Deborah Tudtud: Child woman in motion
She sketches from imagination, breathes life into her drawings in a painstakingly process and—voilà!—the cartoon character comes alive. But Cebuana Deborah Tudtud, who studied classical animation at the Vancouver Film School in Canada, will tell you that it’s easier said than done.
An animator is an artist who creates multiple images, known as frames, that give an illusion of movement called animation when displayed in rapid sequence. Long before the motion picture as we know it today, back in the Paleolithic days are cave paintings, the earliest signs of artistic interest in depicting figures in motion: Animals in such paintings were often depicted with multiple sets of
legs in superimposed positions because the creator simply has no means of erasing it, and it’s likely that they were attempts to convey motion.
The fact is that animation is one of the most in-demand and high paying jobs these days.
Here in Cebu, Deborah shares her expertise to serious enthusiasts at the University of the Visayas New School (UVNS).
Dr. Francis Xavier Solis
What got you interested in animation?
I’ve always loved animation. I watched all sorts of cartoons when I was a kid and I never outgrew it. My mom told me that as a toddler the only way for her to get me to eat was when she turned on the TV and I’d watch Popeye, Looney Tunes, or Tom and Jerry reruns. In grade school, my parents got cable TV and my love for animation grew. We recorded cartoons like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Tiny Toon,” “Akazukin Chacha,” “Dexter’s Laboratory,” “Sailor Moon” and watched them over and over on our VHS player. I also loved to draw my favorite cartoon characters on my notebooks and textbooks in class. By grade six, the Internet happened, and the rest
is history. I’m a proud toon geek all the way. I will always be an animator, an illustrator, and a kid at heart.
What’s the turning point in your life, when you decided to drop everything and pursue your passion?
After high school, I took up Nursing. That was the trend back then, plus having parents in the medical field, my brother and most of my cousins taking up Nursing… Don’t get me wrong, Nursing is a noble and great profession, but it’s not for me. I wanted to take up something art-related, but my parents said art is just a hobby and not a real job. Third year was when we started doing hospital duty and that was when I realized I couldn’t imagine working at a hospital all my life. These years, I would come to call as the dark ages. I was melancholic and emo most of the time, and my family couldn’t understand why.
I befriended amazing artists and comic book enthusiasts from istorya.net and we hung out a lot. These guys had jobs as illustrators and
artists. It made me realize that there’s a future in art. I couldn’t handle not being true to my calling anymore, so I took up Fine Arts in San Carlos. Best decision I have made so far. Now, my parents are my biggest supporters. I was happy again. I became a children’s book illustrator, and later, a 2D animator. Now I’m here to share whatever I’ve learned to fellow Cebuanos who have similar aspirations.
We heard that it’s like P200,000 monthly for the work that you do. How do you get your name out there?
Ha! I don’t know where that amount came from, but I certainly don’t earn anywhere near that amount. Where can I find that studio? But to answer the question… You can post your works online. Create blogs or a professional site where you can put your portfolio.
If you have some animated works, post them on YouTube or Vimeo. Having a LinkedIn account also helps. It’s also amazing how relevant word of mouth still is since the animation industry is not very big.
What’s the longest time you spent on a single work?
Producing an animated work takes quite a long time to finish. That’s why it takes a team or more with lots of artists to create an animated series or a full-length animated feature. It takes even longer when you work on an animation all by yourself. I was very fortunate to have had the experience to animate on paper when I studied Classical Animation in Vancouver. We had five months to work on my two-minute animated short. Each student had to make one. We spent many sleepless nights to finish on time. Sometimes we’d go home in the morning just to take a shower then head back to school and continue working on our films. Coffee was our friend, and so was Timbits (Munchkins or donut holes here). I think I used 1,800+ sheets of paper, including rough sketches and cleanup.
How do you get inspiration in creating a character?
Anything and everything can be used as an inspiration in drawings. My family, friends and my doggies would be first on the list. They make great inspirations. My family would usually be my subjects for caricature and sketching. I also look at people and things around me with interesting features then I try to show their personality in the drawing.
What is your usual working environment like?
Working at home and working at a studio are two very different beasts. Working at two animation studios in Canada was a great learning experience. They were busy and productive but also fun. For one, you could bring dogs to work. We would have labradors, basset hounds, terriers, and puppies roaming about while we work. On one corner of the room, was a TV monitor and a couple of old school Nintendo consoles with working cartridges. Occasionally, the TV monitor airs a kitty cam or a puppy cam possibly to boost the people’s morale or reduce stress levels. There were also mini galleries, and workshops offered. The studios were great places to meet awesome artists, too. Sometimes I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be around so many skilled people.
Nowadays I do some freelance and work at home. I have to make do with the equipment I have and the software available. I’m not the most organized person in the world so my desk isn’t very tidy, but it’s neat enough to work on. It usually has figurines of cartoon characters like Scooby Doo, Perry the Platypus, and Rainbow Dash on one side. My laptop would be on the left and my Wacom tablet would be on the right. I’d have a keyboard near my left hand so I can easily input the keyboard shortcuts. Like the studio, my workplace at home is also a dog-friendly area. My chow Yasha usually sleeps below the desk, keeping my feet warm and snug.
What made you decide to teach animation here in Cebu?
Even before I left for Canada, I dreamt of making art and animation more accessible to Cebuanos. For our Cebuano animation community to grow, we need to have more animators. I wished there was a 2D animation school in Cebu so dreamers like me wouldn’t have to travel oceans to get this kind of education. So when I found out that there was UV New School that was teaching animation, I looked into it. I was later invited by Emot Amodia, the animation program director, to be a panelist in the students’ short film pitch presentation. After seeing their animatics, I saw the creativity, the imagination and the potential the students possessed. I wanted to actively help them make their animatics a fully-animated short. When I was offered to teach as a 2D mentor, I didn’t hesitate and accepted the offer.
How attached can you get in your creation?
I do my very best not to get too attached to a project that isn’t my own. I used to dedicate a lot of time for one drawing as an illustrator. You have to spend some time working and refining the illustration. In animation, we work at 24 frames a second. That means in a second there would be 12 to 24 drawings for the animation to look smooth. I learned how to draw faster and to focus more on gestures and the movement rather than making sure the drawing is as photorealistic and accurate from the reference. Animation encouraged me not to dwell too much on the details. Every now and then though, I gotta switch from animator to illustrator mode especially if it’s a personal project or if the style a client wants is very detailed. I still spend some time trying to perfect a drawing or an animation, but as Elsa in “Frozen” would say, I have also learned to let it go.
Was there ever a time you abandoned a work in progress?
I wouldn’t call it abandoned, but I do have a lot of works in progress (WIP) and I intend on finishing them. As long as I still have a copy of a storyboard, a sketch or the idea, then I’ll eventually get to it … someday.
Who are your biggest influences as an animator?
The mentors and supervisors I had in school and work, my friends Mary and Awing who taught me a lot of what I know in digital illustration, the late and great directors Tex Avery and Chuck Jones who directed the favorite Looney Tunes and Tom and Jerry of our childhood.
Is there a special skill you wish you were also good at that can help you much more as an animator?
I wish I were ambidextrous so if my right hand was tired of drawing, I could switch to the other one. Or maybe the special skill where I’d need an hour or two of rest then I’d be back to full energy. I can tend to be a bit of a workaholic. Ooh! Another amazing skill I’d love to have is if I could merge working and working out. That would help tons! The more I draw, the more calories I’d burn.
What is a dream project that you’d like to fulfill?
I’d like to create a personal feature animation about the Filipino family and about bullying during my lifetime. It’s an important subject for me. Or a film about animals. I also dream of creating my own children’s book series. Ha! I have a lot of dreams.
What is the advantage of being a female animator?
I don’t believe either sex has advantages over the other in the animation field. What matters is the skill, the talent, the dedication, patience, and perseverance of the animator.
What are the things you cannot live without that is found in your bag and why you keep them?
My sketchbook and my pencil case… it’s very bulky and that’s why I carry my backpack everywhere I go. When I think of a silly idea or something funny, I can quickly grab my drawing tools then write it, draw it, or sketch it. It’s like a warrior bringing his sword with him at all times. These would be my weapons of trade.
How do you make all your characters come alive?
Animation has a series of steps to take before the magic happens. There’s preproduction, production, then post-production. In preproduction… this is where the story is planned, scripts then voice over recordings are recorded, then it’s off to storyboarding.
Storyboarding is a very important stage since that’s where the scripts are made visually. Then, once approved, character designs, prop designs, concepts of what the world looks like are created. With all these steps, it really requires a lot of time and effort and it’s only the first part of animation. Next would be the production phase. Here, backgrounds, layout, character builds are finalized then sent to the animation team. This is where most of the time is spent in making the animation. Lastly, there’s post-production where the effects are added.
What can you advise aspiring animators?
Draw a lot. Do your own thing. Do what you love. Then be good at it. If you want to be an animator, you’ll do everything you can to become a successful animator. Gather inspiration from your surroundings. There might be a story to tell. I also keep Walt Disney’s quote in mind which is “All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them.” It may sound cheesy, but I stick to it and it’s worked so far.
What kind of trainings do our Cebuano aspiring animators need to arrive at where you are?
Study animation and the steps it takes to become one. Take workshops about animation, character designing, how to use Flash or Toon Boom, and learn from mentors. Watch a lot of cartoons but don’t just watch it for fun— try to find out what makes the cartoon work and how it’s made.
Name special projects you did that you are so proud of?
“Pig Out” is my very first film so I’m very proud of it. It’s a film about a pig singing about how to eat a pig.
Interestingly, I don’t eat red meat. This short was drawn on paper so that itself was already a feat. I’m also very proud of “A Song for Mommy,” which is my gift for my mom’s 60th birthday.
I wasn’t around when she turned 60 and I missed my family a lot so I made her a song and animation. I’m very proud of it because I heard it made my mother cry. I just wished I was there to hug her then. This year, my dad turns 60 and I’m currently working on a little something for him. Stay tuned.. hehe.
How open are you for collaborations?
I’m very open for collaboration. Most animation requires teamwork, so I’d love to meet fellow animators and work with them on a project. Together, we can conquer the world with our art!
They say animation stories are very Western. How backwards are we in terms of coming up with a Filipino cartoon, for example?
Not all animation stories are Western. Anime is from Japan and has influenced a lot of aspiring animators here in the Philippines. There’s a lot of animation studios in Manila, but I agree that most of the work they do are outsourced either by Japan or the West. I, too, would love to watch animations made by Filipinos ourselves. All we need is more accessibility to resources, more funding for original Filipino
content, and more imaginative minds eager enough to make their stories come alive.
How do you find time for yourself given your busy schedule?
I’m very lucky to have great friends and family who are willing to free up some time to hang out during weekends. Everybody needs a weekend or a break from work or a project otherwise we’d burn out.
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