Filipinos on Top of Hollywood Animation

By Cynthia De Castro/

IN recent decades, most US animation companies have relied on Filipino talents to bring to life varied characters from Mulan to The Lion King to the Little Mermaid.

If you look closer at  animated films, you will see that there is a bahay kubo in little clownfish Nemo’s aquarium in Finding Nemo.  And there is a Mt. Mayon-inspired miniature volcano, Mt. Wanahakalugi. Thank Mang Nelson Bohol from Catbalogan for that touch of Pinoy in one of Hollywood’s box-office blockbusters.

Animator Virginia “Gini” Cruz, a Fine Arts graduate of the University of Santo Tomas from Pasay City, got to animate Dory, the bluefish voiced by Ellen DeGeneres.

In Lilo & Stitch, there are parols hanging in little Hawaiian girl Lilo’s Christmas sequence of the movie. That is the work of Manila-born animator Armand Serrano.

The surfer dude in the same movie, David Kawena, and the lovable alien Pleakley were brought to life by 20-year veteran award-winning animator Ruben Aquino from Mandaluyong.

The Flintstones Christmas Carol, an animated film nominated for the Emmys, takes place in Bedrock but is made in the Philippines.

Then, there is Stargate Digital’s Anthony Ocampo, a Fine Arts graduate of the University of the Philippines, who won the Visual Effects Society Award for his work on the Trojan horse in Helen of Troy.

Global Animation Haven

The Philippines is now known as the global animation haven. Industry estimates say about 90 percent of American television cartoons are now produced in Asia. Of that, more and more are bringing their business to the Philippines.

The animation industry in the Philippines started in 1983 when Burbank Animation, Inc. set up the first animation studio in the country. This was quickly followed by Fil-Cartoons, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hanna Barbera, a subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting which employs nearly 650 people in Manila. Filipino artists and technicians draw, paint and film up to 25,000 sketches, mainly by hand, for every 30-minute episode.

After 20 years, the animation industry now employs 4,500 full time employees in 40 animation studios in the country. Its estimated revenues last year reached 54 million US dollars, according to reports.

Sense of Humor

The Filipinos’ sense of humor makes this profession a natural thing for us. Our love of storytelling and telling jokes as a people despite life’s adversities are traits that are valuable in this line of work. Pinoy animators are recognized not only for their creative and artistic skills, an important factor in animation, but also for the consistent quality and speed by which they can deliver their output. They also pay close attention to detail and are proficient in English. Plus, they have an innate ability to comprehend concepts and storylines better than their Asian counterparts.

Mina Caliguia, managing director of ArtFarm Asia, the first animation school in the Philippines, supports this notion.

“We are entertainers by heart. We are expressive. We are unabashed in expressing movement, compared to our Asian counterparts. We are loud, physical, and wacky. All these characteristics have been translated into art form. That’s why we’re such good animators.”

Another advantage that Filipinos have is the fact that they understand the nuances of American humor better than their other Asian counterparts.
“Because of the Western influence the Philippines has had for so many decades, and when you’re doing a cartoon [with] Western humor, [Filipino animators are] able to animate it much better,” said Bill Dennis of Fil-Cartoons.

Visit the various film studios in the US and you’ll be proud to see several wacky Filipinos in the drawing tables or cubicles.

Jessie Romero, animator

In 20th Century Fox Animation, you will find outstanding Filipino animator Jessie Romero. Born in Quezon City, Jessie was among a few animators hired from Manila to work in major studios in the States more than decade ago.

Recently, Romero related to Asian Journal his adventure from Manila to the entertainment capital of the world.

“Bata pa ako, mahilig na akong mag-drawing (I really love to draw even as a kid.). When I learned that Fil-Cartoons needed artists, I applied. There were several hundred applicants. Thank God, I was among the few who made it. Two of us were immediately transferred to work on Walt Disney projects.”

“In 1996, 20th Century Fox was hiring Filipino artists to work on  Anastasia the Movie. Again, there were hundreds of applicants. And by God’s amazing grace I was one of the few who passed the test. I knew it was only by God’s provision that I was able to pass because there was a lot of very talented people who took the test. Even my bosses took the chance and tried to get in but did not make it,” Romero added.

Sixty Filipino artists were brought to Arizona with their families. Jessie was supposed to be among them but his agent singled him out and brought him to Los Angeles. And the rest, as they say, is history.

For the past 11 years, Jessie has worked for Fox Animation Studios, Film Roman, Klasky Csupo, Nickelodeon, Hanna Barbera, Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney TV. He was one of the few artists who were chosen to do The Rugrats. Among the many other animation films Jessie has worked for are Flintstones Christmas special, Tom and Jerry, Addams Family, Johnny Quest, Avatar, Winnie the Pooh, King of the Hill, Yogi the Easter Bear, Avengers, Darkwing Duck, Beauty and the Beast, 101 Dalmatians, Power Puff Girls,Captain Planet and American Dad.

“Every project that I worked on is my favorite because it’s the passion of doing art work that’s the most important thing to me. Every project for me is a masterpiece,” told Asian Journal.


Jessie revealed that in his first few months in the US, he was so homesick he wanted to go home to the Philippines.

“I didn’t liked the States at first, “ he admitted.  “After 3 months of staying here, I was so homesick, I wanted to go home and just stay in the Philippines. But I had a contract to finish.”

“Homesickness is one battleground that is really hard to tackle. Being alone in a foreign country was a pain. But the Lord is good. He brought me to a good church, Word International Ministries- LA where I met a new set of friends and family. It’s also where I met my wife Lizette. We now have 3 kids- Jacob, Jessica and Jeremy. For all the success and happiness I have now, I give glory to God,” Jessie said.

Jessie revealed that in the animation industry in the States, Filipinos are known for their great creativity and accomplishments. “Our race is well respected in our field,” he announced.

Jessie offered this advice to his kababayans.

“For all the Pinoys who are starting your life here in the States, my advice is to learn the culture that you are in. Educate yourself on how to deal with the new environment. Don’t hesitate to ask for professional advice. If you are willing to stay here for good, do not procrastinate in taking care of your documents. Make sure you have the right counsel because there a lot of people in this part of the world that will take advantage of you being new here in the States. Finally, be strong and trust that the Lord  will see you through. God bless you,” said the animator who is also a music minister in his church.

Thanks to Jessie and other Pinoy animators, Filipinos are being regarded in the global market as animators par excellence; Manila is als the cartoon capital of the world. So, the next time you watch a TV cartoon or an animated film, take a closer look.  You just might spot some Pinoy touches like a colorful jeepney or a bahay kubo.

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One response to “Filipinos on Top of Hollywood Animation

  1. Pingback: Animahenasyon Naga Edition « INGGITERO

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