N. Korea animators may have worked on Amazon, Max cartoons: report


North Korean animators appear to have worked on upcoming Amazon and Max cartoons, without the knowledge of either US-based Hollywood studio and in violation of sanctions against Pyongyang, a new report has found.

The respected North Korea tracking website 38 North found evidence that animators from the isolated country may have been outsourced by third parties to provide images for Amazon Prime Video series "Invincible," and the Max streaming service's superhero anime "Iyanu, Child of Wonder."

Pyongyang is under multiple international sanctions over its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, and human rights abuses.

North Korea has a well-established animation industry, on which it has relied in the past for much-needed revenue. Its giant government-run cartoon producer, SEK Studio, was specifically placed under US sanctions in 2021.

But 38 North earlier this year observed a North Korea-based internet cloud storage server onto which images related to multiple Western shows, instructions for animators, and feedback on their work, were uploaded daily.

"There is no evidence to suggest that the companies identified in the images had any knowledge that a part of their project had been subcontracted to North Korean animators," said the report.

The evidence highlights "the difficulty in enforcing current US sanctions in such a global industry" and "the need for US animation companies to be much better informed about all the companies that are involved in their projects," it said.

Amazon Studios did not respond to AFP request for comment.

Max, the streaming service formerly called HBO Max and owned by Warner Bros. Discovery, declined to comment.

A source familiar with the "Iyanu" project told AFP that a South Korean animation studio had been hired to work on the anime, but was no longer involved, after suspicions emerged that it was outsourcing some of the work.

North Korea has long had a significant animated film industry. For decades the country used cartoons to imbue its own children with socialist ethics.

Foreign cartoons such as "Tom and Jerry" have also been screened in the country.

In the early 21st century, and prior to today's sanction regime, SEK Studio -- formally known as the April 26 Children's Film Production House -- counted studios in France, Italy and China among its major clients.

SEK Studio is believed to have been subcontracted work related to Disney's "Lion King" and "Pocahontas" titles in the past.

North Korea relies on thousands of highly skilled IT workers around the world to earn revenue for the impoverished nation, according to a recent US government advisory.

They hide, disguise or misrepresent their identities in order to obtain freelance contracts and payments, in violation of sanctions, and are also linked to cyberattacks, it said.

US companies are encouraged to carefully verify the resumes and identities of freelancers, including the use of fingerprint or biometric log-in data.



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