis on content follows past tech developments

One year since the big success of “Avatar,” 3D content and technology have risen as promising businesses in every aspect of the Korean media industry.

The public and private sectors have driven all fields dealing with visual content, including film, broadcasting, games and animation, to establish 3D production systems. Companies big and small have announced numerous projects, while major consumer electronics companies like Samsung, as well as small information technology businesses, have showcased advanced offerings for the 3D experience.

Taking place Jan. 13-16, the first Seoul International 3D Fair was the latest event to reflect the rising interest in 3D from both professionals and audiences. The gathering lured more than 30,000, including family groups, with new products and services on display from more than 50 local exhibitors. Speakers from the U.S., including Hollywood 3D creative director David Ebner, Stereopictures America exec producer James Miller and DDD CEO Christopher Yewdall attended conferences and lectures discussing the prospects of 3D.

Last year, Korea’s 3D industry was mainly focused on 2D-to-3D conversion, led by Stereopictures’ conversion technology and 3D rig systems and computer software developed by Redrover and Realscope. But these days, bizzers are more interested in direct 3D content production, be it TV animation, TV drama and documentary, concerts, music videos or theatrical movies.

At last year’s AFM, CJ Entertainment held 3D promo screenings of animated “Bolts and Blip: The Movie” and “Tarbosaurus.” Small animation studios like Big Eye Entertainment and GNG Entertainment, and even regional foundations like Gangwon Information & Multimedia Corp., have revealed animation projects mainly aiming at TV. Realscope, which is a leading 3D content production and 3D solution development company, has announced it will co-produce the first full 3D TV drama, “The Divine Medicine,” a fantasy history drama helmed by Korea’s most influential TV producer, Kim Jong-hak.

Concerts in 3D are also gaining popularity in Korea. SM Entertainment, the most powerful company in the Korean pop music market, presented a few 3D musicvideos and 3D concert documentaries of its artists after agreeing with Samsung and James Cameron to collaborate in 3D content production last May.

Another music powerhouse, YG Entertainment, released (via SBS Content Hub) “2010 Big Bang Live Concert Big Show 3D” in theaters this month, a 90-minute music documentary of idol group Big Bang, which is hugely popular in Korea, Japan and Southeast Asia. The leading 3D production company behind these music concert movies is Ocean Mango, which advanced into the global market with its original rig system and camera.

With Thailand’s biggest cable television broadcaster True Visions, Ocean Mango co-produced a 3D concert movie titled “The First Winner Project.” Pic was also theatrically released in more than 20 theatres in Thailand in October.

Despite these recent efforts in television and music content, the progress of 3D feature film in Korea has been on the slow side. The first 3D feature film, “Natali,” was released in Korea last November, but it failed at the box office. A couple of projects were hastily announced, then suspended.

The primary reason behind this hesitation is the cost of production and market size. In Korea, a tacit agreement to reduce production costs has prevailed in the industry since the economic downturn. Moreover, it has discouraged producers, who fear the high production cost for any 3D feature film in the small Korean market, which had only 506 3D screens nationwide as of 2010.

Nevertheless, a few projects are in progress at the moment, such as CJ Entertainment’s “Sector 7,” a sci-fi action thriller in post-production by leading vfx company Mofac. Executive produced by “Haeundae” helmer JK Youn, pic is the first 3D blockbuster in Korea.

“This is not a 2D-to-3D conversion,” says Mofac CEO and vfx director Jang Sung-ho. “Background scenes and monsters are entirely computer-generated and treated (to) stereoscopic rendering. This is a real 3D movie.”

Helmer Yang Yoon-ho (“Iris: the Movie”) is preparing “Gisangryung,” the first 3D horror movie in Asia, co-produced by Realscope. Helmer Kim Yong-hwa (“Take Off”) has also announced that his next project is “Mr. Go,” a 3D baseball movie presented by Showbox.

Both private and public sector efforts in Korea to develop the 3D industry are more noteworthy than ever these days. Recently, Korea’s public broadcaster KBS-TV formed a consortium with expert companies in the 3D area, in order to produce high-quality 3D content as well as work on 2D-to-3D conversion of past programs.

The Korea Content Agency actively promoted Korea’s 10 competent CG and VFX companies to Hollywood studios during AFM last year and subsequently expanded its support programs for 3D production by allocating $11.6 million for this year’s budget.

The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism is also spurring to encourage more companies to produce 3D content, by assigning $16.6 million to the supporting budget this year.

“In actuality, 2011 is the first year that the government has supported the 3D stereoscopic industry,” Yoon Yang-soo, chief of the ministry’s Digital Content Industry Division, said at the 3D fair. “We will use the money in lending expensive equipment to 3D creators cheaply, as well as in cultivating experts.”

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