*This is a user-submitted post by Elvie Mae Parian*
Note: This article may not be appropriate for young readers.
Animated by Rocketsheep Studios, Hayop Ka! is the latest original animated feature anticipated to premiere in the Philippines.
In the film, Nimfa Dimaano is a cat saleslady at a mall. Her life is rather mundane, until she realizes she is falling for two people at the same time. Nimfa’s longtime boyfriend, Roger, is a gruff but practical and dependable buff askal. One of her customers, Iñigo, on the other hand, is a charming, smooth, and refined (and wealthy!) husky. Nimfa finds herself in a bind as her feelings begin to swing between the two. As the romantic tensions escalate, other issues arise in her life.
The film is titled after an expression that closely translates to the vulgarity, “son of a b-.” In the same zeitgeist with series like Aggretsuko and films like Zootopia, Hayop Ka! uses the cute guise of anthropomorphic animals to portray adult themes.
Hayop Ka! features the voices of Angelica Panganiban, Robin Padilla, and Sam Milby—household, star-studded names known to many moviegoers in the Philippines. It will be distributed in the Philippines by Spring Films, a production company headed by renowned Filipino actor Piolo Pascual. Spring Films has mostly dealt with romantic comedies up to this point, and Hayop Ka! will be the distributor’s first venture into animation—let alone, mature animation.
About Rocketsheep Studios
Founder of Rocketsheep Studios, Avid Liongoren takes pride in working in both live-action and animation. He studied Visual Communication at the UP College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines.
“I really wanted to be a rockstar but I had no musical talent,” he says. “I ended up making art and videos for my musician classmates who ended up in famous Pinoy bands which got me started in the whole video/film production thing.” Liongoren was eventually led into animation where he found many opportunities for mixing mediums.
Rocketsheep Studios was initially formed to specifically work on Saving Sally, a live-action film that blended with animation and took the team over 12 years to make. Saving Sally follows an amateur comic book artist who grows infatuated with a woman. When he discovers the person he has fallen for unfortunately lives a sordid life, he tries to intervene but inevitably gets caught up in all the troubles that follow.
Building a studio from the ground up is a financial risk and laborious endeavor, especially when there are no investors guaranteed up front. It usually takes a huge investment before any profit comes through. Saving Sally was self-produced, and it was mostly thanks to the numerous commercial gigs that Rocketsheep had to tackle in between that kept them afloat during the film’s long production time. Liongoren jokingly added that the process included “selling [his] internal organs”.
“When Saving Sally was nearing completion, we asked ourselves, ‘What next?’ So we began this radio-risque drama/telenovela-inspired project as sort of a thematic opposite to the sweetness of Saving Sally. Since Saving Sally had a great festival run, Spring Films (Piolo’s Pascual’s production company) reached out and asked what I was working on next and we partnered up on this. Rocketsheep does the animation, Spring Films will take care of the stars and marketing.” It was also thanks to the proceeds made with Saving Sally that Hayop Ka! was able to remain independent and mostly self-financed.
Animation in the Philippines and Beyond
Liongoren hopes that producing more works like Hayop Ka! will show a different side to the Philippines and that animation is very much a viable art form that can grow even further. He says that, “[the Philippines] already has a strong animation industry servicing foreign productions, but local animated IP creation is still at its infancy.”
“Many of our favorite shows are animated here,” he additionally clarifies. ”[…] our studios do not ideate shows and films because it is very financially risky, where as service work is a proven money maker.” Liongoren is referencing the fact that the Philippines has had a huge animation industry for a long time, but its highest-grossing products are for productions in other countries.
For example: the Toei Company is one of the largest and most distinguished media and entertainment companies from Japan, responsible for the production and distribution of long-running franchises like Dragon Ball and One Piece. One of Toei’s biggest animation studios is based in the Philippines, providing production for anime series like the aforementioned titles. Outside of anime, numerous other animation projects have been crafted under the hands of Filipino animators. Properly credited or not, the fact of the matter is that this often goes unspoken. In fact, discourse has been still teeming given the recent discussions over harsh, working conditions a lot of animators still face in the Philippines.
At the very least, original Filipino animation has a promising future—especially if an indie project like Hayop Ka! is any key indicator. Every year, Animahenasyon, an annual Philippines-based animation festival, attracts the attention of many prospective students and professionals. The Philippines has even tried their luck with full-animated features back in 2008 with Urduja and Dayo: Sa Mundo ng Elementalia, two official entries in the 34th Metro Manila Film Festival. In 2010, RPG Metanoia debuted as the first Philippine-made feature fully rendered in 3D. The work of Filipino animators has also been more visibly present and vocal in non-Filipino productions like Disney’s Moana and a Pixar short titled Float.
Slated for 2020, Netflix Asia is looking to produce an animated series adaptation of Trese, a black and white horror komik series written by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. Trese follows Alexandra Trese, a detective who specializes in dealing with supernatural crimes occurring in the capital region of the Philippines. An animated adaptation would be a huge plus to bringing light to the Trese original komik and to Filipino-based work as a whole to a wider market. The only downside to this is that despite its Filipino origins, the Netflix series is to be handled by BASE Entertainment, a studio based in Jakarta and Singapore.
Rocketsheep Studios is just one of many Filipino collectives hoping to further develop and improve an art form that has already thrived in its own way. But for Rocketsheep specifically, they are hoping to de-stigmatize and redefine what those capabilities are even beyond the locally confined limits of what Filipino animation is thought to be. It is important to reiterate that the majority of the studio’s work comes from local gigs and are produced in-house. “We just want to make people laugh and show our countrymen and the rest of the world that the Philippines can produce its own animated films,” Liongoren says.
Hayop Ka! is currently not planned for international distribution, but if it ever will be, it is something that will hopefully be welcomed with open arms.