Post- ISM: Artists in Action In South Korea

ISM is quite simply the hottest and perhaps coolest 2D visual effects team in Korea.
ISM started as Submarine and recently revamped as ISM. Fxguide recently visited ISM in Seoul, South Korea to check out this creative boutique, and explore the growing Korean post-production market.

Korea has a population of about 45 Million, but in size it is 1/80 the land mass of Australia, yet in Seoul – a city of 19 Million people – it has a massive industrial base and TV advertising industry. The telecommunication section alone has an annual Ad budget of US$70,000,000. With 4 main TV networks (KBS1, KBS2, SBS & MBC) and hundreds of cable channels, this market makes about 150 new TV spots a month !

The post production industry is growing, while perhaps overall Post is not as advanced as the US, Australia or parts of Europe, in certain facilities – mainly in Seoul – they are as creatively strong as anywhere in the world. Furthermore, Universities and schools in cities such as Busan in the South- are turning out dozens and dozens of film students each year. With a large traditional animation industry, the Korean Government has invested serious support in developing local Korean talent. Busan’s Kyung Sung University boast Discreet, Apple and AVID training accreditation and has literally rows and rows, in room after room, – all full of G4s running with Shake, AVID, MAX and FCP, – and their G5’s have been ordered!

In advertising the largest agency is Cheil, followed by Kumkang and then LG Ad. Cheil alone has some 20 TVC producers. A typical national spot would have over a million a month in Media spend, and on a new product launch this could rise to US$6 or US$7 M a month in air time. While some major corporations, such as LG, have an ownership stake in the Agency business, the agency industry is still generally more open than say Japan, with major US companies such as DDB and TBWA having a very sizable presence. TBWA for example is one of the hottest creative shops in Seoul.

In this rapidly developing and highly competitive market, ISM, in Seoul, is the hottest compositing house in the country – and having started in 1995 with their first flame – they have watched the industry develop around them.

As jaded as we can all get with Show Reels, ISM has one of the coolest flame designed opening title sequence that FXG has seen in a long time. Natural in its movement, visual stunning and reserved, it serves as a metaphor for ISM itself. The titles were design by Choong Young Oh. He designed them on Flame, using Action’s Texture: Reflection maps on “triangles” to create a graphical set of ‘venetian blinds’ – that have the finish and gloss seen in many of the luxury car spots featured on the ISM reel. The piece is all done in Action, Oh commented that he still “preferred Action to Batch”. The clip is particularly nice for the optical specular highlights the nicely bloom as the light catches, something Oh says “was not easy to get in Action”. Although ISM uses Sapphire and 5D sparks – Oh chose not to use any sparks in this piece.

ISM’s work seems biased to complex compositing of TVC spots, with few music videos and almost no HD work. HD is not yet popular in Korea, in fact the majority of ISMs work is still done in 4:3 and not 16:9.

ISM’s senior inferno compositors and visual effects supervisors such as Cheon Ki Min and Sung Wook Byun, are all nearly self-taught, having arrived at ISM from many of the other top post houses in Korea. This idea of a group of senior compositors all coming together with the same attitudes to Post is what gave OH the idea of renaming the company ISM, – as in post-ism.

ISM is running both version 7 and 8 of flame and Inferno, and it is looking forward to moving all the systems to version 8 , to take advantage of the mixed resolution. The fixed resolution in version 7 is their main technical problem with Flame – compared to other Compositing systems the use daily. ISM also runs Shake and Combustion, with a total of 13 2D staff and an additional 6 3D staff using both Max and Maya. Between 80% and 90% of their work is Korean, the majority being from Seoul. This is partly due to the extremely tight schedules that are common throughout Korean Post production. “We’d like more time to do an even better job, but sometimes there we are just not given the time”, comments Oh, – reflecting the global trend to compressed post schedules and extremely high client expectations.

ISM is currently in the very hip Yupgujeong district, in a 2 story building but they are moving to a new custom built 4 story facility in January. The move reflects the companies growth and popularity amongst Seoul’s highly competitive advertising industry.