Like the beloved blue tang in ‘Finding Dory’

Pixar artist Paul Abadilla and his journey back home

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 ‘Like Dory who is in search of her roots, I similarly feel like I’m rediscovering tastes, sights, and smells of  home,’ says Abadilla

‘Like Dory who is in search of her roots, I similarly feel like I’m rediscovering tastes, sights, and smells of home,’ says Abadilla

In the movie Finding Dory, which opens across the Philippines tomorrow, Dory—the blue tang who suffers from short term memory gap—suddenly finds herself longing for her family. As a result, she leaves behind the comfort of a familiar environment and sets on a journey to find them.

In real life, Filipino-American Pixar Studio sketch artist Paul Abadilla—who helped the huge team of animators and illustrators complete the sequel to Finding Nemo—also found himself longing for his homeland, thus his excitement over his current visit to Manila.

“Like Dory who is in search of her roots, where she and her family came from, I similarly feel like I’m rediscovering tastes, sights, smells, the warm temperature and the weather here which I love. It’s getting that familiar feeling back. It feels so good to me and I feel right at home. I love it!” Abadilla enthused to The Manila Times in an interview on Monday.

But unlike Dory who cannot remember his childhood, Abadilla vividly recall his humble beginnings in the Philippines.


Speaking in front of students and the media to promote his studio’s latest movie at Makati Diamond Residences, Abadilla shared he grew up in his family’s home in Alabang and his paternal grandmother’s apartment in Pandacan until they migrated to the United States of America when he was just seven years old.

He also remembers how he loved to draw and sketch even in his formative years and how the absence of toys helped him develop his hobby.

“I always loved to draw. I think I learned how to as soon as I was able to hold a pencil,” he laughed. “Also, I didn’t have much toys and that’s when I turned to my school supplies, which were really just there. I think, I drew naturally because of that.”

Paul Abadilla who is currently in Manila, generously shared his knowledge in animation with Filipino admirers PHOTO BY LORENZO MENDOZA

Paul Abadilla who is currently in Manila, generously shared his knowledge in animation with Filipino admirers PHOTO BY LORENZO MENDOZA

From viewer to creator
Like most children who grew up before the prevalence of smartphones and handheld gadgets, Abadilla had been fixated with cartoons. It wasn’t long until he realized that he wanted to make a career out of it.

“I watched a lot of cartoons and Disney movies when I was a kid. During that time, I thought that cartoons really existed like in real life,” the 32-year old artist shared.

“It wasn’t until high school when I admitted that, ‘OK it took a team of artists to create these films and cartoons’,” he continued, laughing at himself.

Abadilla specifically cited watching Disney’s Tarzan and Alladin as the definitive moment that he wanted to work in animation.

“I saw a possible path and career in animation—being somehow involved in animation, in some shape or form was, to me, a dream job. With that in mind, I knew I wanted to pursue that,” he wholeheartedly shared.

When he came of age, and with his parents’ full support, Abadilla decided to pursue Bache­lor of Fine Arts in Animation/Illustration at the San Jose State University in California.

Then came the time when he had to take on an internship program as part of his course requirement. Having been a fan all his life, he knew where to apply right away.

“When I saw films like Toy Story and Finding Nemo, I knew there was something about Pixar Animation Studios, and I knew I wanted to work for them,” Abadilla narrated.

Unfortunately, his enthusiasm wasn’t reciprocated back then and he sadly got a rejection letter following his application. The young artist-in-the-making was not disheartened, though, and fixed his eyes on Disney Animation Studios. He eventually bagged the training he needed.

A year later, Abadilla reapplied at Pixar and—because dreams do come true—was finally accepted as a trainee.

Now if his life were a movie, this would be the part where the protagonist would have hurdled the story’s conflict, allowing the audience to breathe a sigh of relief, knowing that the resolution is just about to happen.

And yes, Abadilla gets to complete his training with flying colors, graduate summa cum laude from his university, and ultimately, a week later, start his actual work for Pixar. But, since real life is doesn’t necessarily have a movie’s five main parts, the promising Fil-American finds himself starting over again, facing conflicts, climaxes—sometimes anti-climaxes—denouements, and unexpected conclusions even at his dream job.

Challenge, fulfillment
At Pixar—which by the way employs a lot of Filipinos, who call themselves ‘PixNoys’ or Pinoy Pixarians—Abadilla is hard at work as a sketch artist.

“I am primarily a set designer so I’m responsible for designing the environments you see in our movies. My work specifically involves set, color and shading, and lighting designs,” he explained.

Working for the company for eight years now, Abadilla has been credited for the doing the set design in the 2008 feature animation Brave, his first movie; character shading design in 2013’s Monsters University; and color scripting in Pixar’s first indie movie The Blue Umbrella and first TV special Toy Story of Terror. He also did the color script of Lava, an “appetizer” shown in cinemas right before the actual screening of the 2015 movie Inside Out, which he also worked on.

Abadilla shared that it is challenging to be in an industry where a week or a month’s worth of hard work in creating a scene can easily be reduced to mere seconds or a few frames in the final movie. Worse, the effort could end up in the chopping block.

These “rejections,” however, are all part of the job, telling his awe-struck audience, most of whom also aspire to enter the world of animation, that they must learn how to be resilient in order to survive.

“The challenge is to be resilient and to be adaptive to change. That’s a huge part of what we do at Pixar. We are encouraged to fail early and to fail often so that we can get to the good stuff as soon as we can,” the sketch artist said.

If one can get past that, the fulfillment is all worth it.

Outside his talk, Abadilla told The Manila Times how he first felt, and actually continues to feel so, whenever he sees his handiwork on the big screen.

“Sometimes you are so zoomed in to the making of the movie and then all of a sudden time passes and then you see it as a whole. When that eventually happens to me, I am always in awe of the final product because everybody has brought their best into making the movie. I’m always thinking how a bunch of crazy people can make something look so beautiful. And even though I’m part of it, it’s still all magical to me, and I still find myself wondering, ‘How did they do that?’ It’s genuine excitement and amazement I feel in our every project.”

Finally, Abadilla said that, as designers, their fulfillment lies in bringing the audience into a seemingly real world, just like how he felt during his childhood.

“What’s key for us as we as do the research and exploration designs is to make sure our audience believes that they are in this world,” Abadilla enthused.

As his latest work opens during his homecoming to the Philippines, the artist is generously taking time out of being with family and friends to share his experiences with young Filipinos. He believes that if he can do it, so can many others for he knows he comes from a talented race.

And so, as Paul Abadilla finds home again, he hasn’t come empty handed. He brings with him the magic of making dreams come true.

Globe Broadband facilitated The Manila Times interview with Paul Abadilla in line with its subscriber promotions for free tickets to private block screenings of Disney/Pixar’s Finding Dory. Log on to their website at www.globe.com.ph for more information.

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