For money and assurance: Local animation studio on casting celebrities over voice actors

Published June 17, 2021, 4:05 PM

by John Legaspi

Netflix’s ‘Trese’ has opened many conversations about the Philippine art scene, one of which is the dynamics between local voice actors and animation studios

Filipino animated works (Clockwise) “RPG Metanoia” (2010), “Urduja” (2008), “Trese” (2021), and “Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story” (2020)

After entering the grim, lamang lupa-infested Manila of Netflix’s high-anticipated anime series “Trese” comes the ruthless part of deciding what to love about it and what not to. Netizens and viewers praised the animation’s accurate depiction of the country’s capital. Avid fans of the comics loved how the show captured the mixed worlds of urban and mythological Philippines created by Budjette Tan and KaJO Baldisimo. But what divides everyone is the show’s dubbing and voice cast.

Over the weekend, viewers went to social media to express what they feel that could’ve been done to make what they are hearing a perfect match to what they are seeing on the screen. Some prefered to watch it in a different language and not in Filipino, others hoped the show hired other actresses for the lead or stuck with a cast completely composed of voice actors after being disappointed by Liza Soberano’s maiden voice acting performance.

While many agreed about the criticism of the young star’s voice acting debut, many also came to her defense, which includes Inka Magnaye, a social media personality and voice artist. Although she mentioned that the actress’ voice is perfect for the series’ protagonist Alexandra Trese, she also noted that more could’ve been done in the directing process.

This concern opened up a lot of conversations online about animation studios on hiring celebrities instead of voice actors. Inka even created a thread on Twitter to share her view on the subject.

“I really do wish animated films would give the PH VAs a chance. The same thing happened with ‘Hayop Ka,'” Inka tweeted. “All these film actors are great, but they already have their films and teleseryes and they’ve had more than their fair share of work. So I hope that the next animated projects will actually cast voice actors simply because that is our realm.”

“Ang dami nang films and TV shows in the Philippines, but when it comes to animations, we barely have projects na nga like this where our many wonderful Pinoy voice artists can shine, binibigay pa sa film actors,” she said in another tweet. “Support all Filipino talent. I promise you, we are worth it.”

Looking back on past decades, many or most of the animated features produced locally are led by a cast made of film and TV actors. Examples of these are the 2008 film “Urduja” with singer Regine Velasquez lending her voice for the titular role and 2010’s “RPG Metanoia” with actors Eugene Domingo, Vhong Navarro, and Zaijan Jaranilla. While having stars in the recording booth is not new in the field of animation, especially in the international scene, the lack of voice actors in the cast of some local animated features is seen as an unfair treatment.

Giving its two cents on the topic is local animation studio Rocketsheep Studio. The team behind the 2020 animated film “Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story,” which stars Angelica Panganiban, Robin Padilla, and Sam Milby, says that the issue “is incredibly ignorant to the reality of the state of Pinoy animation.”

“The reason why we have to cast celebs is simple: money… You know that elusive thing people need to make art?” the studio posted on Facebook.

“It takes at least three years to make an animated film or show while a live action romcom with famous actors can be made in the span of six months for the same amount, if not, less,” it continued. “It’s a very tough sell to financiers. Why fund something that takes so long when a faster option to make money exists? The few business folks that do buy in mitigate their risk by attaching popular names. It’s a very practical and logical compromise. We need their money and they need some kind assurance that it won’t go to waste.”

According to Rocketsheep Studio, the key to creating a great voice acting performance go hand in hand with directing, and that it will always be subjective.

“Pinoy animation is [in] its infancy. It is still being tested for [its] viability as a sound business venture. That is why in the hundred years of the existence of Philippine cinema, less than a dozen animated films have been made,” it says. “Studios like us barely survive doing what we do. We do not know of any Pinoy animation creator that is rolling around in money. Even the creators of something as hugely successful and popular as ‘Trese’ cannot quit their day jobs just yet to do that full-time.”

“Someday when our homegrown characters reach the popularity of Hello Kitty, Goku, or Mickey Mouse, celeb voices will be unnecessary,” the studio continued. “We yearn for that, too. We yearn for a wide sustainable industry. But for now we need celebs to create a future for Pinoy animation that more of us can be a part of.”

 
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