My encounter with the 1st Pinoy Emmy winner
Jess Espanola during his Burbank animation days in the 1980s and (right) today

My encounter with the 1st Pinoy Emmy winner

Rogelio Constantino Medina (The Philippine Star) - October 8, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — The first Filipino Emmy Award winner Jess Espanola, an animator of The Simpsons for years, has been staying in Quezon City (but he has a house in Marikina) when I met him in a coffee shop in Cubao recently.

I saw a simple Jess who hails from Pampanga’s Lubao where he graduated elementary valedictorian in 1974. Ten years after, he finished a fine arts degree at the University of the Philippines.

He said drawing was his first interest as a child. He drew a circle and a stick figure then later he drew people and everything he saw in his environment. He still remembers his starving days in Lubao and doing charcoal portraits to survive.

After he finished college, life became good to him. In 1985, he started working for Australian-based Burbank Animation when it put a branch in Makati. The next year, US-based Hanna-Barbera came to the Philippines and put up a subsidiary Fil-Cartoons where he moved to work as an animator in 1988. He was sent in 1991 by Fil-Cartoons to the US’ Hanna-Barbera for an orientation tour and in 1994, he decided to go back to L.A. to work for CD-Rom Games, an education entertainment for children. Later, he worked as assistant director for 20th Century Fox’s primetime shows: King of the Hill in 1997, Futurama in 1998 to 2002, and The Simpsons in 2003 until 2015.

“I started as a layout artist for King of the Hill and soon became assistant director. We do animatic for the writers to see for revisions before we finalize every episode to be sent to Korea for final animation,” said Jess, whose assistant directorial work for The Simpsons eventually made him earn a recognition as the first Filipino (he was still an immigrant then) ever to win an Emmy, an American award that recognizes excellence in the television industry. He won in 2008 for working on Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind.

“I was praying that time that I would win. From about 150 entries, it was down to five finalists, and I was ecstatic during the announcement,” said Jess with alacrity.

Jess with Rey Hawk Guila (third from right) during their visit to Holy Angel University

In 2009, he gave a talk to De La Salle University. He made a talk twice to Animation Council of the Philippines: Animation Festival in Naga City in 2010 and in Quezon City’s Eastwood City sponsored by Grace Dimaranan in 2012. In 2016, he was invited by the comic convention Comic-Con in Fontana Clark, Angeles City and he later gave inspiring talks to UP College of Fine Arts, Angeles City’s Holy Angel University (HAU) and Malayan College in Laguna.

He, together with Rey Hawk Guila (long-time Hollywood filmmaker, ghost director and motion picture technician), visited not long ago HAU which will venture into creative multi-disciplinary convergence and technologies (CMCT), the academic concept underlying HAU’s forthcoming campus in Ayala Aviera in Porac, Pampanga that will offer animation and motion pictures courses, through its leader, HAU president Dr. Luis Maria Calingo, whose external role is that of a rainmaker, serving as the HAU spokesperson and building institutional relationships that would result in new educational programs and new opportunities for students and faculty. Dr. Calingo also supports entertainment activities, such as the newly-launched Angel Network, the comeback of Apl de Ap Music Studio, and the advocacy film Aria.

Jess is planning to teach animation at HAU next semester and to stay in the Philippines for good. “I am happy to be in the Philippines as I choose to retire here to be able to share my knowledge and experience to the young aspiring artists and animators in the country. I really want to stay in the Philippines for the rest of my life,” said Jess with a glint in his eyes.

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