Thoroughly Pinoy ‘Pony’

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A resounding cheer echoed in the cinema during the Manila premiere of the new animated film, “My Little Pony: The Movie,” last week.

Pardon the 75 Filipino staffers of Top Draw Animation, the company that worked on the new cartoon film, but the end credits proved to be the most thrilling part.

“We were very proud after the screening,” recalls Stella Dearing, senior vice president of Top Draw, a firm based in Ortigas Center. “It’s our first time to work on a feature-length film, and it’s such an iconic property…a series that’s very popular not only among kids, but also among adults.”

Seeing their work on the big screen was made all the more special, considering the sacrifices that the entire team had done for the project.

“It took us almost a year to finish it,” Dearing recounts. “It wasn’t easy.”

It was not uncommon for the team to log in “12 to 14 hours a day, even on weekends.”

The process likewise entailed a lot of back-and-forth, as the work of the Filipino animators had to be approved by the foreign producers on the other side of the globe.

Mercifully, Top Draw is quite familiar with the characters and their nuances, since it also works on the boob-tube version of “My Little Pony.”

“It helped tremendously,” Dearing points out. “We have a good understanding of the personalities of each character.”

Still, an animated movie is “more demanding,” because “every little detail is magnified and pops out” on the silver screen. Our team had to be extra meticulous as we worked on each scene, frame by frame,” she relates.

Dearing clarifies that although the Filipino animators didn’t handle the preproduction, voice and storyboarding, they worked on “roughly 80 percent of the film (primarily, the background, layout),” using the software Harmony, which was created by Toon Boom Animation.

Top Draw bagged the plum assignment because of its longtime collaboration with DHX Media, a Vancouver-based production, broadcasting and distribution firm that was contacted by Hasbro, the world-famous toy company that owns “My Little Pony.” “Since we’ve been working on the TV series, our company was an obvious choice,” Dearing notes.


Other projects

Apart from “My Little Pony,” Top Draw was involved in other TV cartoon shows and direct-to-video movies, too.

“We worked on the TV shows ‘Littlest Pet Shop,’ ‘Transformers,’ as well as the latest version of ‘Tom & Jerry,’” she volunteers.

“Our company has been around for 19 years—supplying animation work to North America, Europe and Australia.”

Local schools like Ateneo de Naga University, the University of Makati and De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, have been producing a new breed of Filipino artists who are equipped with the skills and training for the international scene, she says.

Indeed, the country has been blessed with gifted animators (some of whom have landed lucrative gigs in Disney and Pixar), but when will we see the rise of an all-Filipino animated film in the global market?

It’s not just a matter of time and talent, but also of having the right material. “It’s a question of marketability, as well. Instead of culturally specific concepts, we need stories that will resonate universally.” –