Dreams of a Young Animator

14 Sep

Note: I did not submit this piece for critique.

Manila, Philippines — Animation is not for the weak.

Lovers of the medium who go past the age of thirteen are sometimes derided in media as geeks, nerds or social outcasts. Many fail to see that it takes patience, hard work and a whole lot of dedication to create a single frame. As a result, animation only appears as a nostalgic trip down memory lane in a ‘normal’ adult conversation, and rarely taken seriously as a mature form of art.

Maria Christina Ramona “Mikki” Crisostomo, 22, is one of those atypical individuals who have long passed the age limit, and yet still carries a burning torch for animation.

In late 2009 to early 2010, at a time when everyone else opted to do experimental, documentary or narrative films, she was the only one who ventured into animation.

This alumna of the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI) is not your typical moviegoer. While most are either in it for the mindless fun, or for the exercise of snobbish criticism, she wants to walk out of movies full of wonder and inspired to create.

As a child, she remembers crying at the sight of Mufasa falling to his death in The Lion King. She saw it twice – and bawled both times.

She also recalls watching betamax tapes of Fantasia and Winnie the Pooh.

“My brother and sister and I would watch the part where Pooh does his morning exercises in front of a mirror and copy the moves like totally cool people,” she says.

Although she loved Disney movies, none made her think that it was what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.

Ironically, it was a live-action film which spawned the determination to have an animated thesis. “I watched Amelie back in first year college, in my parents’ room. Suddenly, there was [this scene]… I ran to the closet and watched it there. For a long time after the movie ended, I was just sitting there,” she says. “I was so moved. It was the eureka moment.”

Wanting to emulate the whimsical quality of the movie, she felt that it was the definitive cue that led to her eventual ‘animated’ future.

Come March 2010, the Institute did not give out an award for best animated thesis because they only had a single contender. Nonetheless, her animated undergraduate thesis, Bottled Star, garnered unanimous praise from her panelists for the its unusual mode of storytelling and sterling musical score.

The thesis film portrays escapism in the modern age. It is about people surrounding themselves with commodified dreams and items that they do not really need, and these things blinds them from seeing what the world has to offer. Its greatest strength is its ability to provoke a strong emotional response. For a 5 and a half minute film, you would think that there is hardly any effort involved. You would, of course, be very wrong.

From the start, she had wanted to work with 2D animation. This resulted in a laborious production process that lasted from January to March 2010 – all for 5 and a half minutes!

The first part is always the hardest. In her case, this involved drawing everything – background, props and characters – on paper and split up the body parts that moved. After scanning into Adobe Photoshop, coloring and layering the body parts into the proper places were next. After Effects came in handy for the finishing stages. Here was where the actual animation took shape. Music and sound were added after.

Her love of animation has certainly taken her far at such a young age. Aside from her thesis, she has also produced and directed a five-minute digital documentary, Drawstrings: The Dream, that chronicles in brief the life and times of the Philippine animation industry. It was one of the five competing student documentaries vying for top prize at the UNESCO Memory of the World (MOW) Competition.

Crisostomo currently works as an artist at Roadrunner Network, a commercial and feature films post-production company. She also does freelance work for Tuldok Animation Studios.

However corporate she may look now, she says, she still has big dreams for her brand of animation. She is in the process of entering Bottled Star into the Animahanesyon 2010: 4th Philippine Animation Festival. Animahenasyon is the flagship project of the Animation Council of the Philippines, Inc. which showcases original animated works of both aspiring and professional animators through its annual competition.

She laments, however, that as a young animator it is hard to get recognition for her work. “We’re too in love with Japanese or Western animation to bother with what we’ve got here,” she says.

“So many of our animators have a sterling reputation outside the country. They work for Pixar, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network… all those big studios have Filipinos,” she adds. “But we’re still in this rut.”

What is missing here?

“The fundamental difference is not the quality of films, but the mentality of the local audience,” she says. She relates a story where she went to Animahenasyon in UP for the first time, lured by the promise of quality animation and free entrance. She was one of only two audience members.

That says it all about the sad state of animation in the country. And yet for Mikki, she trudges on, hoping that one day the Philippine animation can one day be called a true, thriving industry.

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