Wednesday, August 04, 2010

A Long-Ass Rant

Here's the story. Last year, someone from Philippine Animation Magazine emailed the people behind Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa these questions. I dunno what happened to that magazine but about a week ago, a student asked me if I would be willing to do an interview for some class project. I remembered the Philippine Animation Magazine questions so I sent the student this:

Please provide us a brief background of yourself (you may submit a personal portfolio/resume).

I am Randy “Squid” Villanueva and I’m the head writer of Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa. My super power is capturing braingasms and putting them down on paper. By day I am a mild-mannered television writer. Yet when night comes and the Big Kamote of Quezon City is shrouded by the shadow of crime, I turn into an evil-tempered television writer.

Where do you work currently and what is your specific task in the company?

I’m responsible for creating the scripts. I like to think that if this was Starcraft, I’d be a Zerg Cerebrate. Some people would at least agree that I’m just about as nasty. Cerebrates are just misunderstood, methinks. But I digress.

My job starts with the conceptualization of an episode. Once I have a concept for a story approved, I lead that mewling thing towards a storyline; that is, a written narration of the story from beginning to end. Once that’s approved, I turn it into a sequence treatment. That’s basically the script without the dialogues. When that’s approved, I use eldritch magicks and turn it into a script. Dialogues, hair, and all.
You might think writing the script is the biggest part of the job. It’s not. Writing a script for a half-hour show takes a few hours. It’s actually the revisions that will suck the marrow of your everlasting soul. Revisions for Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa take at least ten drafts for each episode. At least. The reason for this is that an animated series is much more critically analyzed than live-action scripts. You can easily shoot additional material for live-action shows. Additional shoots are much cheaper. Also, for live-action shows, you always have the option to reedit everything using existing footage from multiple cameras. For cartoons, you don’t have any of these options, obviously. Your gun is loaded with a really expensive silver bullet so you have to make that shot count and bring down that abomination, fortheloveofallthingsgoodandholy.

After the story has been wrestled from the air, brought to its knees, and beaten down onto the page, it’s time for the storyboards. The artists call it thumbnails. It’s basically the script that the artists have turned into per-shot drawings. Writers, artists, and producers sit down in that session and see if the script is working. My job there is to look at the drawings and see if the artists’ interpretation of the script is accurate. If they understood my intention for each action and dialogue. If a certain scene isn’t working, I’m there to think up alternatives. After that session, we go our separate ways. I revise my script and the artists revise their drawings based on that session. Then we get together again to discuss the revisions. We keep doing that until everything’s streamlined and polished. Then it’s the animators’ turn.

The next step of my job is during the viewing of the animatics. This is a video version of the thumbnails with accurate timing and dialogues provided by dubbers. Do all the dialogues work? Does the story work this way? Should there be additional dialogues? You must understand that we are working with drawn characters here, not actors. Drawn characters do not ad lib their way through a scene when there’s no specific instruction on what to do and say. In animation, a writer has to jot down every single thing that’s said and seen on the screen. A call for a single reaction of a character that’s taken as obvious in live action must be specified in an animation script. Even the crowd cheering in the background must be provided with dialogue. A lot of times, I even provide paralinguals; that is, grunts, gasps, and the like. This part of creating the episode takes a few sessions. After that, it’s all back in the animators’ hands again.

The next part is viewing the rough edit of the episode. At this point, there is very little we can do if there’s something that’s not working. But this is network TV so we’ll exhaust all resources or die trying. No one really gives up polishing an episode just because it seems impossible. There are a few episodes, for instance, where the solution is to re-edit the sequencing of events. Other solutions include sacrificing the blood of infants to Shub-Niggurath and Her Thousand Young, but we haven’t gotten to that point yet. After a few of these sessions, it’s time to create the final dubbing script.
For that, I’d be given a copy of the episode and threatened with bodily harm if I copy it and give it to the rival network. I’d sit through the episode and add dialogues where necessary.

All in all, I’ve personally written about half the episodes of the show. The other half, I’ve either co-written, supervised, or brought into howling, clawing fruition through darker means.

While the job of head writer for Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa is basically what I’ve said above, I also make a nuisance of myself by sticking my nose into other creative issues.

How did you start in your chosen profession? What are your past & current works (only those you want highlighted)? Please provide a brief description of each one and awards you receive for each work.

Pretty much because my muse bullied me into it. Now, traditionally, muses are depicted as beautiful women. Mine looks like Christopher Walken with blood-encrusted knuckles and a 12-gauge pump-action shotgun with its barrel and stock pared down to assault-weapon proportions.

I started writing because I wanted to see more of the stories I enjoy reading and watching. I’m a Disciple of the Church of Awesome, an Acolyte of the Temple of Cool, and a Hierophant of the Order of Kickass. I wanted a lot more of those in Philippine mainstream entertainment. I also started writing because I was a pretty good liar as a child and I realized I could make money making up stuff. Most of all, I started writing because I love stories. Stories are humanity’s emotional spoor. Telling each other stories  is humanity’s way of making sense of the dispassionate universe, of comforting each other, of saying that yes, our lives mean something. Heady stuff, these stories. Powerful stuff. Prometheus’ fire stolen from the gods. I wanted to swim in such power, contribute to the group consciousness. Quasi-cosmic stuff like that.

My earliest work was done during high school. Everything before that was an abysmal miasma of juvenile crap akin to what you’ll find in a Mexican prison’s urinal. I’ve written and directed plays and musicals back in high school and in UP Los Baños. I’ve also been a student DJ in UPLB’s college-wide FM radio station and we wrote our own scripts back then. I also dabbled in Spoken Word in beatnik bars. Food for the soul but not actually a profession. To actually put food on the table, I had to turn to the mainstream.

My life as a professional writer started when I chucked my artsy-fartsy fluffery out the bus window on my way to ABS-CBN back in 2000. I became a brainstormer for Creative Synergy’s Concept Development Group (CDG). That was the first time I met Über-brain Enrico Santos, a man some of us not-so-secretly call Papa Jesus behind his back due to his creative super powers. The man’s brainwaves have been known to cause seizures in small dogs and hideous mutations in fruit flies. I’ve also brainstormed for Star Cinema projects that year. A few months later, I got into !okA tokaT. Raymund Dizon was the executive producer of that show back then. After that I’ve written for various shows including Star Studio Presents, Nginiiig!, Wazzup! Wazzup!, Little Big Star, and Noypi. I’ve been the head writer of Studio 23’s Nginiiig! The Hidden Files (later called Nginiiig! Paranormal Investigations). I also co-created Pinoy Mano Mano and became its reality head writer. I was part of Enrico and Raymund’s Creative Mafioso that pulled Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa and Kung Fu Kids out of our collective brain vajayjays.

Do you have a formal training in animation? How did this help you develop your skills in animation?

Did I have any formal training in animation? No. But I’ve something better. I’m a geek. I grew up on comic books, cartoons, awesome teevee, loincloth fantasy, and pulp science fiction. I was the type of kid who would rather replay in my head how Optimus Prime beat the living daylights out of Megatron despite the latter’s treachery in Transformers: the Movie than watch basketball with my peers. I actually spent a week trying to figure out how Paul Muad’dib used Voice to bend weaker minds to his will. I was suspected of being a Satanist when I was in grade school because I was into the occult, especially the Ars Goetia and the Necronomicon. Broke my heart when I learned the Necronomicon wasn’t real and I couldn’t actually summon the legions of Gehenna to do my bidding.

The point is that formal training in any creative field only teaches one the shape of the beast and doesn’t actually imbue the acolyte with powers. I took up Communication Arts in college and it didn’t teach me how to write. That comes as a distillation of all the geekery I’ve absorbed (and still absorbing) throughout my life.

What is/are your inspiration/s in creating your work?

Jeez, a lot: videogames, comic books, cartoons (from the East, from the West, and everything in between), movies, Internet retardedry, music, science fiction and fantasy novels, classical literature, television series, the occult, the Bible, the Book of Enoch, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Heimskringla, Broadway, heavy metal, art, architecture, ancient cultures, yadada yadada yadada. In a nutshell, everything awesome, from philosophy to pornography. The alchemy of drawing elements from these things and throwing them together in the blender of the mind and then praying to whatever god you hold in your heart that whatever comes out will not suck out your brain through your eyeballs… it’s this act, this communion with the mindscape, that excites me the most.

As an example, let’s look at the Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa episode called Max. That one was directly inspired by the medieval magician Dr. Faustus, who sold his soul to the devil called Mephistopheles for knowledge and power. People familiar with the story of Dr. Faustus would know why I named the main character of my script Max Faustino and the main villain Tophel. It’s the times when I get away with subversively throwing high brow stuff into the cogs of the mainstream machine that warms the cockles of my heart.

I also like guro manga but let’s not talk about that. You never know who’s listening.

Do you follow a formula in your artwork or are/is there guiding principles/style when you make a show/project?

The question isn’t developing a formula when writing scripts but breaking away from them as much as your network bosses will allow you. Mainstream entertainment is notoriously formulaic and the situation isn’t any different for cartoons. It’s a vicious cycle, really: someone makes a certain kind of story, the audience eats it up, the network turns that story into a formula, the audience keeps eating more of it until they can’t recognize any other way of telling a story. When the indie scene tells a story a different way, it seems alien to the average Filipino so he’ll ignore it for the more comfortable formula. And so a television writer’s first and greatest realization is that he is boxed in by that formula. Some writers adhere to it because it’s a job. Writers like me keep straining at the leash and testing the limitations of that box. Sometimes we’re allowed to throw in some new stuff, and those are good times. It shows us that the box isn’t as impenetrable as it seems. Other times we get shot down and we pull ourselves back a little to fight another day. It’s a constant battle. We know we can’t win every time—heck, we lose, about ninety percent of the time—but we keep fighting for those little victories. That’s where innovation comes from, those little victories. Writers who want to inject fresh blood into mainstream entertainment must act like subversives. There are times when you get in just a name or a term that references something profound.

Personally, I try to put in as much uncomfortable questions in my stories. Uncomfortable questions that have uncomfortable answers.

What are your goals in making animation? What do you want to attain? What is the direction of your work?

To answer that question, we have to look at the current state of the Philippine Animation Industry. And this is going to be a mouthful:

Because of the prohibitive cost of making cartoons, there has never truly been a mainstream Filipino animation industry. The animation companies in the Philippines serve only as the labor force behind foreign animated projects. The image of slaves building the pyramids comes to mind. There have been attempts in the past to make local cartoon shows for television but none of them had ever prospered. Most animation projects created by Filipinos from conceptualization down to the final product are non-mainstream short films. There have been infrequent spurts, sure. Urduja and Dayo are mainstream projects that have appeared in recent years and have been given attention by the public. Yet because they didn’t do well in the theaters, producers only backed away even more from animated projects. Look, I’m not belittling Urduja and Dayo’s contribution. They are important. But their failure to make loads of money in the theaters only made producers even more scared of animated products. What we need right now are animated shows and movies that will make money so that producers would be easier to convince. If you want to see truly awesome mainstream Pinoy cartoons within your lifetime—animated shows and movies that can compete with Western and Japanese products—and if you want to see a lot of them, not just a squirt every decade, you have to understand that it’s going to come from entities with the money to make them with regularity and the resources to promote them to ensure that they sell well. Like network TV. Like ABS-CBN. For Filipino animation projects to ever profit enough to emerge as an industry, they will be made for television.

And then there are the networks that need to recognize that cartoons can be profitable. Networks would rather invest in live-action series because they’re less expensive to make. My answer: Pinoy live-action series can’t be as readily syndicated globally as cartoons. Global syndication of Filipino live-action shows is a tricky proposition at best since, among other factors, other countries rarely have any interest in our local stars. When it comes to animation though, that limitation disappears. This, as well as innovations in art, technique, and content, is what made the Western world take notice of Japanese animation, eventually turning it into the billion-dollar business that it is today. Looking at it this way, and taking into consideration the relatively cheaper cost of hiring Filipino artists and writers compared to Japan and the US, Pinoy cartoons can become the most profitable product of the Filipino television industry.

But making cartoons is expensive, isn’t it? Well, the emergence of Flash animation had significantly slashed the cost of making cartoons, enough so that mainstream television cartoon shows can now be produced and realistically expected to earn profit. Still pricey, sure, but as the old school advertisements say: abot-kaya na. The funny thing is that, for a lot of people, the term “Flash animation” still makes them think of South Park. I myself didn’t respect Flash animation until I saw our animators’ demo reels. Wow. So Flash can do THAT!

Herein enters Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa.

Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa deserves a lot of attention from the Filipino public because of its historical significance. The show is an important turning point in the evolution of Filipino television. It is the biggest, most expensive, and most ambitious Pinoy cartoon series to date. By creating Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa, ABS-CBN is in the position to start a truly Filipino mainstream animation industry. The potential of animation to become an extremely profitable endeavor and at the same time to put Filipino talent on the map is simply mind-blowing.

And there you have it. The goal? To put the Philippines on the freaking map. To make Filipino cartoons that are at par and able to compete with Japanese and American products. To be on top of this slice of the kingdom.

Before ABS-CBN can succeed in this, however, there must be a certain shift in creative attitudes because to be noticed internationally and received well, a Philippine-made cartoon series must be innovative in art, technique, and content—the very same formula Japanese cartoons applied. Foremost in this shift is finding scriptwriters who can make stories for an audience much different from ABS-CBN’s core market of mothers and adult females. Animation is the realm of teens and young adults. These writers must also be able to tell more intelligent tales than what the Filipino TV viewer is accustomed to. The developed world, as we know, travels through a different creative landscape, putting a premium in thought-provoking tales, themes that explore philosophical and existential issues, and storytelling inspired by literary approaches. Genres we avoid in local shows like science fiction, dark post-apocalyptic stories, and alternate worlds (to name a few) are the staple of Western and Japanese cartoons. For creatives, embarking on projects aimed at the wider global audience would be terribly exciting because, at the very least, it kicks down the box that holds creativity at bay.

This, however, is not to say that writing cartoons for a global audience is only for scriptwriters who excel in the English language. Anime has never had a problem getting imported into other countries despite being written in Japanese.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. All that is in the future. Let’s concentrate of what’s happening right now. We have Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa, a series with the Filipino audience foremost in mind and not the global market. Too much so, think at least a couple of Internet otakus I’ve encountered. It’s too Pinoy, someone said. Not fit for global consumption. It’s too kiddie, someone else said. Not as thought-provoking as Japanese cartoons. Although the naysayers are very few and ratings are high, it’s still a good opportunity to explain what we’re trying to do. Here goes:

The cost of making the animated series meant that for it to be a profitable endeavor, it should attract not only teens and kids but also adults. Not an easy trick, I must add, since ABS-CBN’s core female market is generally not enthusiastic about cartoons at all. Thus, to attract this market, we needed to create stories that are more emotional than can be seen in most action/adventure cartoons. The problem is that if the stories are too sappy, the action-seeking teen market would undoubtedly be turned off. As far as the ratings are concerned, we think we’ve hit the right mix.

The fact that this show is rating means there will be more Pinoy cartoons to come as far as the network is concerned. That's how it was with fantaseryes. There was a time when network executives would raise their eyebrows if you suggest a fantasy show for TV. Then slowly, they got around to giving fantasy concepts the green light.

It’s not otaku-serving cartoons, that is very clear. Being a geek-ciple of anime myself, I can understand the frustration. We geeks want the mindwarping stories NOW. But the kind of anime we like are niche products. If we had a population as large as the US then niche shows would still be profitable. Unfortunately, we’re a small country. The good news is that Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa is the springboard for the mainstream Pinoy animation industry—not just an industry of artists merely doing labor for foreign projects. This is where it all starts: Pinoy artists and writers as creatives. One innovation that the show is currently contributing to this infant industry is the inclusion of artists and animators in the creative process. Whereas in the past, Filipino animators are merely regarded as the labor behind foreign animated projects, with Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa, the creative team worked hand in hand with the animation department in most stages of the process. Due to certain constraints, we had to invent a Filipino way of making cartoons. It’s admittedly a somewhat clunkier process than how they do it in Japan or in the US but, among other advantages, it reduces cost. ABS-CBN and the Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa group is at the head of this new frontier. We're showing potential producers out there that yes, Pinoy animation is now a viable product. We have proof. So go make your own cartoons. Let the competition begin. Because innovation best comes from competition. Let GMA make their own Mulawin or Darna cartoons. Let this industry blossom, by Jove.

We are breaking the cycle of infrequent spurts of mainstream Pinoy cartoons that aren’t profitable by having created an animated show that is so far selling well. Again, I’m pointing out that we’re setting the stage here. We’re providing the platform upon which the game will be played: We make this show and prove that it’s a sound investment to make an animated series. The other network does the same and attempts to make a better product. We improve our product or make a new, much better one to throw at the competition. So on and so forth. Animated shows emerge with regularity. Other outfits join in the fray. Filipino animators and writers get hired. Now let’s look at it from another attack: we make a really awesome animated series that otakus would cream their shorts over (believe me, we have mind-blowing concepts in our laptop hard drives just waiting for the opportune moment to be viable). The masses understand it about as much as Aling Bebang who sells fruit down the street understood what the heck Evangelion was about. The series flops because it’s only the otakus watching it. Advertisers won’t touch it. The network vows it’ll never make another animated show before 2020. We keep on watching foreign animation, dreaming that someday we will be able to contribute significantly to the art form. Everyone loses. So there’s no other way to do this that how we’re already doing it. The brainmelting stories, I assure you, will come later. Maybe sooner than expected.

What is your favorite animation movie/TV series? Why?

Asking a geek to name his favorite show is like asking a dude to name his favorite finger and then cut off everything else with a dull saw. But under threat of a similar fate, I would say Rurouni Kenshin. Notice I didn’t say Samurai X. My pretensions rear their ugly head.

Seriously, Samurai X has what I think is the perfect blend of emotionality, off-the-wall comedy, and awesome action. The fight between Kenshin and Saito—where Battousai Himura was leaping off the walls with his hair flailing about and both men had savage expressions on their visages—was so kickass the overload of awesome put me into a coma for a week. I’m a big samurai nut. Sue me.

Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood comes in at a very close second. I’d say Voltez V wins third place in my heart but that would be revealing too much of my age.

Who is your favorite animation director? Why?

Hiyao Miyazaki, hands down. I especially love the way he handles villains. His villains are not the clear-cut bad guys we usually see. His villains are heroes who have made wrong choices.

What is/are your message/s to aspiring animators?

You mean animation writers.

Here it is, the distillation of everything I have learned about writing for animation: if you’re not a disciple of all things awesome, you have no place here. Go away. Seriously. If you can sit in one of our creative meetings you’ll be treated to a high-octane session where each participant’s lifetime of geekery leaps naked and unapologetic into the light. If all you can contribute to the discussion is the episodes of Popeye you watched as a kid before abandoning geekery for whatever it is non-geeks do, then you’ll be totally out of your element. You have nothing to add to this genre.

But if you’re one of us, if you haven’t lost your child-like sense of wonder at things that might not be real yet or might never be real but are nevertheless awesome, if you like cartoons and toys and videogames and fantasy and science fiction and horror, if your world is not the dried-up husk that everyone else sees, if you’re horrified by the mundane and constantly look for magic, and—most importantly—if you can hold on to that jagged insanity that hides inside your mind and ride it and wrestle with it like Isaac wrestling with Adonai, then by all the gods, step up to the plate.

Is there anything you want highlighted in the write up about you?

Not about me, but about the show:

While Super Inggo and the Super Tropa tries to be perfectly faithful to the live-action series’ canon, there are some unavoidable differences.

First, there’s the time frame. The animated series does not pick up where the live-action season 1.5 left off, mainly because the animated series started getting developed way before the live action season 1.5 was conceptualized. The animated series seems to be happening between seasons 1 and 1.5, minus some developments we’ve seen in the first season. We can’t pinpoint the specific time in the first season of the live-action series that the animation series is happening but it seems to be somewhere before Budong and Jomar discover that they are siblings.

Second, there are some elements from the live-action story that have been ignored (although never blatantly contradicted) in the animated series either for the sake of simplicity or because such elements cannot be satisfactorily introduced without repeating certain live-action plots:

Third, there are some new developments in the animated series, foremost of which is that Super Inggo and the Super Tropa aren’t superheroes-in-training anymore. They are rookies.

Looking at all the differences between the live-action series and the animated series, it cannot be denied that we have created a new series continuity for Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa, something that cannot be neatly tied-in with the live-action series canon. This was unavoidable. If we had tried to be perfectly faithful to the live-action series, we would have been burdened by a convoluted soap story continuity, which would be horribly incomprehensible for new viewers. We wouldn’t be able to sell the series to a foreign audience. The new viewers we hope to gain—loyal GMA viewers and those who were never interested in watching the live-action Super Inggo series—would be put-off by the feeling that the animated show is just for viewers already well-acquainted with Super Inggo lore. After three or four episodes, the novelty of being the biggest, most expensive, and most ambitious Pinoy cartoon series would already be wearing off and if the new viewer hasn’t been hooked yet by the characters and the kinds of stories we’re telling at that point, then we will be losing said viewer.

This creation of a new continuity for a franchise being translated into cartoons isn’t unprecedented, though. While I don’t think there ever has been a soap show that’s been turned into a cartoon series before Super Inggo, numerous comic book characters have been thus translated. And because a long-running comic book hero—Spiderman, for instance—has gone through many developments within his own comic book series, making a new cartoon show for the character every decade or so always necessitates simplifying the character’s universe for the new generation of viewers.

The implication: seeing the Super Inggo mythos this way, we gain the freedom to revisit some aspects of Budong’s life from the live-action show—aspects that we’d been afraid of exploring in the animated show for fear of repeating plots that have already been seen in the live-action series. And so Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa is a reinvention of sorts... although not too much that we risk ruining the product and turning-off loyal viewers who would cling to what they already know about our hero and the supporting characters because they had religiously followed the live-action series. The trick is to find a balance between the live-action continuity and our reinvention of the continuity for the animated series. For example, in the shows next season, we might explore the origin of Super Inggo (every superhero series needs to feature the protagonist’s origin story sometime) by retelling the story with enough twists to make it new for viewers familiar with the live-action series.


What were the challenges you encountered in making these projects?

Adapting a fantaserye like Super Inggo into animation needs much more than turning the characters into drawings and giving them the illusion of life, as we found out. We’ve learned a lot during this season of the series. I’ll give you a couple of examples:

Finding the balance between action and emotion. Super Inggo was a fantaserye so it had very emotional stories. Melodramatic, even. To turn it into cartoons—a medium that thrives on visual kickassery and appeals primarily to kids, teens, and young adults—the action must be cranked way up. But animation is notoriously expensive to produce and so an animated series must sell really well. To do this, Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa’s marketing premise went, it must be created as a primetime series. Content-wise, it must appeal to ABS-CBN’s core primetime market—mothers and adult females. For stories to appeal to this market, they must be very emotional. Finding that right mix of action for the young ‘uns and melodrama for their mothers can be a real pain. Our solution is in the emotionality of the stories. Our stories are emotional enough to make the action more than just fireworks. If we make the stories any more emotional, we risk turning off the true animation audience who are expecting action and adventure.

Another lesson came from choosing the stories we must tell. Making the stories episodic, or problem-of-the-week, was unavoidable because we were re-establishing the characters and the Super Inggo world to allow for new viewers as well as to let veteran viewers get acquainted with this radically new format in Philippine television. 22-minute weekly episodes are not suitable for the greatly-detailed character development viewers are used to seeing in the soap format. Because Filipino viewers are used to watching soap on a daily basis, weekly installments of a story would be too infrequent to hold the viewers’ attention early in this season. We attempted to remedy this for the bulk of this season by making small one to two-part stories. Super Inggo short stories, if you will. During the last few episodes, though, we’ve set the stage for a greater, grander, and more awesome story arc that would make the whole second season a saga, allowing for more complex character development. For now, each episode, while complete in itself, forces Budong to address a difficult personal issue. Thus we see Budong learning the facts of life through his adventures.

How do you compare writing for live shows and writing for animation? What were the adjustments that you needed to make? (writers)?

A sad reality I’ve encountered is that potential animation writers are ruined by soap operas. The things a writer learns and imbibes when writing soap poisons his powers as an animation writer. Soap operas make writers believe that sappiness is synonymous to emotionality and schmaltz is actually a good thing and must be poured liberally into stories or else they won’t be worth spit. Sure there are fantasy series on TV but even these so-called fantaseryes are just soap operas pretending to be awesome. The action, the comic book science, and the oomph take a backseat to the bucket of tears. When it comes to storytelling, soap teaches writers to drag out their tales ad nauseum and it’s hard to unlearn what has been painfully drilled into your mind and heart by the genre.

But then again the soap genre is a writer’s bread and butter, isn’t it? I’ve turned down profitable soaps like The Wedding to concentrate on writing for animation because I don’t have kids to feed. Besides, I’ve always been a kind of loose cannon when it comes to writing soap, often trying to highjack the story and steer it to the path of awesome. It’s a different story altogether for potential animation writers who can’t afford to fail putting food on the table.

And so, if you’re heart is truly set on being part of the Pinoy animation industry, you will make sacrifices.

What were the challenges you experienced as part of the team that created the first animation series produced by ABS-CBN?  What are/were the peaks and low?

The infancy of a mainstream Filipino animation industry meant that the team behind Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa—fan boys deeply immersed in the lore and visual language of anime, comic books, and videogames—had to invent it from square one. Lessons from previous Filipino animated projects that could help us were very little to none, as these said projects were mostly art house short films and gag-centered web cartoons. Not that we were belittling the efforts of these Filipino animators. It’s just that these projects cannot realistically be expected to engage the average television viewer. Instead, we looked to foreign cartoons—especially anime—and live-action ABS-CBN shows to create the right formula for our show.

Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa is a constant learning process for the team. And because of the high cost of producing an animated series, the learning curve for the team is painfully steep. Every detail of each episode is analyzed to identify and predict problems and mistakes. Weaknesses that hadn’t been predicted in one episode are remedied in the next episode. This learning process is made more difficult by the fact that ABS-CBN is the only network that is developing the animated series genre, meaning we don’t have anything to compare our project with except foreign cartoons, which, of course, functions under different cultural conditions. Consider: the rapid development of Japanese animation in the 60s and 70s was made possible by many animation companies learning from each other, an advantage ABS-CBN’s Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa team doesn’t have.

Not least were the problems that faced the production staff. The eighteen weeks needed to make a single episode of Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa are very different from making a live-action series episode. The writers and production staff should always be at hand for the numerous viewings of the episode as it takes shape. Uncountable adjustments meant constant script revisions, additional scratch track dubbings, and the like.

Despite these birth pangs however, the knowledge and skills gained by those who worked on Super Inggo at ang Super Tropa’s first season would be invaluable for future animated projects and the mainstream Pinoy animation industry that ABS-CBN is now in the position to establish.

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