Over the course of his career, Dong Ho Lee’s creative work has seen him work with a dizzying array of brands including Samsung, Netflix, Huawei, ESPN and the Marvel Film franchise.
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Educated first in South Korea and then the United States, Lee is currently the Creative Director at Seoul-based Master Pictures, which he founded in 2014 following a decade working in the U.S. where he won five New York Film Festival & Promax BDA awards and has twice received Emmy nominations for his work with ESPN.
At Master Pictures, which specializes in high-end CGI work, brand identity and concept & visual development for TV and film, Lee and his team are putting together some of the most visually compelling creative campaign work coming out of the Korean ad world.
Branding in Asia recently caught up with Dong Ho Lee to talk about his career, his cross-border creative upbringing and his take on the evolution of the Korean ad scene.
What’s been keeping you busy lately?
I have been working on campaign design and a film for the new smartphone from Huawei since early summer and prior to that was developing the visual design for Netflix in 2017.
I am in charge of directing storytelling & design language for advertising key-art and film, and I am also directing animation and visual effects on the film.
Most of my time has been spent planning the concept and design of the film, and it has been a project for most of the summer.
You studied first at Hong-ik University in Seoul and then Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Were the creative cultures different between the two? How did they each influence what you are today?
I think each school and country has their own culture and instructional method. I studied traditional painting in my teens and industrial design in my twenties at Hong-ik. Since I was 28, I studied digital media and worked in design and film industries in America for 16 years.
I believe Korean society quickly adapts to the new wave of cultural movements. I think it is one of the stronger points in Korea.
Each school in each country and field in art and design has their own way of approaching art forms and structure based on their own unique strategies.
Speaking from my own experience, from a cultural point of view, the manufacturing industry was mainstream in Korea in the nineties. Most college education of art and design was related to industrial and visual communication design for marketing products.
Unlike Korea, American entertainment industries such as Hollywood films, TV broadcast, and games have been popular, and there’s an increased demand for digital media art there. Many artists have been educated to produce the various aspects of digital content.
I remember some classes at Otis, one was named “Drawing fantastic”. The instructor used an audio story of a Sci-Fi graphic novel, and the students created the visual concept of costumes, architecture, vehicles and various kinds of cultural imagery based on the storytelling.
With so much of the world going digital, is the ability to physically create art still something that should be valued by creatives both young and old?
Digitized content is the mainstream of a new era. The form of physical art has its original identity even if the majority of the art form gets digitized. I don’t think it is a transition from the traditional to the new. It is more about a new manifestation of the art form as the technology advances.
It is an issue of different medium to express creativity. Digital has the advantage of unlimited distribution, while physical art has value only in itself.
What are some creative campaigns you’ve done over the years that you’re most proud of?
I’ve done campaigns for Huawei in collaboration with Porsche design, Pantone color, and Leica. It was a successful project to promote the brand power of Huawei. The films are comprised of metaphor sequences inspired by product design keywords from Huawei technology and their design philosophy.
Are there any particular trends in the Korean ad world these days that you like?
I like the art direction and execution of Hera advertising. It is well presented in a stylized manner. I think storytelling and Visual approach are well-made.
Talk about the receptiveness of Korean brands that you pitch in terms of their willingness to try bold creative strategies?
Korean society has a fast and dynamic adaptability to trends. It is related to the rapid development of technology and its change combined trend. I believe Korean society quickly adapts to the new wave of cultural movements. I think it is one of the stronger points in Korea.
Digitized content is the main stream of a new era. The form of physical art has its original identity even if the majority of the art form gets digitized. I don’t think it is a transition from the traditional to the new. It is more about a new manifestation of the art form as the technology advances.
On the other hand, I feel actually branding, as a phenomenon, usually falls behind the changes. That is to say, people accept the new cultural change from outside of the country, and the enterprise and public organizations develop brand strategies following in line with what people want.
I currently live in Korea. When I mention this to people when traveling abroad there is a dominant association with Kpop. I feel it ignores a much deeper and more diverse creative culture in Seoul. What are your thoughts?
I agree. It is caused by historical and political reason. The Korean wave, called “Hallyu” is popular in the world, especially Asia.
Korea has had national tragedies such as 37 years under colonial rule followed by its division into North and South following the Korean War and then the transitional period to the modern era. South Korea has constructed various kinds of industries quickly since that time Korean society has focused on the high growth in the economy and its quantitative attributes.
In the meantime, the tremendous cultural heritage has been forgotten by the people. I believe Korean culture will be discovered and developed in various fields, not only from the individual artist but the country’s enterprising population in the future.