Ronnie del Carmen, Ricky Nierva: Pixar’s Filipino animators

WHEN the Academy Awards announces the winner of this year’s Best Picture, there will be two Fil-Ams watching the results closely.

Among the Best Picture awards nominated this year is Disney Pixar’s tenth full-length computer animated film UP. The critically-acclaimed blockbuster movie grossed more than $720 million worldwide and has been hailed as one of Disney’s best-animated movies.

Fil-Am animators Ronnie del Carmen and Ricky Nierva are part of the Academy Award-nominated Pixar team.

Del Carmen served as the Oscar nominated movie UP’s storyboard supervisor and Nierva led the production design team.

Del Carmen toned down the magnitude of the Oscar nomination. He wrote on his website that being nominated is a “win” already.

“What a ride!” del Carmen wrote on his website when the Best Picture nominated movies were announced on February. “It’s been a long journey that’s about to culminate in March. For myself, I am counting today as the win. We made it to the big boys table with UP being nominated for Best Picture along with the other live action movies. We make movies, we tell stories. These days the fact that a movie is made completely with computers or a percentage is not a discussion anymore. It is just making movies.”

The Making of UP

UP was one of the top movies of the year in 2009. The movie tells the story of Carl Fredricksen, a 78-year-old man fulfilling his deceased wife’s last adventure wish, and Russell, an Asian-American wilderness explorer trying to earn his last wilderness patch.

Directed by Pete Docter, UP received critical acclaim for its story, computer animation and has been nominated in five categories in the upcoming Academy Awards. The movie has already won a Critics’ Choice Award and a Golden Globe for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Score.

For Nierva, UP was his first movie as production designer. Nierva has worked on other Pixar titles such as Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, and Toy Story 2.

According to, Nierva’s responsibility for the movie UP was to “uphold the vision of co-director Pete Docter.”

Docter had nothing but good things to say about Nierva.

“You need to create a world where that seems possible and believable. Plus, it’s just the way my aesthetic works. Ricky Nierva, production designer, really pushed into that direction as well,” Docter told “I always feel that if you want live action, go get live actors. Let’s play to the strengths of what animation does which is this great sense of simplification and caricature.”

Nierva told Inquirer that he had to come up with ideas for the look, design, lighting and other visual elements of the film, and work with a team that included sculptors and layout artists.

As story supervisor, Del Carmen had more responsibilities.

“I lead a team of story artists. We tell and dramatize the story from beginning to end. We do it with storyboards and story reels so it becomes an emotional, authentic experience. If you laugh or cry while watching the movie, it’s our fault,” Del Carmen told Inquirer.


Del Carmen graduated with a Fine Arts degree from the University of Santo Tomas in the Philippines. He worked briefly at an advertising agency before immigrating to the US in 1989.

Before joining Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, he’s worked at DreamWorks and Warner Brothers. He also publishes his own comic book, Paper Biscuit.

He’s worked on other critically-acclaimed animated movies including The Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, Finding Nemo, Ratatouille, and Wall E.

In an interview with GMA, he said he loves his work.

“The most fulfilling part of my work is to tell stories everyday to other people who like telling stories,” he said.

When UP came out on DVD and Blue-ray, among one of the special features added was Del Carmen’s 4-minute animated story, Dug’s Special Mission, which he wrote and directed.

Since working in animation, del Carmen has been lauded for his work.

He won a Daytime Emmy Award in the Outstanding Special Class Animated Program for Freakazoid and has won one Annie Award given by the International Animated Film Association for his work Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and nominated for two other Annie’s for Wall-E and UP.

Born in San Diego, Nierva had intended to become a doctor and studied at the University of California in San Diego.

“I had this weird stereotype of the starving artist. I thought you couldn’t make a career out of cartoons,” he said in Pixar’s Artist Corner.

But after a year at UCSD, he attended California Institute of the Arts, where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in Character Animation in 1994.

Three years later, Nierva joined the Pixar animation team as a visual development artist.

Nierva has worked on Monsters Inc, Ratatouille, and other animated films.

He told ABS-CBN that Pixar is a dream job and a great environment for animators.

“They create an environment here that everybody can pitch their ideas…whether he be somebody that’s not even from the art department that has an idea. Staying open, staying positive, that’s the culture,” said Nierva.


About filipinoachievers

A former tubagatherer turned OFW on my journey towards a successful online free-content provider. Co-founder of PhilNews.Ph, one of the Philippines Top 200 websites based on Alexa Ranking.
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