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Did North Korea Produce Your Favorite Animation? Shocking Discovery Raises Eyebrows

Daniel Kim Views  

미국 애니메이션 '인빈서블'. 배우 스티븐 연이 주인공을 맡았다. 사진=아마존 프라임

Evidence suggests that American and Japanese animations, including popular ones like Amazon Prime’s Invincible, were produced in North Korea.

On April 23, 38 North, a North Korean-focused publication under the American nonprofit Stimson Center, reported through a paper by Senior Researcher Martyn Williams that animation work files were found on a cloud storage server using North Korean IP at the end of last year.

According to Williams, Nick Roy, a cyber investigator who operates the NK Internet blog, discovered the server. In North Korea, IT workers cannot access the internet, so they often use cloud servers. However, due to a setting error, this server was set to allow anyone to enter without a password.

Roy accessed the server daily for a month, starting January this year, watching for file changes. Instructions for animation work changed daily, and after each change, the modified work files were uploaded again.

북한 IP 클라우드 저장 서버에서 발견된 스케치. 아래에는 편집 코멘트가 중국어와 한국어로 적혀 있다. 사진=38노스

The released screenshots show editing comments in Chinese and Korean under an animation sketch of a profile view, instructing to adjust the shape of the character’s head. The Korean appears to be a simple translation of the Chinese comments.

According to the report, most of the files found appeared to be in the early stages of sketch work before coloring. The work changed daily, and the volume of the work was considerable.

북한 IP 클라우드 저장 서버에서 발견된 스케치. 사진=38노스

The works confirmed here include Amazon Prime’s Invincible Season 3, HBO Max’s Iyanu: Child of Wonder, the Magic Artisan Dahliya Wilts No More, scheduled to air in Japan in July, and Cat from the Japanese animation studio Ekachi Epilka. A video file of the British BBC channel children’s cartoon Octonauts was also found, but it is unclear whether this was a work in progress.

The entity that uploaded the files to the server is unconfirmed. Still, Williams strongly suspects that the Korean April 26 Animation Studio (aka SEK Studio) is responsible for producing North Korean animated films. Established in 1957, the studio produced North Korea’s first children’s movie, Our Hill, in 1960, as well as The Boy General, Ko Jumong, and Clever Raccoon.

The U.S. Treasury Department designated this North Korean production company prohibited from trading in U.S. dollars in 2021. The following year, when evidence emerged of involvement in the Russian animation “Space Dogs: Return to Earth (aka Belka and Strelka: Caribbean Mystery),” seven companies headquartered in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Russia were added to the sanction list.

Williams speculated that the North Korean production company had won contracts from American and Japanese animation companies through a complex outsourcing process.

The speculation is that the U.S. and Japan outsourced animation production to companies in China, which then subcontracted the work to North Korea. It is known that North Korean workers disguise themselves as foreigners using virtual private networks.

CNN suggested that a Korean company might be involved in the intermediate stage. According to sources, Lion Forge Entertainment outsourced the production of the Iyanu series to a Korean company, which then outsourced the work to another Korean company without permission in January of this year, leading to a contract termination.

However, this Korean studio explained to Lion Forge that this incident was unrelated to North Korea and had only subcontracted to Korean companies.

38 North pointed out that this incident shows how difficult it is to enforce sanctions against North Korea and that animation production companies must identify all participating companies and take security measures such as video interviews.

Meanwhile, Skybound Entertainment, the production company of Invincible, denied this incident, stating, “We do not cooperate with North Korean companies or any affiliates, and we have not heard of any North Korean companies participating in our animation.”

They added, “We strictly prohibit subcontracting to third parties without our explicit prior written consent, and we did not pursue or approve this in this case.” They also announced that they were conducting an internal investigation.

Daniel Kim
content@viewusglobal.com

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