Saturday mornings always meant one thing: a quiet couple of hours in front of the television spending quality time with Scooby, Shaggy, Batman, Superman, Bugs Bunny and a host of other animated stars while my mother made delicious hotcakes for us to enjoy. As the years passed, so did my almost ritualistic gazing at the boob tube, but that didn’t mean I experienced a loss of love for animated titles. No, that was anything but true and to this day, I love seeing what artists develop outside the realm of live-action storytelling in comics, film, and video games. When in Korea, one place brings all this together: The Seoul Animation Center.
I had seen signs for the Seoul Cartoon Museum for years as I walked along the streets of Myeongdong heading up to Namsan Tower. I was always intrigued as to what I might find there, but never made time to stop by. This was a mistake, because this facility is truly a hidden gem in the city. Operated by the Seoul Metropolitan Government, the Seoul Animation Center opened in 1999 and assists writers, production houses, and companies in the animation sector. These not only include organizations that produce cartoons, but ones that make comic books and video games as well.
The Animation Center’s main building holds a number of attractions. The main exhibition hall hosts a series of displays that rotate throughout the year. Each exhibit focuses on some area within the animation spectrum. For example, the current display running through April showcases several entries to Seoul’s Haechi contest. In this competition, participates were tasked to take a 3D representation of the Haechi and decorate it. The result was Haechis made to resemble dragons, ninjas, and robots. An adjoining room had showed an animated short and poster art of the beloved creature.
The Center is also home to the only cinema dedicated to showing animated films. Feature films arrive after their initial wide release, but offer a more intimate viewing experience (and for about a third of the price). Weekdays, there are typically three screenings of the featured film; while on weekends an extra is added.
Another feature of the main hall is the hall of characters. This small exhibit space showcases the 100 most popular Korean characters of all time, as picked by an online poll. While not fully versed in Korean animation culture, I was happy to see that Robot Taekwon made the list. However, for me, the most fun to be had in the main building is inside the educational classroom. Here, visitors can learn how to make Claymation figures and produce their own stop motion film.
To say that the classroom experience is fun, would be putting it mildly. For 30 minutes participants are allowed to either follow the directions to make one of Korea’s iconic figures, or go it alone and create one yourself. Then, you’re guided to one of the sets to produce your own feature. The camera, computer, and lights are all arranged. All you have to do is come up with a story and tell it in 20 photos. The staff does the rest by taking your images and making a film. They will even add titles and music for you and upload it to Naver and email you a copy.
The actual Cartoon Museum, isn’t really a museum at all. Rather this facility stores an incredible array of books and DVDs for visitors. Open to the public, and free of charge, the library holds thousands of books and comics from around the world. These come in the form of manghwa, manga, traditional western comics and graphic novels, as well as books on art design and architecture. Children and adults come to this space, especially in the winter months, to catch up on stories and find something new. While on my visit, I found a book detailing the origins of The Transformers. Little did I know that the Hasbro toy line was inspired from the 1982 G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero line. Now I do, and knowing is half the battle.
The second floor is a child’s dream. It’s also heaven for anyone in love with animated features. By dropping off your ID at the front desk, you are able to check out any one of the titles on hand. Staff will load them into one of the free DVD players and you’ll be able to sit back and enjoy. You can stay as long as you want. If you have a large group, there’s a private room with a large screen and booming sound system you can reserve.
Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 9am – 6pm. Closed Mondays and holidays.
Admission Fees: Free (classes / feature films extra)
Directions: From Exit no.1 at Myeongdong Station, line no.4 (blue line). Take the hillside road (Sowolgil) on the left side of the Jungbu branch office of the Korea Electric Power Corporation (Hangukjeollyeok in Korean) and walk straight up the sloped road for about 150m. You will see the Cartoon Museum and turn right from there. You will find Seoul Animation Center where there are white steel structures by the street.