First Born

USA | 6 minutes | 2020

Animated short film directed by Justin Bruce Lee

First Born

Determined to gain favor in his family’s eyes and match his sister’s status, a boy must prove his worth and show his potential in an upcoming martial arts competition.


CineAsian Films (CAF): What was the inspiration behind this beautifully crafted film?
First Born Team: The inspiration is based on our animation supervisor Aerik Bertulfo. He has a younger sister who’s doing very well in school and her dance competitions. So Aerik’s parents put a lot of their attention on his younger sister. One day, Aerik’s mom said to him, “You know, it’s okay if you are not number one.” This kind of hurts Aerik’s feelings because he’s the first born and wants to make his parents proud of what he’s doing in animation. Then we wanted to combine the director (Justin Bruce Lee)’s experience with his kung fu competitions. That’s why First Born is all about Kung Fu and the main character trying to prove himself to his family.

CAF: The colors and details are so specific. What was the entire animation process like and how long did it take?
First Born Team: The entire animation process took a whole year to make. The first six months was the whole planning phase. First, Justin Bruce Lee and Aerik Bertulfo were writing the story from May 2019 to September 2019 with the guidance of their advisors from San Jose State University Animation Program. Then Justin Bruce Lee storyboarded the whole short and designed the characters at the same time with the help of David Diba. In November 2019, we finished the animatic of the film and started creating a proof of concept shot to see what we can achieve for the final look for the film. Starting in December 2019, the whole animation team started animating from rough to clean color. While that was occurring, David Diba, the art director, was designing and painting all the backgrounds with the aid of his visual development team. This also included David making 3D models of the kung fu stadium so we can execute the camera moving shots. David also designed and animated the special effects for the film which helped guide the whole animation team on animating their special effects shots. The next step was David compositing the whole film and Justin editing the whole film together. In June 2020, that’s when our film, First Born, was finished. One of our favorite memories is seeing the whole film finally come together where we almost cried of happiness or we were just very tired from the all-nighters hahaha.

CAF: We love the score and the original song! How did the team approach this knowing the music is such an important part of the film?
First Born Team: We knew the music was going to be very essential to the short film since we don’t have any dialogue in the film. When Justin was doing his storyboards, he used Joe Hisaishi’s Studio Ghibli music and taiko drum scores as his temp music and pitched it to our composer, Arnie Sainz, for what we were trying to go for. Arnie and his team did an amazing job in creating the original score and nailed the music for every part of the film. It was a struggle for Arnie and his team to create the music during the pandemic though. They had to record separately and Arnie had to put it all together. Lastly, we thought it would be nice to have an original song that will embody the whole short to end the film. We were grateful that Samantha Dacanay and Ezekiel John Saldajeno wrote and performed the song for us. Without our music team, it wouldn’t be First Born.

CAF: What are some projects you’re working on right now?
First Born Team: Right now, we are just planning on the story for our next short film while we are doing our day jobs. We want to thank the CAF team and everyone for the support for our film and hope to keep producing projects that everyone will enjoy in the future!

First Born is one of the many great projects shared with CineAsian Films through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them, submit your film.


Director, Writer, Producer, Head of Story: Justin Bruce Lee
Producers: Aerik Bertulfo, David Diba
Co-writer: Aerik Bertulfo
Art director: David Diba
Animation supervisor: Aerik Bertulfo
Composer: Arnie Co

Follow and Support the Filmmaker
@justbleeve | @firstborn_film