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From reel to real: Meet the Thomasian alumna behind Pixar’s ‘Coco’

Advertising Arts alumna Gini Santos is the first Filipino and first female supervising animator of Pixar Animation Studios.

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Photo courtesy of Disney-Pixar.

With a little bit of imagination and a whole lot of dedication, animators bring new worlds to life through animated films—films that shape our childhood and even our identity. But for Advertising Arts alumna Gini Santos, animated films are not just child’s play: It is her lifeblood as an animator for Pixar Studios.

“No matter what the medium, I knew I still needed to have a good foundation in the craft of animation,” Santos said in an online exchange with TomasinoWeb.

Influenced by her interest in watching animated films and cartoons while growing up, Santos’s passion for the process of animation started when computers developed in the 90s. Her fondness for art made her pursue a degree in Advertising Arts, and she fondly remembered the classes where they were sent out on the campus to draw, making her feel like a real artist

“My design foundation allowed me to be successful in my career as an artist, and that includes animation. There is design in the appeal, posing and composition of animation and my art education has allowed me to have an artistic eye for it.”

After finishing her studies in the University, she furthered her education by taking a computer art course with a specialization on computer animation.

Santos has been been with Pixar for 21 years now, and she has been the woman behind some well-loved animated classics such as A Bug’s Life, Monster Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Ratatouille, and Up.

It was only a month ago when she made headlines as Pixar’s first Filipino and first female supervising animator, taking the reins of the studio’s latest film Coco, which garnered excellent reviews for its breakthrough aesthetics and narrative.

“Being a supervising animator on Coco was a great experience for me. My role was to mentor and support about 85 talented animators so they could create the amazing animation that you’ll see in Coco.  I’m honored to be the first woman in this role at Pixar. We have so many strong women animators and I hope in seeing me in that role, they would be inspired to become a leader, because we need to hear more of their creative voices,” Santos said.

Based on the Mexican feast Dia de Muertos, the animation team exerted every effort to make sure that every color and detail faithfully embodied the said fête.

However, making the film culturally authentic was the biggest problem they encountered.

“We really wanted to be true to the spirit of the celebration of Dia de Muertos and the family dynamic around it,” Santos added. “It was important so that our audience could really connect with the story and the characters in it.”

Perhaps, she was echoing Walt Disney’s words through her work when Disney said that animation is a medium of storytelling which can bring pleasure and information to people of all ages everywhere in the world; it was a principle she kept in making films like Coco.

Looking back on her life as a Thomasian, Santos said that she still relies on the things she has learned during her stay in the University, even in her two decades as an animator for Pixar.

“There’s a lot of hard work that comes with achieving your goals. I realize that now looking back at my journey. Focus and be in the moment and have faith that the effort you put in now will support your long-term goals.”

by Danielle Arcegono

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The battle for truth

“Journalism’s loyalty is to the people — to the poor, to the marginalized, to the oppressed and to the suppressed rather than those who are comfortable and those who have power,” National Union of Journalists of the Philippines Director Raymond Villanueva said.

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Photo grabbed from The Bedan's Twitter account (@TheBedan).

The Philippines is now under an information war as fake news and disinformation dominate the internet — increasing confusion within the people and further dividing the nation.

In the battle for the truth, The Bedan, San Beda University’s College of Arts and Sciences’ official publication hosted last Wednesday the seminar titled “Aletheia: The Role of Responsible Journalism in the Age of Online Media” which aimed to equip young journalists in combating online disinformation and champion truth in their profession.

Rowena Paraan, head of ABS-CBN’s citizen journalism arm Bayan Mo Ipatrol Mo, foregrounded the seminar by discussing important social issues and the role of journalists in bringing these issues to light, specifically how journalists had a responsibility to uphold truth in their reporting and oppose the spread of disinformation.

“Facebook’s algorithms are a problem,” she said, “the youth are particularly vulnerable to the spread of disinformation on social media.”

These algorithms create so-called “echo-chambers” where a user’s feed is tailored based upon their browser history and online behavior. Paraan said this is potentially dangerous as users only encounter news and information that fits and amplifies their own political perspectives and biases.

Paraan also discussed how ensuring that news remains objective and factual was becoming increasingly difficult at a time when no less than President Rodrigo Duterte himself was acting as a source of disinformation, citing a video by non-profit investigative journalism and fact-checking organization Vera Files.

Using video recordings of statements given by the President, Vera Files showed examples of how Duterte often contradicts his own statements on the war on drugs, repeatedly misconstrues important government figures and data, and deliberately obscures his relationships with apparent political allies, as well as being openly hostile towards those who are critical of his policies — including the press.

“Mas magandang maging journalist sa panahong kailangan ng public ng makatotohanang information,” Paraan said.

However, there are times when neutrality and objectivity amongst journalists can become a silent submission to the greater powers.

Raymond Villanueva, director of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said that “journalism’s loyalty is to the people — to the poor, to the marginalized, to the oppressed and to the suppressed rather than those who are comfortable and those who have power.”

“Good journalists are not those who simply string words together; good journalists are those who ask ‘why’ until they come up with an inevitable conclusion that social injustices cause many miseries to this world. And then, they ask ‘why ‘to come again to the inevitable conclusion that the world must be changed,” he added.

 

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Mind over cursor

The internet, particularly the social media had granted the people the power to inform and to be informed, and also there are some instances where their power was used to abuse.

Niña Terol, co-founder and chief fireball of Kick Fire Kitchen, tackled the insurmountable power of social media to affect a person, and even a nation.

“The Magna Carta for Philippine Internet Freedom was drafted on Google Docs,” she said. “It was the first-ever crowdsourced bill and it shows na with the power of social media, you can also be part of the legislation. So hindi mo na kailangan maging senate staffer to make things work.”

Terol also detailed how she experienced backlash due to her past affiliations as a member of Sen. Francis Pangilinan’s communications team. Although she had already left back in 2012 to work in an advertising agency, she received backlash from pro-administration supporters, tagging her as “dilawan.”

“That, to me, is an illustration on how social media can betray you,” she stated, “I have biases, but there is always a context kasi lahat tayo may pinanggalingan.”

In the face of great power, Terol emphasized that, as users of social media, especially as young journalists, “you have to know your truth, you have to speak your truth, you should not hide behind fake names and fake accounts. Why do we have to hide?”

“Aletheia: The Role of Responsible Journalism in the Age of Online Media” was held at the Abbott Conference Hall in San Beda University and was hosted by The Bedan in partnership with the Bedan Scholars’ Guild.

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Science, Commerce bets lead this year’s TYAA

College of Science’s Lorenzo Montes and College of Commerce and Business Administration’s Manjit Kaur Singh topped candidates from different faculties and colleges in this year’s Thomasian Youth Ambassador and Ambassadress.

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Photo by Miguel Yap/TomasinoWeb.

Representatives from the College of Science and the College of Commerce and Business Administration led this year’s set of Thomasian Youth Ambassadors and Ambassadresses (TYAA) at the Plaza Mayor Saturday last week.

Science’s Lorenzo Montes and Commerce’s Manjit Kaur Singh topped candidates from different faculties and colleges, however, the Student Organizations Coordinating Council (SOCC) announced that all contestants would share the same title of “Thomasian Youth Ambassador and Ambassadress” of their respective colleges.

“For this year po, the TYAA […] focused more on molding the student to be an ambassador and ambassadress of UST since [he or she] adopts the new program which is the formation program,” said Jasper Limon, SOCC Vice President for Service Assurance.

Limon said the program that they developed this year helped the contestants to bond more.

“Nakakatuwa na inaaccept nila yung formation at [nakita ko] mas naging family, mas naging less competiton [at] mas nag step-up yung bawat isa,” he said.

Faculty of Arts and Letters’ Christian Josef Patacsil and Alfredo M. Velayo – College of Accountancy’s Elaine Pineda bagged the Congeniality award. Montes and Singh nailed Best in Advocacy Presentation.

Faculty of Pharmacy’s bets Jasmine Norleen Addun and Harold William Tan owned the Best in Cultural Attire award. Tan and Science’s Alyssa Jasmin Perez snatched the Thomasian Youth for Public Relations.

College of Fine Arts and Design’s Justin Aaron Castro and Faculty og Engineering’s Mary Chile Balana were hailed as Thomasian Youth for Community Development.

TYAA is an annual pageant organized by the SOCC which seeks Thomasians who would represent the University in leading projects and activities for a specific advocacy.N.A. Perez

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The unknown hands of Philippine cinema

“It’s wrong. Dapat iisa lang ang pelikula, dapat hindi siya divided [into “mainstream” and “indie”] kasi strategy ‘yan to segregate a product na hindi nila gawa,” veteran filmmaker Ato Bautista said.

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Marc Benjie Paulino/TomasinoWeb.

I was jittery—because first, it’s difficult not to feel overwhelmed in an unfamiliar place, Miriam College, with lots of trees and hills, and where the only men other than an us are either security guards or professors; and second, with my love for cinema, I cannot help feeling ecstatic to hear from the esteemed speakers from MCinema’s CinemaTALKgraphy.

The moment we stepped through the lecture hall, Ato Bautista’s words regarding how the classification between indie and mainstream movies divide the Philippine cinema stuck to me.

“It’s wrong. Dapat iisa lang ang pelikula, dapat hindi siya divided kasi strategy ‘yan to segregate a product na hindi nila gawa,” Bautista said.

An alumnus of the University of Santo Tomas, Bautista is a veteran director whose prowess lies with the Philippine thriller genre, and yet Bautista remains unknown to his fellow Filipinos despite being a renowned filmmaker overseas.

“You don’t know me or any of my films and tanggap namin ‘yan. It’s a price we are willing to pay, as ‘indie’ filmmakers,” Bautista said.

He also expressed his frustration on how the industry of the Philippine cinema lags behind despite being the first country in Asia to form a film studio, citing that one of the major factors of our slow progress is the monopolization of the big studios that courts the mainstream audience.

“Filmmakers make films that courts, mga pelikula na [ginawa] para ligawan ang mainstream,” he added, “lagi natin kino-compare yung kung anong meron tayo sa ibang bansa [kahit] ibang-iba yung kultura sa atin. Meron tayong sariling problema and kung ano yung solusyon nila, hindi necessarily ‘yun ang solusyon sa atin.”

Still, Bautista was hopeful that Philippine cinema will improve—vowing to continue crafting indie movies so that the consciousness of the audience does not get monotonous.

Through his eyes, I saw desperate hope: Bautista still has faith in the future filmmakers sitting in front of him; with fire burning in his eyes, I saw his eagerness to impart the flame not only through us, but also to the whole Filipino audience.  

And now with the advent of technology, Elaine Lozano narrated how difficult it was to make movies then and how much the technology used in filmmaking has changed.

“Before, to be able to manage a single camera, you need four people, sometimes five […] But now, you can operate with one camera. Ang dali gumawa ng pelikula ngayon because it’s so convenient.”

It was funny twist of faith—Lozano was on her journey to be an actress that she even became the understudy for the role of Kim in Miss Saigon from the same batch as Lea Salonga. However, instead of being the one basking in the spotlight, she became the one who worked wonders behind the scene.

Today, she is a veteran producer in the industry, where her works garnered fame such as Ang Panday and Manila Kingpin.

Lozano began her filmmaking journey with an Arri 435 camera where back in the days, four minutes of negatives were worth 7,000 pesos and the budget for film rolls alone peaked at 250,000 pesos. In comparison, only three years ago, Elaine produced a movie for 350,000 pesos.

Producing movies are now cheaper, but she expressed her distaste in the industry since  people tend to be so tight in the budgets.

“Kita mong nangamatay na yung mga direktor, mga production manager. That’s really stressful!” She added, “I was line producing it, I was production manager, I was production designer, and make-up artist. People are going down to this level of filmmaking [and] I don’t know why! To prove a point?”

Producers and directors can earn millions with one film. The less money is spent, the more the producers earn from it–yet as the other part profits tremendously,  the actors and the production team suffers from its limited budget. However, amidst all the difficulties and risks, it’s still all worth it.

“ I love this job,” she added, “if you’re gonna do something, you have to love it.”

I went home reflecting on what I have  learned: Elaine Lozano talking about how love transcends barriers, how love pushes you to do great things; and Ato Bautista, telling us that we have to keep on doing what we love, no matter the risks.

How amazing it was to hear just how passionate these people are, that, when tasked to deliver a talk about the evolution of cinema, they told us not just how cinema changed over the years, but how cinema changed them.

Passion pushes people to greater heights—it takes you to places that not even your imagination can breach. With their fire and immense love for their craft, Bautista and Lozano kindled a greater flame within their audience, hoping that their fire can fuel the Philippine cinema to a far more greater destination through the budding filmmakers sitting here with me.

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