animation industry

[Only IN Hollywood] Fil-Am animator on working on 2 Golden Globe-nominated Disney films

Ruben V. Nepales
[Only IN Hollywood] Fil-Am animator on working on 2 Golden Globe-nominated Disney films
Mikee reveals that one of 'Encanto’s' main characters reminds him of his Filipina mother

LOS ANGELES, USA – Mikee Sevilla’s first time ever to work on a Disney animated film was with Raya and the Last Dragon. For his second Disney film, the Filipino-American helped animate Encanto.

And now, both movies are nominated for the 2022 Golden Globe for Best Animated Film.

In the recent Golden Globe nominations announcement by Snoop Dogg and Helen Hoehne, president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA), which votes on and presents the awards, the other three animated contenders were Luca, also by Disney, Neon/Participant’s Flee, and Totem Films’ My Sunny Maad.

It’s quite an honor for a fledgling animator like Mikee to have already collaborated on two high-profile Disney movies this early.

Mikee, whom we profiled last March for his contribution to Raya and the Last Dragon, added his character animation artistry to Encanto.

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Set in Colombia, Encanto depicts how a young girl, Mirabel, copes with her frustration of being the only member of the Madrigal family who does not have magical powers.

The musical-fantasy-comedy, powered by Lin-Manuel Miranda’s original songs, is directed by Jared Bush and Byron Howard and co-directed by Charise Castro Smith.

A sweet, colorful paean to family dynamics, Encanto is voiced by Stephanie Beatriz (Mirabel), John Leguizamo (Bruno), Maria Cecilia Botero (Abuela), Mauro Castillo (Felix), Wilmer Valderrama (Agustin), Maluma (Mariano), and more.

As one of Encanto’s character animators, Mikee got to add his creative touch to the film’s core family in one scene.

In our video call, I asked Mikee about this scene. “Oh, my goodness,” Mikee enthused.

“I animated the entire family running out of the dining room, and each character has their own personality. So, specificity was very important, making sure that every character felt authentic and themselves.”

THE MADRIGALS. The rowdy family in ‘Encanto.’ Still courtesy of Disney.

Mikee, who began his journey as an animator by saving money to enroll in online animation classes, revealed that one of Encanto’s main characters reminded him of his Filipina mother.

He said, “I also got to animate Abuela, who makes me feel like I am seeing my mom. I’m always drawing inspiration from my family, and my mom especially. I’m very happy that I was able to infuse some of my mom into Abuela.”

The soft-spoken artist added, “I enjoy seeing people I relate to. My mom especially, she has these quirks and very specific gestures.”

“So as an animator, that is so much fun to me. I really enjoy getting to animate those kinds of opportunities.”

Mikee also empathized with the film’s main protagonist, Mirabel, who is different from the rest of the family. Lin-Manuel’s songs reflect Mirabel’s emotions.

“Oh man, I feel her pain every time she sings,” Mikee admitted. “I just want to give her a big hug when I hear her singing about pain and her longing to belong and for her family. I definitely deeply connect with that so much.”

Mikee elaborated on identifying with Mirabel. “For Mirabel, it’s mostly about just trying to fit in and be included. Her family has shut her out.”

“And I relate to Mirabel longing to belong in the family and just having a clear role and asking, someone just tell me what to do, and how do I fit into this family? So that’s definitely how I relate to her.”

MIRABEL. Mikee Sevilla on Mirabel crooning Lin-Manuel Miranda’s songs: ‘I just want to give her a big hug when I hear her singing about pain and her longing to belong and for her family. I definitely deeply connect with that so much.’ Still courtesy of Disney.

Beaming, Mikee said animating the characters to the songs by Lin-Manuel and score by Germaine Franco made him hum the melodies even in the shower.

“The songs are definitely incredible,” he shared. “I have been singing all of the songs in the shower for the past year so I just feel like I’m so addicted to listening to the songs.”

“They’re very catchy and you just want to learn all the lyrics and dance to them. They’re just so much fun to animate to.”

He cited two songs: “’We Don’t Talk About Bruno’ is my number one song. And of course, ‘Waiting on a Miracle,’ because I requested to be on that sequence.”

“I relate to that song so much. So, I’m very grateful that I was able to be a part of that.”

In the Golden Globe nominations announcement at the International Ballroom of The Beverly Hilton, where the winners will also be announced on January 9, Dos Oruguitas, Lin-Manuel’s first full Spanish song composition, was the one from the film that got nominated.

On collaborating with not one but three filmmakers, Mikee replied, “I feel like they complement each other very well. They feel like they’re of one mind.”

“They all have this clear vision of what the film should be, which was so much fun. Byron, Jared, and Charise are so much fun to work with.”

I asked Mikee how different his experience was in working on Encanto, compared to his stint on Raya and the Last Dragon, which featured the first Disney Southeast Asian princess (voiced by Kelly Marie Tran) and is the first Disney animated film set in that region.

Mikee answered, “I feel like Raya was more action-packed. And I can definitely see a lot of similarities with [my Asian roots]. There were things in Raya and the Last Dragon where I knew exactly how that is supposed to be.”

“Whereas I feel like in Encanto, I had to consult the Colombian cultural consultants a lot more because you’re always trying to be careful about authenticity and some gestures that are specific to Colombia.”

Still, he appreciated the similarities between Colombians and Filipinos. Like the gesture of pointing to objects or places by puckering lips and moving mouths to a certain direction.

“Yeah, there are definitely some similarities as well,” Mikee said. “I know in the Philippines, we would point with our lips, like, over there (points with his lips). In Colombia, they do it too, which was such a pleasant surprise.”

“This is amazing, just seeing how we’re in different countries but we share a lot in common. And I thought that was really cool to see that on a Disney animated film, which is really exciting.”

As he did with Raya and the Last Dragon, Mikee worked on Encanto in his kitchen counter because of the pandemic. “Yes, we are still working from home,” he confirmed.

MIKEE. Filipino-American Mikee Sevilla worked as a character animator in his first two Disney films. Photo contributed by Sevilla.

I asked the Fil-Am, who has been working in animation for a number of years before he landed the plum Disney gig, if he dreams of directing an animated film someday.

“I’m still learning animation,” he replied. “And Disney is such an amazing school.”

“I’m learning so much from the company. I feel like that would be a dream come true if I directed a project one day but yeah, I hope.”

In the meantime, does he plan to try other areas of animation work?

“I deeply enjoy character animation so I think I want to specialize in this field and in this craft,” Mikee replied. “But maybe [I will do] story one day. I would like to try my hand at crafting story pitches and yeah, working more with directors on that.”

On his advice to talents from all over the world who aspire to work at the Walt Disney Animation Studios, Mikee said, “The artists who do want to work at Disney – they definitely should work on the things that they’re passionate about.”

“If it’s a personal story, if it’s specific to the Philippines, I highly encourage they pursue that and submit their work to Disney.”

“Filipino stories should be told globally. I think it’s really important to bring that to the global and international stage.”

As our Zoom chat drew to a close, I asked Mikee if he could disclose what his next Disney film project was going to be.

“I cannot,” he said with a big smile that lit his face. “Well, hopefully they’ll announce something soon but we’ll see.”

Pressed if he is already busy on this new movie, Mikee, still grinning, only said, “Yes, I am working on the next film at the moment.” –

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Ruben V. Nepales

Based in Los Angeles, Ruben V. Nepales is an award-winning journalist whose honors include prizes from the National Arts & Entertainment Journalism Awards, a US-wide competition, and the Southern California Journalism Awards, presented by the Los Angeles Press Club.