MANILA — Fred Flintstone is not from Bedrock. He is actually from this congested Asian city of 7 million people. So are Tom and Jerry, the Biker Mice from Mars, Aladdin and Donald Duck.
U.S. and other foreign cartoon producers are increasingly setting up shop in the Philippines because of lower production costs and the country's reputation for talented artists who understand American culture.
High labor costs have kept television cartoons from being produced in the United States since the 1970s. About 90% of all American television cartoons are produced in Asia, according to industry estimates, and now there is a discernible shift to the Philippines.
"I discovered that the animators were the best I had seen in Asia. They animate from their guts," said Colin Baker, the founder of Toon City, which has produced television shows for Walt Disney Co. such as "Timon and Pumbaa," a "Lion King" spinoff; "Duck Daze," featuring Donald Duck, and "Aladdin," a spinoff of that movie.
Most TV cartoons are made for the U.S. market. English is an official language in this former American colony, and familiarity with U.S. culture gives Filipinos an advantage over their Asian competitors in the animation field, industry executives say.
Filipinos "think Western," and "when you have to do a cartoon that is going to be played primarily to Western audiences, you need to have a group of artists that can understand the humor that goes with it," said Bill Dennis, general manager of Fil-Cartoons Inc., a subsidiary of Hanna-Barbera Inc.
Over the past 10 years, four major animation companies, employing more than 1,700 people, and several smaller studios have opened in Manila.
Major studios as such Disney, Marvel, Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera send storyboards--rough sketches outlining the action of the cartoon--and voice tracks to the Philippines. Filipino artists and technicians draw, paint and film about 20,000 sketches, mainly by hand, for every 30-minute episode. The material is then sent to the United States or Europe, where sound effects and music are added.
The product "is in English, so the benefit of not having to translate what you get into a local language like Korean or Chinese is quite substantial," said Wayne Dearing of Philippine Animation Studios Inc., which produces "Biker Mice From Mars" and "The Fantastic Four."
A 30-minute cartoon costs about $130,000 to produce in the Philippines, compared to at least $500,000 in the United States. Philippine studios are also cheaper than most of their Asian competitors.
"If in Korea they charge $200,000, we can do it for $165,000," Dearing said. Filipino animators earn an average of about $1,200 a month. Annual per-capita income in the country is $800.
Philippine studios have also begun to produce their own cartoons. Fil-Cartoons is producing two cartoons written and directed by its employees. Dennis hopes to sell the material to the Cartoon Network.
"It's really great because now the artists actually are going to get to see their names in the credits, which is really very special," he said.
Overseas production studios receive only a one-line credit that does not cite individual artists.