How the company known for its iconic animated Christmas displays continues to survive.
The Christmas season may happen only once every 12 months but to someone like Rey Rosario, it takes more or less a year to prepare for it.
It was a Monday afternoon early December when I met him. He was at his office in Cubao, Quezon City and around him, diagrams of mannequins and other curiosities were drawn on sheets of paper. Outside, a work area can be mistaken for an auto repair shop if not for the clutter of limbs and other body parts made of fiberglass. It was practically unmanned when I got there. But throughout most of 2018, so he told me, this, and the rest of the property is a place of high activity.
“About 100 people can work here at a time,” he said, “We can get very busy.”
Ray, after all, is the president and chief executive officer of Rosario Animated Display Inc. (RAD,) one of the most prominent companies dealing with animated displays in the Philippines. A legacy of the COD department store—which used to stage Christmas shows featuring moving displays at its storefront in Cubao—it is now known for setting up such attractions at commercial areas. This includes an elaborate Christmas program featuring moving displays situated on the walkway of the Greenhills Shopping Center.
“That was the biggest one we’ve ever made,” he said. “It was 60 meters back to back.” And because of it, RAD got a lot of attention from both the media and the public. This year, the company is on the pages local dailies again and it’s mostly for a 50-meter animated showcase recurring at the Araneta Center. Formally launched last November 23, the show, which talks about “homecomings” marked the return of COD-affiliated animated displays in the area.
“It is a short show,” he told me. But as we went through the particulars of the operation, it became clear that the same cannot be said of the process needed to produce it.
Whenever RAD prepares one of its displays, the group normally starts as early as January. “That’s when we begin conceptualizing,” Rosario told me. After that, the company’s artist, Jesus Olivarez, will start to draft up diagrams and other visual aids to be presented to prospective clients. Should these and the concept get approved, the company will then begin finalizing the script for the show, and eventually, start recording it along with music. “We rely a lot on sound and music,” Rosario said, “because we found that they really give life to the presentation.” Alberto Aguirre would then take over. Under his guidance, the company would begin producing the mannequins depending on the specifications of their clients. And once that’s done, it’s Rosario’s turn to animate them.
“I didn’t finish engineering in college,” he said. “I studied business management.” But he did grow up spending time at the workshop of RAD—the same workshop which made the displays for COD. And this, according to him, was what fueled his interest. Because of this, he is now part of his business (like his sister Tere who is involved in the company’s marketing.) And eventually, this put him in a position to understand just how difficult it can be to run it.
“It’ll take months,” he said. “Revisions would happen every now and then and difficulties would arise.” But it is work he deemed necessary—at least for the people relying on the company for their livelihoods and the legacy of a man he admires.
The story of RAD begins with the story of COD. Back in 1957, when the department store used to have a branch located at Avenida, Manila, Ray’s father, Alex, was one of the figures running the business and he wanted to draw in crowds for the holidays. They didn’t have funds for advertising back then so, instead of that, he, Aguirre and Vivencio Dioneda decided to start animating life-sized mannequins made of papier-mâché and wood to serve as the store’s attraction.
“But we weren’t the ones making the mannequins back then,” Aguirre said. “We just outsourced them.”
Nevertheless, he, Rosario and Olivarez all agreed that it managed to attract the attention of people.
“My father noticed this,” Rosario said, “so he decided to make it an annual thing.” And to make it a sustainable, Aguirre stepped in, requesting for the financial support of the senior Rosario so that he can figure out how to make mannequins and pave the way for the company independence on that aspect. “At that time,” he shared, “no one was making mannequins out of fiberglass. So I had to research it.”
Eventually, however, COD had to move to a more profitable location. Come the 1980s, COD was transferred to Cubao and this became the setting for the animated Christmas shows that a lot of people now remember fondly. In these events, General Romulo Avenue would be filled with people of all ages. Adults would be standing close to each other and kids would be sitting on some of their shoulders just to get a better view. And according to Rosario, nearly everyone he knew who grew up in Metro Manila knows those shows.
“I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who doesn’t,” he said. And as someone who was raised here, I found it easy to believe him.
Growing up in Metro Manila, I’ve come to realize that COD’s Christmas shows were consistent factors in the holiday celebrations. I remember people from the province who would visit the capital in December allotting some time to go to Cubao just to see the show. I also remember people talking about them and what they depicted: from stories about rural life to ones set in outer space. I recall the spectacle of it, the intriguing machinations of the COD storefront reminding me of some novelty clock with figures popping in and out to signal a new hour. Most importantly, I cannot forget how it would bring people together; how Cubao, through the show, could become one big street party that hardly discriminates who you are or where you’re from because all eyes are instead on this massive contraption at the storefront.
I got to see something like that again just recently. While having dinner with my family in Cubao early this month, I found General Roxas Street filled with people. Through the window of a restaurant I was dining in, I could see a group of girls tip-toeing to see over the crowd. Deeper into it, children were getting raised on the shoulders of their adult companions. Lights and sounds came on from a stage in front of them, and a story of homecoming began.
Following the closure of COD back in the early 2000s, I thought that I have seen the last of their animated shows. Since the department store was already closed, there was no reason for the elaborate marketing tool to be used. No soon after its closure, however, Rafa Ortigas got in touch with Rosario and his team to revive the animated shows for the Greenhills Shopping Center. When that happened, the company finally rebranded to RAD and fully embraced animated displays as its bread and butter. That, however, was only one of the few changes experienced by the company.
Ever since it began using animated displays, RAD has gone through a number of evolutions which eventually allowed it to be at the top of its game. For instance, the company’s mannequins have evolved drastically. According to Rosario, the use of fiberglass through Aguirre’s initiative allowed the displays to be lighter and easier to animate.
“Now the movements are more life-like compared to how they were before,” he said. “Before, they were just stationary.”
The themes have also expanded to tell different stories. Just recently, the company did a rendition of the Lion King during one of its shows. They also did a reimagining of Cinderella. And those are just two of the stories they’ve been telling since they started.
“It’s been a big evolution,” he said. But despite all of these changes, Rosario admitted that there are certain things he tried to retain. For example: the way his father tried to operate with transparency and the openness to other people’s contributions—two traits responsible for RAD’s growth.
“When [the senior Rosario] was still alive, he used to ask people involved in the animated mannequins to contribute their ideas openly,” said Aguirre. “He would gather us, get our ideas and get involved with the project because he was very hands on.”
The senior Rosario was also known for looking out for his people; he was a man who placed a lot of importance on having a pleasant working environment to retain his staff and this shows in the current roster.
“We have people working for us now who took the place of their parents,” his son said. “We have people who have been with us for a long time because they’re happy with the work they’re doing.” And through this consistent support of manpower, the company managed to last as long as it did—surviving even the changes in trends which have seen the end of their competitors.
“Before there used to be a lot of companies doing what we do,” he said. “Now, as far as I know, RAD is the only one left who does wide scale animated displays in the Philippines.” And they intend to continue surviving for years to come.
“I hope the legacy continues,” Rosario said. He admitted that it’ll continue to be difficult, that the short shows they do would still take about a year to complete. But he insists that as long as there is a good reason to keep doing it—and that remains to be the case, by the way—the company and its mannequins will continue moving.