MANILA – Paul Abadilla left the Philippines and moved to California at the age of seven.
Fast forward to 2016: the 32-year-old Filipino-American is back home as a sketch artist for Pixar Animation Studios to promote the new movie “Finding Dory.”
And just like everyone’s favorite forgetful fish, he is in the process of rediscovering his roots.
“Right now, I’m kind of going through the things she’s (Dory) going through in the film,” explained Abadilla, who is part of the team who designed environments for “Finding Dory.”
“She’s in search of her roots and for me, it feels great to discover everything that was home to me here – the food, the people, and finding out that there’s more traffic than ever,” he added, laughing.
Abadilla grew up with a passion for drawing, which was fueled by his love for cartoons and his father, who is also an artist.
But it wasn’t until he was in high school when he realized that he wanted to pursue art as a career. “It took a team of artists to create these films,” he said, referring to the animated movies – Disney, mostly – that he has always enjoyed watching as a child.
“It could be a possible career for me, it’s something I could do as a profession. [I wanted to] go to the office and draw.”
‘Fail early, fail often’
Abadilla went on to study at San Jose State University, where he graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Animation and Illustration.
But life wasn’t always easy for this bright young artist. He hit a roadblock in his junior year when he was rejected from his dream internship at Pixar.
“I applied for an art internship at Pixar and I was rejected,” he recalled. “I just remember feeling so discouraged at the time. [I thought] ‘Man, that’s where I want to end up.’”
But instead of focusing on his failure, Abadilla bounced back by improving his skills and looking for another opportunity.
“So I took that event of my life and it helped light the fire even more. They say that when a door closes, a window opens. So the window was an art internship at Walt Disney Animation Studios. I used my time there as an opportunity to get better, to get my portfolio better,” he said.
Better equipped and more mature, he was able to get an internship at Pixar a year later.
Looking back, Abadilla believes that his experience of failure helped him meet his target. Failure also happens to play an important role in Pixar, the company’s mantra being “Fail early, fail often.”
“The thing that’s encouraged at Pixar is fail early, fail often. That means being able to put your ideas out there and getting feedback. That way, you’d be able to evaluate yourself, your strengths and weaknesses, and you’ll be able to move forward and become better,” he explained.
“I’ve been with Pixar for eight years… I appreciate the fact that I’m still here. It’s been great. I hope I stick around for another eight years.”
While artists are hired mainly for their skills, Abadilla said working at a prestigious company such as Pixar requires being adaptive and collaborative.
“Part of the job is to be adaptive to the changes and direction. One day, we might be working on a certain part of the story – or, for me, a certain environment. Then the next week or month, you find out that, ‘Hey, the whole set has been cut from the movie,’’ he shared.
“The challenge is to be resilient and be able to bounce back and move to the next task, and not let those changes affect you personally, because being an artist means you’re contributing to a team.”
“For me, I’m contributing to this effort to make the film the best it could,” he continued, referring to “Finding Dory.” “The challenge is to be able to move forward and just continue contributing.”
“Finding Dory” opens in the Philippines on Thursday.