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Filipinos on Top of Hollywood Animation

By Cynthia De Castro/Asianjournal.com

IN recent decades, most US animation companies have relied on Filipino talents to bring to life varied characters from Mulan to The Lion King to the Little Mermaid.

If you look closer at  animated films, you will see that there is a bahay kubo in little clownfish Nemo’s aquarium in Finding Nemo.  And there is a Mt. Mayon-inspired miniature volcano, Mt. Wanahakalugi. Thank Mang Nelson Bohol from Catbalogan for that touch of Pinoy in one of Hollywood’s box-office blockbusters.

Animator Virginia “Gini” Cruz, a Fine Arts graduate of the University of Santo Tomas from Pasay City, got to animate Dory, the bluefish voiced by Ellen DeGeneres.

In Lilo & Stitch, there are parols hanging in little Hawaiian girl Lilo’s Christmas sequence of the movie. That is the work of Manila-born animator Armand Serrano.

The surfer dude in the same movie, David Kawena, and the lovable alien Pleakley were brought to life by 20-year veteran award-winning animator Ruben Aquino from Mandaluyong.

The Flintstones Christmas Carol, an animated film nominated for the Emmys, takes place in Bedrock but is made in the Philippines.

Then, there is Stargate Digital’s Anthony Ocampo, a Fine Arts graduate of the University of the Philippines, who won the Visual Effects Society Award for his work on the Trojan horse in Helen of Troy.

Global Animation Haven

The Philippines is now known as the global animation haven. Industry estimates say about 90 percent of American television cartoons are now produced in Asia. Of that, more and more are bringing their business to the Philippines.

The animation industry in the Philippines started in 1983 when Burbank Animation, Inc. set up the first animation studio in the country. This was quickly followed by Fil-Cartoons, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hanna Barbera, a subsidiary of Turner Broadcasting which employs nearly 650 people in Manila. Filipino artists and technicians draw, paint and film up to 25,000 sketches, mainly by hand, for every 30-minute episode.

After 20 years, the animation industry now employs 4,500 full time employees in 40 animation studios in the country. Its estimated revenues last year reached 54 million US dollars, according to reports.

Sense of Humor

The Filipinos’ sense of humor makes this profession a natural thing for us. Our love of storytelling and telling jokes as a people despite life’s adversities are traits that are valuable in this line of work. Pinoy animators are recognized not only for their creative and artistic skills, an important factor in animation, but also for the consistent quality and speed by which they can deliver their output. They also pay close attention to detail and are proficient in English. Plus, they have an innate ability to comprehend concepts and storylines better than their Asian counterparts.

Mina Caliguia, managing director of ArtFarm Asia, the first animation school in the Philippines, supports this notion.

“We are entertainers by heart. We are expressive. We are unabashed in expressing movement, compared to our Asian counterparts. We are loud, physical, and wacky. All these characteristics have been translated into art form. That’s why we’re such good animators.”

Another advantage that Filipinos have is the fact that they understand the nuances of American humor better than their other Asian counterparts.
“Because of the Western influence the Philippines has had for so many decades, and when you’re doing a cartoon [with] Western humor, [Filipino animators are] able to animate it much better,” said Bill Dennis of Fil-Cartoons.

Visit the various film studios in the US and you’ll be proud to see several wacky Filipinos in the drawing tables or cubicles.

Jessie Romero, animator

In 20th Century Fox Animation, you will find outstanding Filipino animator Jessie Romero. Born in Quezon City, Jessie was among a few animators hired from Manila to work in major studios in the States more than decade ago.

Recently, Romero related to Asian Journal his adventure from Manila to the entertainment capital of the world.

“Bata pa ako, mahilig na akong mag-drawing (I really love to draw even as a kid.). When I learned that Fil-Cartoons needed artists, I applied. There were several hundred applicants. Thank God, I was among the few who made it. Two of us were immediately transferred to work on Walt Disney projects.”

“In 1996, 20th Century Fox was hiring Filipino artists to work on  Anastasia the Movie. Again, there were hundreds of applicants. And by God’s amazing grace I was one of the few who passed the test. I knew it was only by God’s provision that I was able to pass because there was a lot of very talented people who took the test. Even my bosses took the chance and tried to get in but did not make it,” Romero added.

Sixty Filipino artists were brought to Arizona with their families. Jessie was supposed to be among them but his agent singled him out and brought him to Los Angeles. And the rest, as they say, is history.

For the past 11 years, Jessie has worked for Fox Animation Studios, Film Roman, Klasky Csupo, Nickelodeon, Hanna Barbera, Paramount Pictures and Walt Disney TV. He was one of the few artists who were chosen to do The Rugrats. Among the many other animation films Jessie has worked for are Flintstones Christmas special, Tom and Jerry, Addams Family, Johnny Quest, Avatar, Winnie the Pooh, King of the Hill, Yogi the Easter Bear, Avengers, Darkwing Duck, Beauty and the Beast, 101 Dalmatians, Power Puff Girls,Captain Planet and American Dad.

“Every project that I worked on is my favorite because it’s the passion of doing art work that’s the most important thing to me. Every project for me is a masterpiece,” told Asian Journal.

Home

Jessie revealed that in his first few months in the US, he was so homesick he wanted to go home to the Philippines.

“I didn’t liked the States at first, “ he admitted.  “After 3 months of staying here, I was so homesick, I wanted to go home and just stay in the Philippines. But I had a contract to finish.”

“Homesickness is one battleground that is really hard to tackle. Being alone in a foreign country was a pain. But the Lord is good. He brought me to a good church, Word International Ministries- LA where I met a new set of friends and family. It’s also where I met my wife Lizette. We now have 3 kids- Jacob, Jessica and Jeremy. For all the success and happiness I have now, I give glory to God,” Jessie said.

Jessie revealed that in the animation industry in the States, Filipinos are known for their great creativity and accomplishments. “Our race is well respected in our field,” he announced.

Jessie offered this advice to his kababayans.

“For all the Pinoys who are starting your life here in the States, my advice is to learn the culture that you are in. Educate yourself on how to deal with the new environment. Don’t hesitate to ask for professional advice. If you are willing to stay here for good, do not procrastinate in taking care of your documents. Make sure you have the right counsel because there a lot of people in this part of the world that will take advantage of you being new here in the States. Finally, be strong and trust that the Lord  will see you through. God bless you,” said the animator who is also a music minister in his church.

Thanks to Jessie and other Pinoy animators, Filipinos are being regarded in the global market as animators par excellence; Manila is als the cartoon capital of the world. So, the next time you watch a TV cartoon or an animated film, take a closer look.  You just might spot some Pinoy touches like a colorful jeepney or a bahay kubo.

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Galing Pinoy: A FilAm on Comedy Central

By Joseph Pimentel/AsianJournal.com

AFTER a hilarious panel performance, FilAm comedian Jo Koy gives his audience yet another jocular reason to smile.

On November 6, during the taping of E! Cable Television Network ‘Chelsea Lately,’ Koy announced that he is set to have his own show on cable TV. ‘Chelsea Lately’ is one of E!’s top-rated shows and is hosted by female comedian, Chelsea Handler.

“I’m coming out with a new comedy series that will be shown on Comedy Central,” said Koy to the audience as he left the set to the green room.

Comedy Central signed Koy to a one-year, one-season deal last August. He is being represented by one of the most illustrious talent group in Hollywood Creative Artist Agency (CAA).

Koy said that the format of his show is going to be similar to Carlos Mencia’s “Mind of Mencia,” but with a Filipino flavor.

“It’s going to be a variety show focusing on different topics like growing up Filipino and Asian and just growing up in general,” he said in an interview with the Asian Journal.

“I want this to be about us,” he added.

Koy also recently filmed a 30-minute performance on Comedy Central’s “Premium Blend” program.

Koy permitted the Asian Journal to accompany him during the taping of his panel appearance on ‘Chelsea Lately.’

Koy was part of a panel which included Dr. Drew Pinsky from Loveline and Star Magazine Editor Bonnie Fuller. They talked about different topics including magician David Copperfield’s recent legal woes, Sarah Jessica Parker voted as the un-sexiest woman alive and other things going on in pop culture.

During the taping, the audience laughed their loudest when Koy made fun of the issues.

“Chelsea is great,” he said after the show. “She’s awesome. She was just really quick [and] on-point. I’m just happy that I sat right next to her.”

“My favorite jokes of the night were [about] Star Jones. I thought that was funny,” he added. “And Sarah Jessica Parker when I said ‘if she had a brother that they would look exactly the same.”

“Overall, I gave my performance an eight or a nine. It was fun.”

Filipino Roots

Born in Tacoma, Washington, Koy started performing since he was young child. Koy is half-Filipino, half-Caucasian. However, he relates with his Filipino side the most.

“My [Filipino] mom raised me and my sisters,” he said.

Koy’s pale complexion is not typically Filipino, but he is definitely Pinoy. Koy’s comedic routine normally includes jokes about growing up Filipino. He would joke about how his mom would point things with her lips or pick things up with her feet.

A crowd favorite, Jo Koy also impersonates the way his mother mispronounces her P’s and F’s.

“My mom would always ask me, ‘Josef, are you going to the Laugh Pactory.’ Are you going to be punny?”

Koy credits his mother for his comedic and acting talents. At an early age, he and his sister Rowena (a Las Vegas singer) were always encouraged by their mother to participate in school talent shows and impromptu performances in front of family and friends.

“My mom used to force us (my sister and I) to these school talent shows,” he reminisced. “She would get all into it. My sister and I did a Michael Jackson performance and my mom made the rhinestone gloves just like Michael Jackson.”

From Open Mic…

Koy started his career as a comedian after high school doing open mics in a Seattle coffeehouse.

“I remember having to perform while the workers would grind coffee,” he said. “I bombed. I wasn’t any good.”

However, it wasn’t until his family moved to Las Vegas, Nevada where he seriously considered a career in comedy. In 1996, he started making a name for himself at comedy clubs in and around Las Vegas. He finally got a break when he tried his luck at the Catch a Rising Star comedy club at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino.

He said a talent coordinator from Los Angeles helped him land his first television appearance on the nationally syndicated show BET’s ‘Comic View.’

A week before the September 11, 2001 attacks, Koy won at the prestigious Showtime at the Apollo.

For the next few years, Koy bounced around the college and comedy club circuit. He has opened for comedians Dave Chappelle, Mike Epps, and rapper Snoop Doggy Dogg. He has also performed overseas for American Troops in Japan, Korea and Okinawa in the USO tour.

Koy’s career began to flourish when he moved to Los Angeles. He became a regular at the world famous Laugh Factory. The birth of his son motivated him even more to make it in the tough business and gave him comic relief as well.

“It’s one thing to be a struggling artist but another when your kid is starving,” he said.

Laugh Factory Owner Jamie Masada told this reporter two years ago that “Jo Koy is going to make it in this industry. He has everything. He is a mixture of Adam Sandler, Chris Rock and Jim Carrey.”

Last year, he received his biggest break when he performed on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Koy sported a jacket with a small Philippine flag above his heart. He was the first Filipino to be on the show.

“They don’t allow logos of any kind but I felt it was important to represent being Filipino,” he said.

His performance garnered him a standing ovation. He is only one of three comedians in the history of the show ever to receive a standing ovation. Following that momentum, he performed for the Jimmy Kimmel Live Show before touring the nation with Carlos Mencia’s Punisher Tour.

Earlier this year, the Entertainment Trade Publication Daily Variety mentioned Koy as one of the “10 comics to watch” of 2007.

Comedy Central saw his enormous popularity and pounced on Koy when the opportunity arose.

“It took me 12 years to make it,” admits Koy. “It took eight/ nine years just to get an agent. I deserve this because I worked hard.”

Not bad for someone that never received any formal acting or comedic training.

Writers Strike Impact

After Koy signed the deal with Comedy Central last August, the Writers Guild of America went on strike and had a slight effect on the production of his show.

For the past few months, the show has been in pre-production.

“It doesn’t affect me so far,” he said. “Since my show is new, it’s non-WGA but eventually, we are going to look for writers that are WGA affiliated.”

Koy said he understands the writers’ plight.

“I want them to get what they are fighting for because it’s only a matter of time before I’m in their shoes.”

Asked when the show was to be aired, Koy said, “we go in full production mode in January. Right now, we’re waiting for the strike to end and [we are] hoping that it will be settled within the next few months.” (AJ)

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Kid Jeopardy Champ is a FilAm

By Malou Aguilar/AsianJournal.com
CONCORD, CA — A proud lola, Mrs. Cely Rayco Millena called last week to share the good news about her granddaughter Rachel Lee A. Millena. At 10 years old, Rachel bested other whiz kids in the game show Kids Jeopardy aired last October 9.

A sixth grader at St. Francis Catholic School in Concord, Rachel was selected among 10,000 registered kids from age 10-12 years old. The numbers went down to 3,000, then to 200 and finally to 15 contestants.

Her road to becoming a Kids Jeopardy winner started when she saw the Kids Week registration ad. Rachel asked her parents for permission to register and take the online test last March, wherein each participant had to answer each of the 30 questions in 10 seconds. In July, Rachel was informed that she was one of the 200 finalists selected for an audition.

Among 15 contestants, Rachel became the biggest winner of the week. In her face-off with the two contestants during the final round, she had won $16,000 already. Faced with the final Jeopardy question, “Name the only US president who never lived in Washington, DC,” Rachel bet $12,000. She answered ‘George Washington’ and walked away with $28,000.

Just another girl

Bubbly, precocious and friendly were the impressions that this reporter had after her phone and e-mail interview with Asian Journal.

“Rachel is just like any 10-year-old girl,” said her father, Engr. Millena. He is a principal train control engineer at BART Systems Engineering. “She loves her American Girl doll, and is an avid reader.”

Aside from reading, Rachel loves history, plays the piano and is a member of the Walnut Creek Girls Golf Club. She also acts in her school drama class. As a sister, she loves playing with her sibling, Rebecca Lee, who is 8. Although there are times that they disagree with each other, being an older sister, Rachel has learned to be more understanding. “Rachel loves being a big sister and enjoys sharing the spotlight with her sister,” her father explained.

There is no doubt that her youth is just one part of her. Her answers showed how smart and intelligent she is. Engr. Millena said that Rachel likes to take on challenges and gives it her best shot.

“She, of course, enjoys meeting and overcoming those challenges but more importantly, she learns from her mistakes when she falls short,” her father said proudly.

Everybody’s game

During the interview on the show, Rachel said, “It’s everybody’s game.” For someone who won over thousands of kids to get to the final round, she was admittedly still nervous being on TV and competing with other kids.

“You never know what questions will come up,” Rachel shared. “…And there were a lot of smart kids there,” she added.

She never thought that she would emerge as the Final Jeopardy winner. “I was hoping to just have fun, learn something new and make friends,” Rachel said.

The Millenas made trips to Los Angeles for the past three months for the audition. When they received the call late July from the contestant coordinator, they were informed that Rachel was of the 15 kids selected. She prepared for the competition in Los Angeles by reviewing geography, history, US presidents and literature.

Still a Filipino

Although Rachel and her sister were born in the US, their parents instill in them their Filipino roots. Rachel’s proud grandparents, arrived here in 1979 as special immigrants granted to her lolo, Rolando Millena. He worked for 21 years at the Ship Repair Facility at the Subic Bay Naval Shipyard in Olongapo City as Chief Metallurgist. Rachel’s father was only 13 years old when he arrived in the US with his four other siblings.

Engr. Millena believes that it is very important to instill faith and humility in their daughters’ lives. He and his wife, Lea, a full-time mother and housewife, agree that without their own parents’ diligent efforts and dedication to provide them with the proper moral values and faith in God, there will not a be a moral compass to guide them. They also immerse their children in the traditions and culture of Filipinos. Being Bicolanos, they also participate in the Penafrancia Fiesta held in San Leandro every year.

“Of course, the ‘mano po’ blessing we greet our elders is one of the little things we have taught our girls,” said Engr. Millena.

Rachel and her sister visited the Philippines for the first time in July last year. Engr. Millena believed that it was an eye-opening experience for both.

“It’s one thing to be able to tell the girls stories from our own experiences when we lived there,” he said . “It is so much more when they actually see, feel, smell and live it there.”

Both girls enjoyed the experience so much. Aside from the sights, beautiful beaches, fresh fruits and wildlife, Rachel also had to chance to see her best friend, Gianna, who recently moved back to the Philippines.

After all the excitement, Rachel is busy with school and her extra curricular activities. She looks forward to her future — either as a novelist, concert pianist, photojournalist, or reporter. As for her $28,000 prize, most of it will be saved for her college fund and to buy a new laptop computer — a pink one. (www.asianjournal.com)

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