LOCUS Crafts Exceptional Korean Animation with a Customizable Pipeline

6 min read

LOCUS Animation Studio is making its mark on the industry by leveraging the flexibility and customization capabilities of Autodesk Design & Make software like Maya to boost productivity, create engaging animated content for a range of audiences, and build connections with their viewers.

Image courtesy of LOCUS Animation

Founded in 2009, LOCUS Animation is a leading Korean 3D animation studio with expertise in fields such as animation, game cinematics, commercials, and exhibition videos. Over the past 14 years, the studio has evolved by growing and training its talent pool as well as investing in R&D and advanced technologies that they customize to fit their needs.

Their projects include family animation movies like “Running Man: Revengers” and “Red Shoes”, as well as high-end animations like “Yumi’s Cells”, designed for both young and adult audiences. One of the most widely adapted projects LOCUS Animation has created, “Yumi’s Cells” started out as a webtoon, evolved into a TV series that was picked up by global streaming services, and now has become an example of the studio’s innovative approach in transforming a 2D webtoon into a 3D animated feature film, a first for the studio.

“Leveraging our advanced technical prowess, we’ve taken on high-end projects and, as a result, we’ve built an in-house pipeline capable of consistently handling large-scale projects, including the production of feature-length theatrical animations,” says Hwang Ji-Yoo, Project Director at LOCUS Animation. “The combination of our technological capabilities, pipelines, and accumulated experience means we have become the only studio in Korea capable of producing animations for a wide audience range.”

Going from 2D to 3D animation with an unrestricted toolset

Animation requires considerable processes, time, and effort. That’s precisely why LOCUS Animation anchored its work on Autodesk Maya due to its flexibility that enables the addition of plugins and also integration capabilities with other tools. Lee Jae-Sung, Supervisor at LOCUS Animation, said: “I have no doubt that Maya is the most powerful tool when it comes to working on large, high-end quality projects. I think one of its greatest strengths is the high level of customization. The possibilities for integrating and leveraging other software with Maya are boundless.”

Maya offered the studio unrestricted pipeline design options and the flexibility to experiment with various configurations, including Python code. This enabled them to tailor the entire pipeline to meet their unique in-house needs. By simplifying various processes like concepting, modeling, texturing, animation, feedback incorporation, and finalization into a single, standardized application, Maya also streamlined artist workflows. The designers could seamlessly transition between different stages of asset creation without having to switch between multiple software programs, saving valuable time and energy.

“Given that there aren’t many global tools that can handle end-to-end production, I’ve often found myself missing features that are available in Maya when using other tools,” said Eom Ki-Young, Supervisor at LOCUS Animation. Both Eom Ki-Young and Lee Jae-Sung agree that in the case of 3D animation and the creation of “Yumi’s Cells,” Maya has been an irreplaceable tool for rigging and animation.

“This is the first time in Korea that a 2D webtoon has been reimagined in 3D,” explained Lee Jae-Sung. “We invested heavily in R&D to minimize the gap between 2D and 3D. The film presents two different animated settings: the world of cells (cell village) and the real world where Yumi lives. We made efforts to make Yumi’s world as close to reality as possible, clearly distinguishing it from the world of cells.”

The process of creating 3D character animation and assets was nearly identical for both the TV drama and the animated film. However, LOCUS Animation wanted to upgrade the animated actions, facial expressions, lighting, and FX.

“Due to the more relaxed timeline for movie production compared to the tight schedule of drama production, we were able to invest more thought and care into everything from the design phase to asset creation and lighting,” said Eom Ki-Young.

Even with a more relaxed timeline, LOCUS Animation still had to complete “Yumi’s Cells” within a set budget and timeframe. If the studio had followed a traditional animation production workflow, the rendering times alone would have taken them over schedule.

To save time in post-production, the studio utilized third-party content creation tools for FX to increase the efficiency of the production process. Internally, check paths in the pipeline helped to minimize production losses due to error corrections in animation or simulation within Autodesk tools during pre-production modeling and animation.

Developing content that resonates with all audiences

One of the challenges LOCUS Animation faced was the creation of realistic backgrounds, setting the mood and expressing emotions to build a connection with the audience. The advanced modeling and animation tools helped them to delve into the character and show Yumi’s emotions and actions.

“For each sequence, our primary focus was on effectively conveying Yumi’s situation, mood, and emotions to the audience and there’s nothing quite like Maya for character animation and facial expressions,” Lee Jae-Sung explained.

“To align with the original story that reflects our reality and daily life, we also made efforts to create realistic backgrounds by filming actual Korean streets and offices. Also, we emphasized setting the lighting in Maya to match Yumi’s emotions, as well as the seasons and weather of Korea, aiming to deepen the audience’s ability to relate to the animation.”

Another main challenge arose from Korea’s animation sector in general. It is rare for Korean studios to create animations for all age groups and become successful in the home market. “Realistically, success requires a virtuous cycle across all aspects. From a production standpoint, it’s crucial to establish a system that allows us to focus on quality while using minimal resources as efficiently and quickly as possible. As adult animations require higher quality, we’re constantly working on optimizing our pipeline and R&D for data and scene sequence management,” Lee Jae-Sung said.

Furthermore, a solid pre-production phase is critical. Several LOCUS Animation directors are continuously working on a variety of genres, from scripts to storyboards. They’re not just creating visuals, but constantly communicating with other team members to produce visuals that can fully immerse the audience. That means constant experimentation with effective direction methods in terms of tone, mood, and lighting to match the story.

Shaping the future of animation

Despite the challenges, LOCUS Animation remains positive about the future of animation and their own project pipeline. After all, the studio has various projects up for release in the coming months – these include “EXORCISM CHRONICLES: THE BEGINNING”, which is based on an iconic Korean fantasy novel that has sold over 10 million copies. Other projects to launch soon are “Guardians of the Video Game”, “BARKHAN”, and “Denma”, all of which are based on Naver Webtoons.

These animations were created using established IPs, but LOCUS Animation also plans to develop its own IPs and continuously advance its technology research in the future.

“In this journey, I see Maya as a companion tool that will continue to be with us. Our goal is to leverage powerful tools like Maya and Unreal for technical development, produce high-end animations, and inspire audiences beyond Korea — our objective is to make an impact globally,” said Hwang.

Explore how acclaimed animation studios harness the power of Autodesk Design and Make software to unleash limitless creativity, conquer complex workflow challenges, and automate tasks to scale production.