Pup­petry: An­i­ma­tion with­out the huge ex­pense

- By Nick Tayag MY SIXTY-ZEN’S WORTH Entertainment · Arts · Filmmaking · Animation · Movies · Walt Disney · The Walt Disney Company · Mickey Mouse · Cinderella · Communist Party of China · Mark Twain · Sesame Street · José Rizal · Xian Lim · Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

LONG be­fore I was able to have my first glimpse of Walt Dis­ney’s an­i­mated char­ac­ters such as Mickey Mouse, Snow White and Cin­derella, I was al­ready en­thralled by a pup­pet char­ac­ter who could talk, laugh and cry, and even cuss, al­most like a hu­man be­ing. I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber if he was called “Kiko Baterya” which was a pop­u­lar pup­pet at that time. Maybe he was an im­i­ta­tion but nev­er­the­less this one was a hit among pro­vin­cial kids like me who trooped to the town plaza to watch it. The act was the high­light of a pro­mo­tional ac­tiv­ity to sell a prod­uct.

In boy­hood, I also dab­bled in shadow pup­petry to en­ter­tain my sis­ters be­fore there was tele­vi­sion. I voiced the nar­ra­tion and the di­a­logue as well as the sound ef­fects. Later I learned that José Rizal as a boy also used to play with the shadow pup­pets us­ing car­ton fig­ures stuck in sticks and moved these to high­light at the back of a white cloth. Like Rizal, I used can­dle­light at the back of the pup­pets.

Last Oc­to­ber 31, on the eve of our tra­di­tional Un­das, I was able to watch the first of a pup­petry film se­ries for chil­dren with a reimag­in­ing of Ibong Adarna, a 16th- cen­tury Filipino epic poem about a mag­i­cal bird, which is a re­quired read­ing in high school.

This film pup­petry se­ries is an ini­tia­tive of CCP Pres­i­dent Arse­nio “Nick” Lizaso, a pro­ject un­der the um­brella of Sin­ing Sigla out­reach pro­gram. Called Movies Adapted from Lit­er­ary Arts (MALA), the pro­ject is in­tro­duc­ing in­no­va­tion in chil­dren’s shows through film adap­ta­tions of Filipino clas­sics us­ing mup­pets, vis­ual ef­fects, songs, and live ac­tion and stream­ing it on dig­i­tal so­cial-me­dia plat­forms.

Ibong Adarna is a beloved Filipino clas­sic and its choice as the se­ries opener is Lizaso’s idea. Un­known to many, the Ibong Adarna

story was the first Filipino film in color. Lizaso is quick to point out that the pi­o­neer­ing use of color was in just one scene, when the fa­bled bird changed colors while singing. But to the movie­go­ers at that time, it was al­ready some­thing mag­i­cal and spec­tac­u­lar.

Just as it in­spired the first lo­cal movie to use color, now the Ibong Adarna story has once again bro­ken ground as the first pup­petry film to be on dig­i­tal plat­form. Writ­ten by premier ven­tril­o­quist Ony Car­camo and di­rected by pop­u­lar film and TV ac­tor Xian Lim, this ver­sion is what Ony calls a tu­lawit.

A man with a mis­sion, Ony is the first lo­cal ven­tril­o­quist to have de­vel­oped and toured an ed­u­ca­tional ven­tril­o­quism and pup­petry pro­gram that has been en­ter­tain­ing and ed­u­cat­ing tens of thou­sands of school­child­ren about rel­e­vant top­ics.

While Ony is an old hand in pup­petry, what came as a sur­prise to me was the di­rec­tor of the film: Xian Lim, a pop­u­lar TV and film ac­tor. Xian told me that he caught the pup­petry bug when he saw Ony’s live per­for­mances, which led him to meet Ony, who self­lessly taught him the art of pup­petry.

There are two things I like about the MALA ini­tia­tive of CCP Pres­i­dent Nick Lizaso. One is the adap­ta­tion of lit­er­ary clas­sics to make them ac­ces­si­ble to the new gen­er­a­tion and sec­ond is the use of pup­pets, a tech­nique akin to an­i­ma­tion which is widely ap­peal­ing to school­child­ren, who sadly are shun­ning read­ing in fa­vor of watch­ing.

A few months ago, I wrote an ar­ti­cle where I broached the idea of em­ploy­ing Ja­panese style anime for class­room teach­ing. Since this would en­tail a huge ex­pense to pro­duce it, I knew it would not gain trac­tion. But now I re­al­ize that pup­petry on film would be the sec­ond best thing. An­i­ma­tion has al­ways been the bread and but­ter of chil­dren’s en­ter­tain­ment. Ed­u­ca­tional ex­perts are be­gin­ning to re­al­ize that an­i­ma­tion can be em­ployed to serve our ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem. In such sub­jects as his­tory, lit­er­a­ture, so­cial stud­ies an­i­ma­tion is an ideal ed­u­ca­tional medium be­cause of its in­trin­sic power for sto­ry­telling.

I have al­ways main­tained that sto­ry­telling is the best way to ed­u­cate and it is most ef­fec­tive with mo­tion visu­als. More than a hun­dred years ago, Mark Twain who wrote Huck­le­berry Finn and Tom Sawyer, made the as­tute ob­ser­va­tion that teach­ing “by vis­i­ble and en­thus­ing ac­tion” is most ef­fec­tive be­cause it goes “straight to the heart, which is the right­est of right places for them.”

An­i­ma­tion can do that but the prob­lem is that it is ex­pen­sive to pro­duce. Ex­perts say that an an­i­ma­tion film can cost more than a live ac­tion film. This is be­cause the cost of all the ma­chines and soft­ware add up to a lot. It is also highly la­bor-cen­tric work. It takes at least 30 peo­ple to do just a 20-minute an­i­mated episode.

This pro­ject of the CCP is show­ing us that for the frac­tion of the cost of pro­duc­ing full-scale an­i­ma­tion, a pup­petry film can do al­most the same an­i­mated sto­ry­telling through the use of pup­pet char­ac­ters. Re­mem­ber Se­same Street and Bat­i­bot? A gen­er­a­tion of Filipino chil­dren came to learn about let­ters and num­bers thanks to an ar­ray of beloved mup­pets as teach­ers.

Deped should take the cue and en­cour­age teach­ers to ac­cess this se­ries to sup­ple­ment the cur­rent blended learn­ing ap­proach. I un­der­stand the next in the se­ries is an­other tu­lawit adap­ta­tion of Flo­rante at Laura. Soon I like to see Ony and Xian do­ing pup­petry films that pro­mote our na­tional cul­ture, en­vi­ron­men­tal aware­ness and val­ues of courage, self-re­liance, co­op­er­a­tion and other val­ues re­lated to good man­ners and right con­duct. In fact, pup­petry can even be em­ployed in such sub­jects as His­tory, Pan­i­tikan, Sibika, Filipino, Kul­tura, En­vi­ron­men­tal sci­ence and health.

To me pup­petry should be part of a teacher’s ar­se­nal in teach­ing, es­pe­cially dur­ing this time of dis­tance learn­ing. The much ac­claimed ed­u­ca­tional TV pro­grams Se­same Street and Bat­i­bot have al­ready proven that pup­pets can be an en­gag­ing and use­ful way to help stu­dents de­velop emo­tion­ally and grow their lan­guage and com­mu­ni­ca­tion skills.

Nick Lizaso, who is con­cur­rently chair­man of NCCA, is try­ing to se­cure fund­ing for a se­ries of teacher’s de­vel­op­ment work­shops aimed at in­fus­ing the­atri­cal skills and tech­niques in teach­ing. I strongly sug­gest that he in­cludes a spe­cial mod­ule on ba­sic pup­petry. I long to see the day when pup­pets as sim­ple as stick or hand pup­petry be­come part of the teach­ing rou­tine!

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