North Korean animators are said to be working on several anime and Western productions

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North Korean animators are said to be working on several anime and Western productions
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Part 2 of Invincible 2 - Poster (2)

A Wired revealed that investigators discovered that animators from North Korea they would be working on several anime and western productions.

In fall 2023, a cloud storage server with a North Korean Internet Protocol (IP) address was discovered to be misconfigured and obsolete. This discovery triggered an investigation that revealed a stunning picture: daily files flowing to and from this server, showing evidence that North Korean animators were working on major productions for Western companies.

Among the files found were what appeared to be work files from “Invincible”, an original series from Amazon produced by Skybound Entertainment it’s from “Iyanu, Child of Wonder,” a Lion Forge Entertainment production for HBO Max.

Production files for the anime series adaptation of the novel were also found. Dahlia in Bloom: Crafting a Fresh Start with Magical Tools (Madо̄gushi Dahlia wa Utsumukanai: Kyō kara Jiyū na Shokunin Life) written by Hisaya Amagishi and illustrated by Kei which will premiere in July 2024 (Summer anime season).

Trailer for the anime series Dahlia in Bloom reveals its debut in July 2024

Some of the files were also named Ekachi Epilkaa Japanese anime studio.

The discovery of this server exposed a complicated web of transnational collaboration in the entertainment industry. The files suggest that North Korean animators were working on these productions without the knowledge of the Western hiring companies. No evidence was found to suggest that these companies were aware that a portion of their projects had been subcontracted to North Korean animators.

A Skybound Entertainment has already reacted publicly issuing the following statement:

For our fans: Skybound has become aware of an unconfirmed report regarding a cloud storage server connected to a North Korean IP address. This server supposedly contains an animation sketch of Invincible. Our official statement follows.

We do not work with North Korean companies, or any affiliated entities, and we are not aware of any North Korean companies working on our animation. Our policies strictly prohibit any subcontracting to third parties without our prior express written consent, which, in this case, was neither requested nor granted. We also require that all of our service providers fully comply with all applicable rules and regulations and prohibit the disclosure of materials by our service providers to third parties.

Skybound Entertainment takes these allegations seriously and has initiated a thorough internal review to verify and correct any potential issues. We have also notified the appropriate authorities and are cooperating with all appropriate bodies.

How it all began!

The story begins in 2023 with the discovery of this server at a North Korean IP address. Incorrectly configured and without apparent use, it allowed anyone without a password to access the files that circulated through it daily. This practice is common in North Korea, where Internet access is highly restricted and controlled.

The server was discovered by Nick Roywho runs the blog NK Internet. Throughout January this year there were observed files that included instructions for the animation work and the results of that day.

The identity of the person or people uploading the files could not be determined, but they often contained editing comments and instructions in Chinese, presumably written by the production company, along with a Korean translation, suggesting the existence of an intermediary between the production company and North Korean animators.

While the identity of the North Korean partner has never been revealed in any observed documentation, it is likely the studio Korean April 26 Animation Studioalso known as SEK Studio. This Pyongyang-based studio is known for being the leading animation production company in North Korea, having previously worked on several international projects, including during the “Sunshine Policy” era in the early 2000s.

However, in 2016, the studio was sanctioned by the US Treasury Department as a North Korean state-owned enterprise, and the US government imposed additional sanctions on Chinese companies that worked with the studio or acted as intermediariesonce in 2021 and again in 2022.

This discovery raises questions about ethics and transparency in the entertainment industry. Although no evidence of knowledge was found on the part of the contracting Western companies, The fact that North Korean animators are working on international productions without the contractors’ knowledge highlights the complexities and risks of global subcontracting in the digital age.

The files concerned a number of projects, suggesting that several animators were likely involved in the work. Over the observation period, the apparent identity of some of the projects became clear. Among them were:

  • The third season of “Invincible”, an Amazon Original series produced by California-based Skybound Entertainment. A document on the server listed the name of the series and “Viltruminte Pants LLC,” which appears to be part of the Skybound group.
  • “Iyanu, Child of Wonder”an animated superhero series created by Maryland-based YouNeek Studios and produced and animated by Lion Forge Entertainment to air in 2024 on HBO Max.
  • “Dahliya In Bloom” (Madougushi Dahliya wa Utsumukanai)an anime series that will premiere in July 2024.
  • Files named “猫” (Cat) which are also called Ekachi Epilkaan animation studio in Hokkaido, Japan.
  • Video files that appear to belong to “Octonauts”, a BBC children’s cartoon. The files contained no additional identifying information and appeared to be finished, so it is possible that the animators did not work on them.
  • An unidentified animated series with documents referencing “Dalian’s Shepherd Boy Animation (大连牧童动漫)”.

North Korean animators are said to be working on several anime and Western productions

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North Korean animators are said to be working on several anime and Western productions

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