Animation in North Korea began in 1948 and has been a growing industry since. Before the Korean War, the Pyongyang animation study opened in 1948.[1] In the same year, the north region of the parallel 38th became a communist republic.[1] From 1948 until the 1980s, Pyongyang animation studio produced more than two hundred films.[1]

Aside from local productions, the SEK Studio (North Korea's primary animation producer) has been providing animation services for foreign clients in Italy, Spain, France, China, Russia, Japan and indirectly for the United States.[2] In 2003, there were 1500 artists working in SEK, becoming one of the largest animation studios in the world.[3]


Founding an Animation Studio

Since the early years, animation has been seen as a propaganda tool in North Korea and state-supported. Even it has been reported that Kim Jong-il was a fan of Daffy Duck.[4] The state-owned studio has worked in local productions and collaborated with foreign studios.

In the mid-1950s, the DPRK sent young people to Czechoslovakia to learn animation techniques.[5] In September 1957, the Korean April 26 Animation Studio (조선4·26만화영화촬영소) was founded, named in honor of the date when the Korean People’s Army was created.[6] It would later become SEK Studio, the only animation production unit in North Korea. A lot of early Korean animations were produced with military struggle as the main theme, and children were raised to believe in defending their country, especially the United States as the number one enemy. For example, in Squirrel and Hedgehog, produced in the 1970s, the North Korean people were portrayed as brave squirrels, hedgehogs, ducks, and other small animals, while enemies such as rats, weasels, wolves, and foxes represented South Korea and the United States, which supported South Korea behind the scenes.[5]

In the 1990s, North Korea became involved in globalized animation production, and the first step for North Korean animation to expand their overseas business began in 1985 with an olive branch thrown to them by France. North Korea's cheap domestic labor is what makes it an advantage to become a world animation foundry, and the head of SEK Studio, Koh Young-chul, claims that they have completed more than 250 outsourced animation films for animation companies in several countries, including Transformers, The Lion King, Pocahontas, and Pinocchio, as well as Little Soldier Zhang Ga and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which were completed in collaboration with China.[7]

Currently, the main production aspects of North Korea's animation subcontracting are based on purely technical aspects such as painting and coloring, while things like scripting, conceptualization, and even the production of key frames still come from developed countries such as the United States and Europe.[5]

International Collaboration

In the 1980s, the studio employed around six hundred workers, and twenty animation directors.[1]

As a result of the Sunshine Policy of Kim Dae-jung, between 2003 and 2005, North Korean animators collaborated with the South Korean production company Iconix. In 2005, Empress Chung became the first collaborative animation between South and North Korea through Korean animator Nelson Shin.[6]

Outsourcing International works dropped in 2008 due to political issues. The conservative South Korean president Lee Myung-bak ended the Sunshine Policy, impeding the collaboration between North Korean companies.[6] Since 2009, the most visible collaboration of North Korean studios is with Chinese companies. In 2014, SEK participated in the Shijiazhuang International Animation Exhibition.[6]

In 2024, a server leak revealed that the North Korean SEK Studio had worked on American cartoons such as Invincible and Iyanu: Child of Wonder, despite American sanctions against North Korea making such work illegal.[8]


See also


  1. ^ a b c d Bendazzi, Giannalberto (2016). Animation : a world history. Volume II, The birth of a style-the three markets. Boca Raton, FL. ISBN 978-1-317-51991-1. OCLC 930331668.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  2. ^ "북한 애니메이션 산업 육성, 해외진출 확대 전망-북한정보-kotra 해외시장뉴스". 2018-06-22. Archived from the original on 2018-06-22. Retrieved 2021-06-22.
  3. ^ "Axis of animation". Forbes. Retrieved 2021-08-23.
  4. ^ "Kim Jong Il, the tyrant with a passion for wine, women and the bomb". The Independent. 2011-09-22. Archived from the original on 2022-06-21. Retrieved 2021-08-23.
  5. ^ a b c "请不要小瞧朝鲜:你不知道的动画大国(图/视频)". 30 November 2014.
  6. ^ a b c d "A Short History of North Korea's Animation Industry". Cinema Escapist. 2018-06-06. Retrieved 2021-08-23.
  7. ^ "千万别瞧不起朝鲜动画:通过动画代工赚取大量外汇". Archived from the original on 2020-02-16. Retrieved 2022-11-19.
  8. ^ Lyngaas, Sean (2024-04-22). "Documents found on a North Korean server suggest US studios may have unknowingly outsourced animation work | CNN Politics". CNN. Retrieved 2024-04-24.