The popular South Korean romantic drama Yumi’s Cells, which is based on the eponymous Webtoon, uses memorable CG-animated sequences depicting the main character’s adventures through the eyes of the various cells in her head. The show, which debuted on tvN and the online streamers TVING, iQIYI and Rakuten VIKI this fall, relied on Sidus Animation Studios, the animation production division of Locus Corporation, to bring these vital animated sequences to life.
“Sidus Animation Studios had been planning for the animated feature film version of Yumi’s Cells with Studio N, a subsidiary of Naver, the publisher of the original webtoon,” says Fred Stiehl, Content Business Manager at Sidus Animation. “When Studio Dragon launched production of the TV series shortly after, Sidus Animation Studios was the logical choice to produce the animation for the hybrid series. While the original Webtoon was designed as a 2D comic, we decided to adapt the animation into 3D animation. This meant that our work consisted of taking static 2D images and rendering them into 3D movement, thereby filling in details while both staying true to the original while also making the world one which feels convincing and lived-in.”
The team at Sidus Animation — which is the acclaimed studio behind well-regarded features such as Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarfs and Running Man: Revengers — focused on maintaining the “cuteness” of the cells from the original webtoon, even producing a number of versions of the cells walking or running and selecting the cutest option. “However, this cuteness is different from that found in animation aimed at younger audiences, since the cells are themselves personalized versions of Yumi’s (a woman in her 30s) emotions and drives, it was important both visually and narratively that the cells’ performances resonate with adult audiences,” notes Stiehl.
Driven by Unreal Engine
The animation for Yumi’s Cells was created by over 150 artists during a span of 10 months. Yumi’s Cells is also the first (partially) animated series which Sidus Animation Studios has animated using Epic Games’ Unreal Engine integrated in its pipeline. “While there was a fair amount of work put into incorporating the Unreal Engine into our animation pipeline, the new engine enabled eased integration of a number of other production tools, including Maya and Nuke, among others, as well as real-time rendering of the results,” said Sujin Hwang, Head of Studio and Sidus Animation Studios. “With this new, optimized in-house pipeline, we have become able to express through animation far more quickly and creatively, and with greater variety.”
As in the original Webtoon, the world of the cells in Yumi’s mind is essential to the plot and identity of the series, making up nearly 25% of the hour-long per episode runtime. According to Hwang, Yumi’s Cells is the first-ever TV series produced in this hybrid format. “In Korea, animation is too often perceived as a medium for children only, and we believe that Yumi’s Cells has taken a bold step towards breaking this stereotype, especially given its warm reception,” Hwang points out. “We hope that more dramas can incorporate animation and that fully animated media will also be consumed by a wide audience. Towards this goal, we are also adapting popular properties into animated content for young adult and older audiences, including an upcoming animated series adaptation of Toemarok, the most renowned and all-time best-selling series of fantasy novels in Korea.”
Yumi’s Cells has received a great degree of praise, both in Korea and internationally. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised by just how much positive attention has been placed on the animation specifically,” offers Hwang.
A second season of Yumi’s Cells will premiere in 2022. The property is also being adapted into a fully animated feature by Sidus Animation Studios and Studio N, with an early 2023 release date. For more info, visit sidusanimation.com.