For Armand Serrano, it’s time to give back. A talented Filipino animator, Serrano has worked for some of the biggest companies in the world of animation for more than two decades. His resumé impressively carries experiences at Hanna-Barbera Studios, Marvel Productions, Sony Pictures Animation, and Walt Disney Animation Studios.
Now based in the United States, Serrano admits he is not yet ready to return to Philippines but is in every way ready to reach out and help the land of his birth.
He is set to stage an international entertainment design conference in Manila to which he has invited some of the best animators in the industry to take part.
Moreover, the conference dubbed as ICON Manila 2014 intends not only to share valuable knowledge, expertise and inspiration to Filipino animators—both aspiring and professional—that they can penetrate the international scene, but it also aims to benefit the victims of Super Typhoon Yolanda.
In March, Serrano held a homecoming to personally launch the most important event in his career. It takes place on July 3 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City, and can indeed become the start of something big.
Conferences with missions
He began, “Most people like me who built their career and secured our finances come to a point when we ask ourselves, ‘What is our next purpose in life?’ When we have succeeded using our talent—whatever talent we have—we realize that we can use it for a greater purpose.”
Enlightened and determined to make a meaningful difference, Serrano established ICON for Missions in Eastvale, California together with Pastor Sam Tanner, who accompanied him to Manila. ICON’s aim is to host various conferences worldwide to raise money for communities in need of Christian and humanitarian aid.
Rightly so, Serrano decided to launch ICON in his hometown. “I want Manila to be the hub of ICON conferences,” he declared. “But eventually, after ICON Manila 2014, we hope to branch out and do ICON Singapore, ICON Melbourne and more.”
As he sets his foundation’s base in Manila, The Sunday Times Magazine asked Serrano why he has not decided to come home for good as well. He replied, “I believe every person has a purpose. Even though I want to start my own studio here, I still can’t. So for now, I’m making a springboard of sorts so that I can bring animation talents over to train Filipino artists.”
Serrano added he realizes there remains a need for quality international conferences to be held in the country. He explained, “To vision for ICON Manila was conceived in 2013 when I talked at Animahenasyon and Graphika Manila [local conferences on design and animation]. From these, I realized that Filipino artists can learn so much more from international experts in terms of the craft and business of animation.”
Who then should attend ICON Manila? Serrano related, “The conference targets students and professionals alike. With our impressive line up of top industry leaders, our objective is to present a progressive view through the entertainment design process and impart new ideas that will ultimately strengthen Asia’s impact on the industry.”
As for ICON’s mission to help those in need, Serrano revealed that the foundation was also established to respond to the Yolanda tragedy that struck Central Visayas in November 2013. Hitting two birds with one stone, the funds generated from registrants to the very first ICON conference will be used for continuing relief and rehabilitation efforts.
“What’s more important for us is managing the money from the conference wisely,” Serrano continued. “We also have to identify where the needs of people are. They are not only in the Central Visayas; we also have orphanages and displaced people in Manila. We cannot solve everything but we will try to identify grassroots organizations to better help them in their work.”
Reputable animators as speakers
During ICON Manila’s media launch, Serrano proudly talked about the speakers he gathered for the foundation’s very first international conference.
First on his list is another Filipino artist based in the US, John Butiu, who will talk about 3D animation and modeling. Born in Davao City, Butiu has worked on a total of 25 animated films, commercials and rise films. Some of his most notable achievements include 3D visual development for Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 1 and 2, Surfs Up, and Chronicles of Narnia, among others.
Butiu has held lectures on 3D animation and how he broke into the industry around the world, such as Japan where he has given a series of talks in various art colleges around Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and Nagoya.
All praises for his countryman, Serrano recalled collaborating with Butiu for a project. He shared, “Butui single-handedly made all the locations in Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 1.”
Also imparting his expertise is Tony Bancroft who directed the Walt Disney classic, Mulan, as well as Sony Pictures’ memorable Stuart Little. He now runs his own animation studio, Toonacious Family Entertainment.
Next on the list is Vance Kovacs, a professional concept artist and illustrator, who will discuss film concept design. He is currently working for Warner Brothers. His latest titles include Justice League, Snow White and the Huntsman, and Thor among many others.
For character design, Stephen Silver will take the lead. He is the creator of Cartoon Network’s Kim Possible.
Marcelo Vignali is in charge of lecturing about production design and art direction. An animator for Sony Pictures Animation, Vignali has worked on Surfs Up, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, and Hotel Transylvania.
Serrano is grateful that these professionals agreed to offer their services for free at ICON Manila because they appreciated its benevolent goals. “Everyone I asked in the industry said yes, and they all volunteered to come Manila,” he said.
Completing the names of reputable animators is Serrano himself who will talk about visual development. His portfolio includes visual development for numerous Walt Disney successes like Mulan, Tarzan, and Lilo and Stitch. He is currently working for the studio’s biggest film opening this fall, Big Hero 6.
Activities and opportunities
ICON Manila participants will not only have the privilege to listen and interact with the conference speakers. They will be given valuable opportunities to further their passion, skill and talents by leading, specialized entertainment design institutions in North America.
One example is the online institution CG Masters Academy that has partnered with ICON Manila 2014 to mount a series of contests for both student and professional animators. Winners for every category organized will receive a free eight-week online class titled “Environment Sketching for Production” worth $699.
Schoolism.com, a topnotch online art school with industry professional instructors, will also give away 10 free online classes worth $470 each to 10 lucky ICON Manila 2014 participants. A raffle stub will be given to every registrant for the draw and the winners will be announced at the end of the conference.
Finally, ICON Manila also partnered with CTN Animation Expo, the biggest annual animation expo in the world. Serrano said, “We are working out the details on an upcoming design contest sponsored by CTNx open to all ICON participants. One winner will be picked to fly, all expenses paid, to CTN Animation Expo in Burbank, California in November. The contest’s mechanics will be announced at the event.”
Passion for animation
Talking more about himself to The Sunday Times Magazine, Serrano recounted how he made it big in Hollywood’s animation industry.
“I was a Civil Engineering graduate at the University of Santo Tomas. When I graduated in 1989, I practiced a little, but even when I was a student, I always wanted to work with something related to arts or music,” Serrano related.
Searching for other opportunities, Serrano soon applied to Fil-Cartoons when it was looking for animators in 1990. Back then, Fil-Cartoons was Hanna Barbera’s animation studio based in Manila.
His increasing passion for animation took him to work for Philippine Animation Studio in 1993 where he supervised the 2D layout department for iconic Marvel Production TV series like X-Men and Fantastic Four.
Bent to further improve his skills, Serrano relocated to Los Angeles in 1996 to pursue further studies in Animation Layout and Background Design. Soon after, he joined Walt Disney Animation for the first time in Florida. There, he became a layout journeyman where he produced some of his most notable works.
In 2004, he decided to transfer to the newly formed Sony Pictures Animation in Los Angeles. It was at this company that he began visual development as the studio’s conceptual art director and senior visual development artist. His projects for Sony totaled 15 animated films like Surfs Up, Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, Arthur Christmas and Hotel Transylvania.
Very recently, Serrano returned to Walt Disney for the second time. He was immediately given the task to develop visuals for Big Hero 6. He now resides in Eastvale with his family of three.
Serrano is also a freelance designer in game and commercial industries. His clients include Blizzard Entertainment and Fisher Price, among others.
Asked how he was able to thrive as a Filipino in the international animation industry, Serrano answered, “For all the Filipinos who are there, we all worked hard to survive and stay afloat. And at some point in our lives, we had to make difficult decisions to succeed especially in the animation industry.”
He clarified, however, that being Filipino did not make his journey harder or easier. He said, “What we went through is the same thing that a person from another nation would go through. Everyone has equal opportunities and the same roads to take.
“It’s a matter of who and how you are as a person. Do you want to stay in the ‘OK na yan’ category, or do you want to make a difference and be the best in this field? I believe that if Filipinos work hard, they can achieve their goals,” Serrano concluded.
For more details on the conference speakers, schedule, and tickets, visit www.iconmanila.com.