Dennis E. Sebastian – 3D Animator & Producer Story

11 09 2015

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      Last September 7, 2015, Dennis was invited by Grace to give a talk at Top Peg Animation Studios for the staff and students about his experience as an independent 3D animator and producer. The talk was from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm and its about the story behind his creation Kaleh & Mbaki, the 3D Animation Pipeline.

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     Dennis is a 3D animator and a professor at the College of St. Benilde. He is an architectural graduate and a practising architect before he became a 3D animator. He says he didn’t stay long being an architect because his creative juices weren’t fully utilized in the firm. These days the architectural firms with large projects are the ones credited unlike before the individual architect was also recognized. 

     After his brief stint being an architect, he applied at ImaginAsia in the year 2000 at Mandaluyong City. He remembers at that time they were using very expensive equipments that were also used in Hollywood films such as Jurassic Park. Back then they would work on commercials and other video presentations but he was still searching for projects that he could be proud of. After sometime, the studio closed and he worked on the 3D movie Hoodwinked, which was voiced by Anne Hathaway and other celebrities. This was a great opportunity for him to learn and be part of a full length animated film. Despite his work, he still wanted to create his own project and this was when he began his work on Kaleh & Mbaki.

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     Dennis had a fiancé of 3 years, and they had a dream of migrating to the US one day. Their plan was if either of them flies there first, he or she would help the other one to follow. When an opportunity came for his fiancé to go to the US, he stayed behind. While still working here, he decided to start on his short film. He needed time to work on the project, but his work didn’t allow him any. So he quit his job, but he needed money to survive and finance his project. So he tried to work but quit again in other firms. Then in the middle of his project, his fiancé broke up with him. Heart broken but not deterred, he now thought he had more time for his project, which showed him where his passion really was.

    He showed us the short about a shaman – Mbaki and his hornbill friend – Kaleh. The story starts with Mbaki carving a drawing in stone. When Kaleh goes to him asking for fruits, Mbaki gestures him to wait as he was still busy. As Kaleh walks away he then threw a stone towards Mbaki, which angered him. Kaleh acted as if he didn’t do anything. As soon as Mbaki finished his work and was to say something to Kaleh; Kaleh threw a spider at Mbaki which scared Mbaki and made him grab his jungle  bolo. Seething with anger, Mbaki pointed his bolo at Kaleh. Kaleh thought he was going to be killed by Mbaki and he lost consciousness. Kaleh woke up beside a basket of fruits that Mbaki prepared for him. Kaleh approached Mbaki and shared him some of the fruits and Mbaki thanked him. When Mbaki was about to grab another fruit, Kaleh quickly got the basket and turned away. But Mbaki had a basket of fruits bigger than what he gave Kaleh which made him smile.

     After the show, Dennis gave tips on how to start your own story. He says the story comes first. Originally, Kaleh was a dog and his story was much more elaborate which had another character – a quail. He created a storyboard which he posted on his wall. He showed a picture of the storyboard panels covering the wall behind his computer. He broke every scene down to the number of scenes and the duration of each scene, the number of characters, props and effects of the shots. He then started to do all the assets. After the story, do some research. For me (Alstaire), I didn’t notice the film looked Filipino, but when Dennis told us his research, it became clear. The shaman – Mbaki looked like a native statue, his texture and anatomy were wood like in character. He said the design was based on the Ifugao’s wood carvings. He then searched for an animal, other than a dog that was endemic in the Philippines. He wanted a Toucan bird, but these birds are only found in South America. He then found a similar local bird but of a different species called the hornbill. He had to change the design by incorporating 2 kinds of hornbill species to come up with a colorful design. He said the formula was FU – which he teaches his classes at St. Benilde. The F stands for familiarity and U for uniqueness. You should make your film familiar to draw audiences but at the same time make it unique.

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     It took him almost 4 years to finish the 5 minute short. He wasn’t happy with it though, as he originally wanted a longer story that had more drama, but because of lack of budget and time he had to change the story. He said in the original script, there was suppose to be a sacrifice, close to the biblical story of Abraham and Isaac. Even though he wasn’t happy with the output, he entered it to different festivals and contests, where it got 8 recognitions here and abroad.  He quoted Pixar director – Ronnie del Carmen who emphasize that you create then get feedback, then repeat. Although he was not satisfied with the story, at least he finished it and got some feedback and recognition for it. Rather than going back and correcting the animation to its original story, Dennis would rather make a new one. He is now creating a new project about the local tribe Aetas, but he now he has a small team to work on it.

     Dennis recalled his days at ImaginAsia as he was starting in 3D animation. The computer that he was using at that time was a Silicon Graphics work station which cost about 1.2 million pesos. This was the same computer used at Pixar at that time. He then compared that machine to today’s laptop with the same power but more capability that only cost 35,000 pesos. So what is stopping us from creating our own Toy Story. 

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Article by Alstaire A. Sarthou

Photos by Grace A. Dimaranan

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