“If you don’t mind, name me at least three original Filipino animations.”
I was left speechless. I tried weaseling out of it by naming movies from Pixar since they hired Filipino animators. He wasn’t impressed. He is Gino Caparas, CEO and co-founder of a local online motion graphics animation studio, Stream Engine Studios.
In the end, I named RPG Metanoia and Urduja, two entries from the annual Metro Manila Film Festival over recent years. I realized how ignorant I was with local animation. “RPG Metanoia didn’t really do well. After MMFF’s limited distribution, I haven’t seen a single DVD. I’ve only seen it on YouTube, pirated. It’s really sad. If it’s pirated, it doesn’t go to the production company,” he said.
Awareness is a problem Stream Engine Studios hopes to solve. At heart, the animation studio creates animated explainer videos primarily for startups. When the studio started, they didn’t have a grand plan to solve a big problem in society. They were just trying to make a living by spreading the word about what their startup clients can do. But as the studio grew and the startup ecosystem matured, Caparas saw a bigger dream for the country’s animators.
Caparas co-founded Stream Engine Studios but he came from a management background in college. However, he said “[he’s] always been interested in design and cartoons. [He] never thought [he] would end up in the animation industry.”
After a couple of jobs, he decided to pursue his love for illustration, design, and the Internet. In 2012, Stream Engine Studios was born.
As with most startups, the studio wasn’t a walk in the park. It was difficult. “Sobra. I quit my job. At the end of the year, wala na akong pera. I had to live on a thousand pesos per month. We had to bootstrap everything. Everything had to be done with 200 to 300 percent effort,” he added.
“The hardest part was the uncertainty. You had to make a lot of sacrifices. It’s totally different. One of the uncertain things was the income and having to secure your future. You’ll never know if it’s going to go big. It involves taking risks and sticking to your guns.”
He had to fulfill multiple roles for every project: sales, marketing, and production. Bootstrapping kept the business lean and the costs down.
It all paid off eventually. They now have clients from big industries like Globe, Kickstart Ventures, and Sulit.ph. They’ve branched out to different audiences. Recently, they’ve started creating their own original content and entertainment.
Stream Engine Studios now employs animators full time with a complement of interns working behind the scenes. “It feels like having kids. Before, it was just your career. Now, you have to take care of everybody else’s career. They’re also partners in building the future of the company. It’s like leveling up, another stage in a video game.”
Keeping it (fun and) real
Each animation style is different, according to the preferences of the client. Despite the drive for constant originality, there are consistent elements the studio wants to show for every animation.
“One, we want to keep things fun. Two, we want to keep things real. Tao pa rin ang gumagawa nito. Hindi kami robot. These are real people. We always infuse our own brand, our own style.”
The animation process consists of the kick-off, the storyboarding, the production, and the online launch. It starts with the kick-off or a casual chat with the client to talk about what they need. The storyboarding involves drawing the different scenes. Production should take two to three weeks, but the studio has already made videos in one week to one day. The studio prides itself with their short lead time, whereas other companies take months.
Their work has also been cited for awards. Their most popular animation is their award-winning How to Create a Stream Engine Video found on their YouTube channel. It tells you what you need to know about the animation studio.
Onwards to entertainment…
Last year, Stream Engine Studios started creating their own original content. They’ve created their own webseries, Best Quest and We Are Witches. The studio wants to move from just pure client work to a business-to-consumer model. And they’re succeeding. These videos have accumulated thousands of views. Viewers are willing to pay for a freemium subscription model.
More than profit, the studio is looking to create a sustainable ecosystem for animators. “If you’re an artist, you find a project then you get hired. After that project, you find another. It’s not sustainable. As soon as the clients realize that it’s cheaper in other countries, we’re dead. All the projects are gone and we haven’t even created a sustainable industry for the arts. We have to find our audience first. They become fans. Those fans become patrons. They will help support your art so you can keep creating more. That’s the cycle I want.”
It’s a cycle they proved plausible with Best Quest. One of Stream Engine Studios’ big plans is Stream Engine TV, an app platform to help animators and visual storytellers to publish their own series. The app aims to gather artists from the Philippines (and eventually, the ASEAN region) and market them through the platform. “We want to create communities of fans to support these artists.”
…then world domination.
The studio’s mission started off as “better communication through animation.” After a while, they realized that there’s a greater challenge outside the country.
“I realized that, one, the animation industry needs a sustainable business model and, two, we need a digital content industry. Not a lot of people are familiar with what we do. It can be a distribution issue, but it’s definitely not a talent issue. Every animator here is so talented. They just need a platform to earn and be recognized.”
Since then, they’ve tweaked their mission statement to “world domination through animation.”
“Because it rhymes,” he joked. But in all seriousness, Caparas wants to put the Philippines on the map as an animation and storytelling powerhouse. “No matter what we do, what ties it all together is the story. When we create an animated explainer video, nagkukuwento kami.”
“We want to show the world na kaya rin namin. The main problem we see is lack of recognition for Filipino talent. Second is not seeing that the competition is there, not just here. I believe that studios here should band together to form a local digital content industry.”
“Ultimately, I want to be international, bringing revenue from other countries and creating jobs so animators can sustain their families. Not just that, it also helps empower the creative industry so they can say na kaya pala. So we won’t just be relegated to outsource work. The number one industry [in the Philippines] is the BPO industry. That’s great, but what I want is to move from working for other countries to making our own. No more starving artists.”
“In [Stream Engine Studios, our artists are] paid full-time. Elsewhere, they’re employed part-time. They’re assigned a specific scene in an animation. They have to finish it or they don’t get paid. Some artists literally sleep in the office, under their desks. They say that every artist should go through that, but I don’t believe that. I want to disrupt that status quo of the animation industry.”
“Maghihirap ka talaga, pero ‘di mo kailangang maghirap.”
“We’re just a bunch of geeks who make cartoons. That geekery will help us scale and grow. We’re not here to compete. We’re here to help.”
This article was published in the August issue of 2.O Magazine.