During the last season I noticed during Gamers!’s ending credits an animation studio that had performed the key animation for the show: 9lives. The names of the animators were all western, so I thought they were philipinos. After a short research I found out that I was not wrong and, having their contacts, I could not resist so I interviewed them about doing outsourcing work for Japanese productions.
Richie Marquez answered the questions. He works in the Sales & Marketing Department of the studio.
How 9lives entered inside the Japanese animation industry as an outsourcing animation studio and how profitable is this kind of job?
Most of our crew are composed of experienced animators who have worked for a big and well known Japanese animation company here in our country. Anime has always been our forte and we are just one of the very few companies who can do this type of animation work. Our big break came when a Japanese friend of ours referred us to some animation studios in Japan and told them that there is an animation company in the Philippines that is capable of doing Japanese animation production work. Some of the studios are very skeptical but some gave us a shot and conducted a meeting with us thru Skype. We are mostly after In-between and DIP (Digital Ink and Paint) works which is most common in outsourcing here in our country. To our surprise we were given Layout and Key animation jobs instead after they have seen some of our sample works. The job was for the anime – Youjo Senki at that time which became really popular in Japan. We got a very positive response from the directors and production coordinators in terms of our work and told us that they didn’t realize that other nationalities would be able to animate like the way they do and was very surprised with the work we did. To our surprise, they included our studio and names in the credits which we did not expect. We tried and accessed other animation companies from then on and happened to get more jobs from other studios. That’s basically how we broke into the Japanese anime market.
Having our own studio makes this venture quite profitable. We are able to take advantage of the lower labour costs in the Philippines compared to other countries like the US, Japan, Korea, Singapore, etc. At the same time, it’s also profitable for our artists since we are able to pay them a little bit more than local industry standard pay rates.
Japanese animators often struggle to live because of their poor salary and their unhealthy working conditions. However Philippines are a different country, with a very different cost of living. It’s possible for an average Filipino animator making a decent living doing animation for Japanese productions?
Yes, we believe that Filipino animators are making a decent living doing animation work for Japanese productions if we compare the cost of living here with Japan. Compared with western Animation projects though, Japanese Anime is more gruelling work and lesser pay. It’s the love for anime that drives most of our animators and crew to do this work. So it’s kind of true when the Japanese say it’s the love for anime which drives animators and their crew to make them.
The knowledge of the Japanese language is a requirement for the animators or there are other ways for the Japanese animation directors and key animators to send information to the Filipino 2nd key animators and in-between animators?
No, we do not require knowledge of the Japanese language for our animators. It would be nearly impossible to hire someone with both animation and language skills! We do have a Japanese national who acts as our translator. Sometimes the Japanese production teams also make the effort on sending us details in English which we are very grateful for.
With “Gamers!”, 9lives is finally doing proper key animation for a well-known Anime, with all the animators named in the ending credits. Have the layouts and the key frames been checked by the Japanese staff in time or been checked at all?
We’re very lucky and thankful for being a part of “Gamers”, the number 1 Anime in Japan now*. Of course as procedure Japanese Chief Key animators and Directors still check our works. So far we only get minimal corrections which key animators normally get.
Working at Tanya of Evil was different in some aspects? I noticed that animators weren’t named individually but only as a Studio.
Our work with “Youjo Senki (The Saga of Tanya the Evil)” was pretty much the same. I think the first time they included us in the end credits, they only put the studio’s name, but in the other episodes that we did, we were given full credits, including the names of our animators.
Which scenes did the studio animate for these two works?
For “Youjo Senki (The Saga of Tanya the Evil)” and “Gamers”, we did Key Animation and Layout. We did about 25-30% of one episode for both. Scenes are assigned randomly by the directors so sometimes we get the first parts of the scenes and then jump on scenes that are near the end.
There is a specific problem that the studio is facing repeatedly during the production of materials destined to Japanese studios?
Maybe an occasional lag in the internet, which caused a few delays in the transmission of works, and a few translation problems here and there. Other than that, everything else went smoothly.
What’s the strong point of 9lives right now?
We believe that we’re the only studio in the Philippines right now that is capable of providing high-quality full-production Japanese anime works, from pre-production planning & designs up to final composite & editing. Our main specialty is the Japanese Animation Production pipeline & technology which makes us the only company in the country that produces Japan-quality Anime production.
Aside from that, we also have our own school, the South East Asian Center of Animation Technology, or SEACAT, for short. Here, we teach our students everything they need from basic technical drawing to 2D and 3D Animator Courses, and Manga Courses as well. We make sure that our graduates are “industry-ready” by the time we let them go. We also offer our best students the option to work for 9Lives. So, it’s like having our own breeding and training facility for our future animators.
Right now, what’s the biggest problem the Philippine animation industry is struggling with?
We believe that it’s the lack of support from the government in addressing this particular industry. Although animation training is subsidized by the government, there is no proper or formal agency to oversee how schools are being run and how or where animators are ending up. The animators who excel here are usually hired by foreign studios and offered bigger pay, that’s why there’s always a shortage of locally available talent. There’s also a lack of support from the private sector. Big media outfits would rather buy old animation abroad and dub them in Tagalog rather than produce original local shows.
Philippines culture is indeed pretty underrated right now outside Asia. Do you think that Filipino original animation could give to the world a better view of the country in the future?
Definitely! Filipinos have shown that they can be at par with the best in the world when it comes to the arts. Animation is no different. We don’t think that you can watch a single hit animated movie, whether it’s by Disney, Pixar or Marvel, without seeing a Filipino’s name in the end credits. Our industry just needs a big break. If there is a producer who would be willing to finance an original animation project, we’re quite sure that we will be able to put the Philippines on the world map of animation!
Thank you for the precious time spent on the questions and i hope the best for Just Because!
Thank also for this interview. It was very unexpected that someone like you & your group will even notice a small animation group such as ourselves. Hopefully we get to work on more episodes and other Anime shows in the future. We will always do our best to deliver the best quality of work our studio has to offer.
*I Don’t know where he found that information(maybe he is referring about this picture which is totally irrelevant when it comes to the Japanese anime market) but i’m pretty sure Gamers wasn’t even the most popular show during the last Summer season but at least it’s a well received anime here in the West.