Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Jess Espanola: First Filipino Emmy Award Winner

[originally posted 2010]

Jess Espanola is hardcore.

He won an Emmy Award back in 2008 for his work as an Assistant Director for the Outstanding Animated Program (for programming less than an hour) Simpson’s Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind.

He never allowed anyone to stop him from pursing his goals, did not permit life-threatening hunger and exhaustion to stop his hands from drawing, and has ten million layers of padding to protect his spirits from all the failures a poor Pinoy could ever encounter in that big bad world of Hollywood.

Jess is a poor boy from Kalookan and when I say poor, i mean f***in’ poor. No one is considered an illegitimate child nowadays. The law pretty much declares every child ever born with equal rights. That’s cool but that wasn’t always the case. Until recently, the law was a d!ck to give only 50% of the rights of a legitimate kid to an illegitimate one. Jess knew it all too well. When his father learned his mother is pregnant with him he said ‘i’m sorta outta here’ and he bounced on them. Luckily, someone was kind enough to adopt his mother.

He was five when he started drawing. He was such a kick ass artist that he learned to draw even before he learned to write. He drew his environment, his shabby house, canal, the sun, and some people without protruding bellies.

He was eight when his mother met a guy from Pampanga who married her and moved them. Jess started working as a farmer to help his mom and new dad out. He realized there was no getting out of it. He couldn’t play, couldn’t make friends, couldn’t buy new clothes and, regularly, couldn’t eat. So he made himself a hard core artist drawing anything he could whenever he could. He drew some awesome shit for his age his teachers started paying him to draw on their bulletin boards.

Everyone in the community knew him as the kid who could draw and intelligent enough to stay on top of his class.  That was actually his first step to success but to a starving belly, he saw nothing of it more than his ticket to eat food... occasionally.

His step father made him works his ass out and take all his earnings and yet he managed to graduated a valedictorian of his class and his step father wanted him to stop schooling and become a farmer like a gadam Farmville character. Well, Jess wasn’t about to let that shit fly. He had other effin’ plans. He packed his bags and left home. He looked for his grandmother and lived with her in Recto. She was no better on the financial department but at least she allowed him to study, he just needed to get his ass workin’ to finance himself but hey.

Jess found himself on familiar grounds. He woke up each day to find nothing on the table, not even a empty plates. So he’d go to school with an empty stomach. He was starving so bad his intestines started munching on themselves. Every lunch break, he would walk back home and pump the “poso” (ancient form of water pumps) and drink like it was no one else business just to have enough strength to stay in school for the rest of the day. I don’t know about you but not letting me eat when i am hungry is an invitation to murder. Life showed him no mercy that it almost seem on a perpetual pursuit to make him give up but Jess was like “hell no!”

He made regular trips to the river to look for snails and make himself dinner. He goes around town asking for rice. He puts on a brave face to borrow money from people or from sari-sari stores to sustain himself.

After a year, destiny sorta said “aigth, since i can’t seem to break your spirit, i’ll give your malnourished a$$ an effin’ break.” His teachers [i just love teachers, especially the kind he had. They didn’t sell no longganisa or tocino] noticed his drawing skill were pretty awesome so they started paying him for drawing different stuff.

He finished high school which is a monumental achievement in itself considering he faced the danger of dying of hunger everyday of his life. Just to be freakin' extra awesome though, he got into UP. That is arguably  the most difficult school to get into. The only thing stopping him from enrolling is the lack of dough. He met an angel in the person of Karina David (the wife of Randy David) who loaned her money so he could enroll, talk with all his would-be professors to allow him to enroll despite being late (it was already July) and gave him a job as an assistant and artist. I think Ms. Karina David has a spot on our awesome list, don't ya think?

Jess paid off his loan via salary deduction and because is hardcore awesome, he earned his scholarship on the next semester.

It is important to note that he is consistently hungry in all the years of his college and if you think that his situation is going to change for the better after he graduated from the almighty UP, you are freakin’ wrong. He applied to different jobs and when he was about to get a permanent gig, Ninoy was assassinated and the whole country went into chaos. In 1985, he was accepted in the Burbank Animation Studio, Inc. located in Makati but life was not done with Jess yet.

He had a decent job and is now able to eat at least three times a day so why... don’t... we... mess... up... his... drawing hand?! That’s what life did to Jess. Soon enough, he starts feeling constant pain on his right hand which he uses to draw and he couldn’t move one of his fingers. Back when he was a kid, a playmate pushed him against a glass and a tiny piece got stuck inside his vein. The broken glass is back with a vengeance. Now, he is just starting out, taking a leave of absence to go through therapy is just the kind of shit he was trying to avoid but he didn’t have a choice.

Trivia: he is a natural leftie but when his mother saw him drawing with his left, she forced him to use his right because the catholics used to believe anything on the left is bad. That’s shit, we all know that by now and Jess knows it, too.

He eventually moved to Fil-Cartoons, a subsidiary of Hanna-Barbera. He was sent to LA, California to visit and train in the head office. That was pretty doped for someone who used to eat snails for dinner. Jess was pumped. He was gonna rock this gig but his teammates wouldn’t let him. The classic Filipino mentality came into play. They started backstabbing Jess. Good thing his back was so filled with scars from his painful past, additional scars will only make his back look like the finest tattoo work in progress this country has ever seen. Friends were converted to murder targets and he didn't have plans of dying as of yet so he he didn't join the party.

Not like it stopped Jess. He shrugged it off and said “i’ve been through worse. Your $h!t ain’t got no effect on my ass. Eat it.”

He worked on Smurfs, Scooby Doo, and Yogi bear. After a few more years Hanna-Barbera was sold to Warner Brothers.

In 1994, about 50 Filipinos worked for Anastasia feature animation produced by Don Bluth for 20th Centura Fox. The all too familiar game of crab mentality worked its magic among the group. Pinoys were like “I’m going down, you’re going down with me bi@tch!”.

It was all too much for Jess. He understands where they are coming from but he can’t afford this sh!t. So he decided to bounce his own gig. He stayed in Los Angeles and  worked for 7th Level Inc. doing CD-Rom games for children. He got it difficult at first, could be because he was working for a white dude, could be because his skills were simply not at par but Jess was a real hardcore. For every rejection, he literally went back to the drawing boards and worked hard to look at things from his boss’ perspective, learn what kind of shit makes him laugh and sought to be the best animator in town.

When he was done with that, he worked in Film Roman for King of the Hill show where he became an assistant director. Then in 1998 - 2002, he worked at Rough Draft Studios for Futurama shows.

He worked more with the whites. Soon enough, he proved himself worthy to become an animator of cartoon’s royal family, the Simpsons. Imagine that, the Simpsons. Jess is so cool, just writing about him makes like my monitor will start producing ice soon.

Jess, I’ll see you soon dude.

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