MANILA -- Superheroes can come from all walks of life, all backgrounds. Just think of Parker, the wallflower who is gifted with amazing powers after being bitten by a genetically enhanced superspider. Or even his Ultimate Universe version, Miles Morales, who has the same origin, but with a slightly different power set.
Or better yet, talk to Pinoy animator Louie del Carmen, a story artist for the upcoming Sony Animation Pictures' "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," which shows Parker and Morales teaming up with other Spider-Men from different universes.
Born and raised in Cavite City, del Carmen studied commercial art at the University of Santo Tomas and has worn many hats through the years -- as a deejay for an FM radio station and a little bit of work for an advertising agency.
He then made the jump into animation as a character designer at Hollywood boutique animation studio Klasky-Csupo in 1995 and never looked back.
Del Carmen has built an impressive resume for animated films and TV shows, working on character design or as storyboard artist for TV shows such as "Rugrats," "Invader Zim," "Kim Possible," "Drawn Together," and "Dragons: Riders of Berk."
He worked as storyboard artist for the DC animated movie "Justice League: The New Frontier" and as story artist for Dreamworks' movies "Kung Fu Panda" 1 and 2, "Megamind," "Rise of the Guardians," "The Croods," and "Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie."
He was also head of story for the animated feature "The Star" by Columbia Pictures.
For his latest assignment, Del Carmen is slinging his skills as story artist for "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," the new movie directed by Bob Persichetti, Peter Ramsey, and Rodney Rothman from a screenplay by Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman and story by Phil Lord.
Q: Where did you DJ? And which advertising agency did you work with?
A: I was an on-air DJ at 99.5 DWRT FM from about January to June of 1989 under the handle “Rick Shaw.” It was the last job I had before going to the US and it was a lot of fun!
My ad work was very short lived and it was for about a month at small agency that one of our professors at UST was working at. It was more of a paid internship really. I don’t remember the name of the agency anymore unfortunately. A group of us also did freelance marketing art for some smaller retailers. It was a chance to do some professional work out of school.
Q: Taga saan po kayo sa Cavite before? Any memories there?
A: I was born and raised in Cavite City. Somewhere in between there we lived in Manila a couple of times, but lived mostly in Cavite. I had a great childhood in that town and are still friends with most of my high school classmates to this day. Every year that goes by and as I get older, my appreciation for that town really grows. It was a unique experience and a unique place. I know the town has changed a lot since I’ve been there, but maybe the ideal version of Cavite City is the one that’s still in my head from 30 years ago.
Q: How did you break into animation? You have my respect for working on "Rugrats." That was a great show.
A: Since my college training at UST was geared towards commercial art, I had to re-train for animation which was something completely different. It took a couple of years of classes and creating work to put in a portfolio.
I got a job at a studio called Klasky-Csupo in Hollywood in 1995 designing characters for a Nickelodeon show called “Aah! Real Monsters!” which was my first job in the industry. Afterwards I got to work on “Rugrats” when the show was re-booted for another 4 seasons. “Dragons: Riders of Berk" was a challenging, but fun show to work on and it was the first time I had directed CG. It also marked a return to television having worked on feature films for 7 years.
Q: For "Justice League: The New Frontier," which sequences did you storyboard?
A: I did a very short sequence in that project and it’s the scene where Faraday and Superman have a contemplative talk about the Martian Manhunter. I was on vacation when director Dave Bullock called me and offered this little scene to me. It was the first time I had done any official work on Superman so that was fun.
Q: "Kung Fu Panda" and "Kung Fu Panda 2" are my guilty pleasure Dreamworks Animation flicks. How was the experience like working on those films?
A: I worked only briefly on the first movie towards the end of its production, but got to work on KFP2 for 2 years. It had a great crew of world-class talent so I learned a great deal from working alongside them. Po is a fun character and it’s such a wide, expansive world that’s really fun to draw. It had a lot of very spiritual aspects to it thematically and of course, you get to work in the kung fu genre, which is a privilege.
Q: You mentioned Moebius, Katsuhiro Otomo and Syd Mead as some of your influences. I also see a little bit of Jordi Bernet in your work. Are there any Filipino artists you like/emulate?
A: Filipino ‘komiks’ was such a big part of everyday life growing up. Filipinos loved to read comics. When you went to buy a newspaper, there were always several titles being sold at newsstands like ‘Wakasan’ along with re-prints of U.S. titles. There were guys like Mars Ravelo who had already created established characters like Darna, but the one I probably gravitated to was Alex Niño whose style was really dynamic and cinematic. I considered him the Filipino Frank Frazetta. His work was always so imaginative and well executed. I also like Tony DeZuniga. Some years ago before he passed away I would visit his table at Comic-Con in San Diego and he would always insist on giving me free comics. Salamat po Mang Tony!
Q: What's your favorite cartoon?
A: Without a doubt it’s “Jonny Quest.” Followed by “The Herculoids.” And I couldn’t articulate it at the time, but I could sense that these shows were just a cut above the rest. Of course, both were designed by the legendary Alex Toth whose influence on artists is so immense.
The concept of “Jonny Quest” just hits that sweet spot of things that I like -- action adventure with a science fiction-thriller sensibility. Here’s a kid who never seemed to go to school, who had a genius of a dad who traveled everywhere in a cool jet. He also got to hang out with his best friend and his dog, and he had a body guard with a machine gun. How cool is that?!
Q: On to "Spider-Man," with the little I've seen about the movie, the animation style is just dynamite. As story artist, do you focus more on story or is there a particular character assigned to you?
A: Typically, you’re assigned a sequence based on your strengths. It’s just like how an actor is cast, you pick the right actor for the right role. It’s the same in animation when a lead is cast to animate a specific character. In story, you’re also looking for a fit in terms of storytelling style and vision. I was brought in during the early days of the project and was the first to do exploratory storyboarding.
The look of the movie is so strikingly different and fresh from anything I had ever worked on that it really spurred so much creative energy.
Q: Is there a Filipino influence somewhere in "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"? It seems the Miles Morales universe would be more open to something like that.
A: Obviously there are cultural and social undertones in the movie that reflect the current society, but what’s great about this movie is that Miles’ story is anyone’s story. In terms of a Filipino influence, we’ve always been known to have strong family bonds and strong sense of community, and familial relationships are very much a part of this movie.
Q: How did they decide on the "style" for the different Spider-Men in the movie?
A: It really stemmed from hammering on the theme that anyone can wear the spider suit. That heroism is innate in us and you don’t have to be called “super” to be a hero. Design wise, since they are of different parallel worlds, they each needed their identity and especially, their own sense of humor, which is very much a part of who Spider-Man is.
Q: Describe your work process. Is there a particular character type that you like to animate?
A: I’m a huge fan of appeal and charm so anything or anyone that exudes that charm is fun to work on. So no I don’t gravitate to any specific character. The one question I ask is “what of myself can I add to that?” And if you’re given the artistic freedom like I was given on "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse," then it’s even better.
Q: Are you working on anything else after Spider-Man? What's your dream project?
A: I currently work at Walt Disney Animation Studios on their current and future projects. On the side, I sketch and post on social media and sometimes I publish my own sketchbooks. My dream project would be to write and direct my own feature film.
Q: What's your advice for budding/aspiring animators? What should they do to get started and excel in their craft.
A: To make good art, you have to train not only the hand, but the mind. They have to simultaneously evolve and grow and learn. Like anything in life, in order to get really good at something you have to practice it constantly. It’s repetitive and iterative, but each time you attempt something you have to try and get better and not get comfortable. But you also have to grow and mature as a person. You have to consider everything. Most importantly, you work on it so you can make mistakes and fail. Failure is the best teacher. Learn from it and ask yourself, “how can I get better?”. Lastly, I challenge them to be ambitious and to dream big!