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'Hayop Ka!' And The Future of Filipino Animation

Guest contributor Elvie Mae Parian writes on upcoming Filipino adult animated feature Hayop Ka! and the often-overlooked potential of the animation industry in The Philippines. After decades producing work-for-hire for other countries, Filipino animation is ready to strike out on its own.

Animated by Rocketsheep Studios, Hayop Ka!, is the latest original animated feature anticipated to come out  of the Philippines. Nimfa Dimaano is currently a cat saleslady at a mall. Her life has been otherwise mundane, until she realizes she is possibly getting tangled into falling for two people at the same time. Nimfa’s longtime boyfriend, Roger, is a gruff and buff-looking askal. One of her customers, IƱigo, on the other hand, is a charmingly, smooth and refined (and wealthy!) husky. Nimfa finds herself in a bind as her feelings start to fleet between the two men. As the tensions escalate, as do other issues arise her life that she has not quite noticed before.

The film is titled after an expression that closely translates to “son of a bitch”. 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, adult animation.

Founder of Rocketsheep Studios, Avid Liongoren, takes pride in working on both live-action and animation. He studied Visual Communication in 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, in which he has since found many opportunities taken to his liking of mixing mediums.

Rocketsheep Studios was initially formed to specifically work on Saving Sally, a live-action blended with animation hybrid film that took the team over 12 years to make. Saving Sally follows an amateur comic book artist who has fallen in love. When he discovers the woman he has fallen for unfortunately lives a less than 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 financially risky and laborious endeavor, especially when there are no investors guaranteed upfront. It usually takes a huge investment to be driven to debt 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 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.

Liongoren hopes that producing more films 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 the benefit of productions in other countries.

For example, the Toei Company is one of the largest and most distinguished media and entertainment companies coming out of 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 undiscussed.

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, encouraging prospective students and professionals to participate. The Philippines has even already 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. Not too long later on 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 SparkShort titled Float.

Slated for 2020, Netflix Asia is also looking forward to producing an animated series adaptation of Trese, a black and white horror comic 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 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 artform 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 supposed to be.

“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.

Elvie Mae Parian is an animator who also likes to spend her spare time through writing and criticism. You can follow her on Twitter and see her own art on Instagram.