Thursday, July 13, 2006

Animated Films and national Development

Animated Films and National Development

American enlightened colonialism brought new levels of consciousness and opportunities for businesses. As disseminated through the public school system, English became a prominent language. English literacy was a key factor in the growth of mass circulation papers. By 1939, the total circulation of all Philippine publications had reached to 1.4 million, of which 722,000 were in English.

It was only during the postwar and post-independence era that Philippine animation took a serious turn. Philippine animation prior to 1953 was mostly focused on commercial advertising, churning cartoons for print and television commercials. In 1953, komiks cartoonist Larry Alcala, made an 8mm film, a black-and-white exercise in movement of a girl jumping rope and a boy playing with a yoyo. Other pioneers in animation were Jose Zaballa Santos and Francisco Reyes, who did a cooking oil endorsement, Juan Tamad (1955), a six-minute work based on a popular folklore character; and Nonoy Marcelo, who did Biag ni Lam-ang (The Life of Lam-ang, 1979), a 60-minute feature on the adventures of the Ilocano epic hero, and Annie Batungbakal (1974), a seven-minute clip for the Nora Aunor movie. Animation in film was used for special effects, like in Ibong Adarna (The Adarna Bird, 1941) and Ang Panday (The Blacksmith, 1983). One can still observe the latent economic imperative at work in these animation pioneers; work was done for advertising and the film business. There is also the political imperative, as Marcelo�s feature dealt with the ethnic epic from the region of then President Ferdinand Marcos.

Such dual purpose in cartooning remains emplaced even in present-day animation. Contemporary Filipino cartoonists are also imbricated in both multinational advertising and subcontracting work, and a purer artistic quest for a national idiom. The Marcos period provided a space for animation production both useful to and subversive of the national administration ideals. No other president in Philippine political history has been so conscientious in conceiving and implementing a national development program than Marcos. He built massive infrastructures and enacted laws that primarily supported multinational businesses. In his dream of a New Society (Bagong Lipunan), unfolded after the declaration of martial rule in 1972, he envisioned to clear the national space for both nationalism to firmly take ground and foreign businesses to flourish.

With a background in animation from a New York film school, Marcelo did animation work for the administration. Though only the first episode was produced, Tadhana (Destiny) was envisioned to popularize Marcos�s rewriting of national history. In the only episode, the war between Spain and Portugal for global colonial rights was done through zooming and intercutting images of illustrations and maps. In preparation for war, the Spanish armada moves in with music from the Star Wars theme. Marcelo also did animation for Kabataang Baranggay (Youth League), the national youth organization headed by Imee Marcos, the eldest child of Marcos. He also did the animation sequences for an education series produced by a Marcos office intended to create local entrepreneurs. Episodes dealt with the Green Revolution themes of self-reliance in food using popular technology, such as tilapia (carp) raising and bee farming. However, Marcelo was also to be made famous by a newspaper comic strip Tisoy that documented and satirized the conditions of the Marcos administration.

By the 1980s, however, the Marcos circuiting of the nation in global multinational work had already been institutionalized. The period was also marked by economic and political turmoil that led to the Marcoses� downfall in 1986. One major development in animation that grew out of the direct development policies of Marcos was the operation of foreign studios in the country. Subcontractual work was used by Marcos to entice foreign business. Harping on cheap but highly skilled local labor, Filipino cartoonists were employed in foreign animation studios to do episodes of various Hanna Barbara and Toei series. The Australian-based animation firm, Burbank Studios, pioneered animation subcontracting in the Philippines in 1983. Given tax incentives and other investment lures, Burbank Studios focused on the animation needs of the local advertising market in its beginning. Eventually, it also produced an educational animation series for the Middle East. Burbank Studios wanted to break into the American market. It needed the proximity of the Philippines to the United States as a base of operation, and the skills of Filipino laborers as chief resource. It trained local animators who either established their own advertising firms or transferred to other multinational studios when Burbank Studios folded in the late 1980s.

Presently, the big players in Philippine animation are FilCartoons and Philippine Animation Studio, Inc. (PASI), owned by foreigners. FilCartoons, for example, does work on Mad Jack the Pirate and Toonsylvania, cartoon shows for the American firms Saban and Dreamworks SKG. Their artists have done much of the acclaimed work in Fox Studios� Anastasia and Disney�s Mulan, among others. Such developments have led critics to believe that Filipino artists have been reduced to artisans: subcontractors for foreign animation studios, it is quite obvious that FilCartoons artists are reduced to craftsmen who follow a codified set of rules, without free rein in their art. Another employment track for Filipino cartoonists involves overseas contract work, a program institutionalized during the Marcos period that relies on exporting Filipino labor for precious dollar remittances. The systematic export of Filipino labor has presently deployed four million overseas contract workers that yield some $6 billion annual remittances, about two-thirds of the present national budget. More and more Filipino cartoonists work for overseas Disney, Malaysian, and Singaporean studios.

Filipino cartoonists find affinity with their fellow nationals doing multinational and overseas contract work. They are hired because of their pleasing personalities, command of the English language, high skills, western disposition, and their acceptance of lower salaries than their counterparts in the West. A recent Philippine subcontracting project was the Chito Chat series on MTV Asia. The character Chito provides onscreen chatter about the music video being shown. Cartoonists also find themselves doing work in advertising companies, Star Animation, owned by the local entertainment conglomerate ABS-CBN, and the children=s show, Batibot, that regularly features animation segments. Recently, however, there is a slight reversal of the situation as Filipino artists and enterpreneurs came up with the Stone comic book series, stylishly drawn, based on Philippine lore, and sold at comic book conventions in the United States.

With its immense pool of creative talents, Philippine animation has yet to commercially take off. The first and only locally animated television series, Ang Panday, produced in 1987, only drew a curious audience, and the first full-length commercial film, Ibong Adarna (The Adarna Bird, 1997), also proved dismal in attracting a local audience. The major figure in feature animation in the Philippines is Geirry Garccia. Paling by comparison to big-budgeted Hollywood and Japanese animation, local animation has yet to be commercially competitive. This is also the drawback of global competition conceived during the administration of Marcos� successor, Corazon Aquino, and implemented by her successors, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada.

Barring protectionism, local businesses have yet to rise above the competition, becoming lowly placed in the global division of capital and labor. The export-processing zones started during the Marcos dictatorship allowed for a wide-ranging incentive package to foreign businesses, even the promise of a strike-free environment. In the former American airforce base, Clark, now primarily transformed into one such zone, two companies, GM Mini Computer Exchange and Cerulean Digital Colors Animators, have located in the Clark Special Economic Zone, hiring some 450 workers for its digital animation workload.

Animation inscribed the nation in colonial and transnational imaginaries. During its preconception, cartooning allowed for conservative and contrary ideals of the colonial set-up to be articulated and popularized. Cartooning in advertising and print capitalism, involving the same set of artists, articulated the dual position of colonial rule and national selfhood. Up until the mid-1980s, Marcos� emplacement of national ideals toward the service of multinational businesses provided a divide between business in the new world order and the further interrogation of selfhood. FilCartoons artisans, for example, are responsible for shows like Chicken and Egg, Johnny Bravo, Captain Planet, and Johnny Quest. Every Filipino cartoonist participating in big-budget feature animation projects by Disney or Dreamworks gets high media publicity, specially in the national dailies. It is only in the recent times that commerce and national ideals are again merging, as the artists of the 1980s developed their own animation companies that service various businesses. In the 1990s, a newer breed of animators is emerging. Unlike the prior generation that made various attempts at inscribing a national idiom in this form, the 1990s artists are more vocal in the articulation of the politics of newer social movements, such as environmentalism, feminism, social injustices, and so on.

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