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The Making of Child Soldiers

John W. Rice relates how he and his fellow artists at Fil-Cartoons in the Philippines created a public service announcement for UNICEF's International Animation Consortium for Child Rights.

Excerpt from Fil Cartoons PSA, Child Soldiers.

John Rice.

It involved around 150 people, most working well into their own time; it seemed everyone at Fil-Cartoons wanted to "do" something, to contribute in some way, to say that they helped in the making of Child Soldiers.

Several months ago, Bill Dennis, then president and general manager of Fil-Cartoons, Manila, received a request from UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) to be a participating studio in a worldwide animation consortium that is producing a series of public service commercials to be aired around the world. The UNICEF Animation Consortium, the organization created specifically for this purpose, has acquired the assistance of most if not all of the world's leaders in animation. Disney, Warner Bros., Hanna-Barbera, DreamWorks and countless others were tapped to produce animated features on children's rights covered in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. By popularizing children's needs and rights, the animation industry will assist in making the global television audience more conscious of its duties and obligations to children everywhere. Each participating studio will create and produce a 30-second feature on a specific child right selected in consultation with UNICEF. Bill Dennis accepted immediately, delighted that Fil-Cartoons had been included with such high profile studios.

Fil-Cartoons has, over the years, produced several shows for UNICEF, most notably some of the highly popular and acclaimed Meena series, which deal with the rights of girls in a rural Asia. For this project, there were many "headings" to choose from, such as: A child's right to free speech, to play, to education, to a caring family, etc. We eventually decided on the child's right not to go to war. It was quite amazing to learn how many children and youth are actually fighting in wars across the world, getting killed or maimed. This heading seemed to hold special significance here in the Philippines, as until quite recently, government forces clashed many times with anti-government insurgents that were partly comprised of youths fighting and dying for a cause many suspected they knew or cared little about.

rice03.gif Clown sequence from Child Soldiers.

Showing What We Could Do

After receiving the green light from UNICEF we promptly got started. Fil-Cartoons is a major production house, and although not unfamiliar with preproduction, the bulk of our work in the past, as with most Asian animation studios, has been from layout to workprint; so this was a great opportunity for us to show what we could do. The problem was how to portray such a sensitive subject in only 30 seconds. This posed quite a challenge, so my fellow animation directors Achiu So and Ric Jamlig, and I began work on what turned out to be the first of many possible scenarios. We were having fun, and once or twice thought we'd cracked the problem, only to be sent literally, back to the drawing board.

Bill Dennis, as producer was not an easy person to impress, and he wanted to be impressed. He was very much involved in the initial creative aspects of the spot. He wanted something special, being only too aware that it would be an international showcase for the talents and creativity of Fil-Cartoons and it's artists.

Eventually, Child Soldiers took shape. The main character, Carlos, about 13 years old, dark haired with slightly olive skin, is part of a group of friends seen in typical childhood situations. His friends are an ethnic mix of Asians, Africans and Europeans. The location could have been any one of many countries.

We open on Carlos and his friends, at the circus, laughing at the antics of a colorful clown, very upbeat, noisy, happy, etc. Then we cross dissolve though a series of happy childhood situations as the mood and tempo changes to what we now realize is reality: Carlos and his friends standing against a bombed out shell of a building, looking like a disheveled rag tag group of child soldiers as shadows of passing tanks glide over them. We then hear the simple line of voice-over narration, "'To some children, childhood is just a dream." This return to reality is reflected in the colors, from bright colors to greys and blues, in the music, from gay circus tunes to the sound of tanks rolling along a gravel road. Carlos dreaming of what might have, what should have been.

We wanted to keep Child Soldiers wholly within the studio. The original music was written and performed by Egay Bugas and Rommie Fabian, who are equally proficient as animators. For the voice-over narration, we tested around 30 people around the studio and finally decided on Alice Manuel, head of the Administration Department. She spoke the line with such deep conviction that perhaps came, in part, from being the mother of 2 teenage boys. The models were designed by Ric Jamlig. Nary Jamlig as the animator, reminds us how talented and versatile Filipino animators are.

Child Soldiers.

I asked some of the people who worked on Child Soldiers their thoughts on the project. Here is what they had to say:

Left to right: Nary Jamgig, Bill Dennis, and John Rice.

Rex Avila, Head, Background Department: I produced nine background studies for Child Soldiers; and although the style was not extremely difficult, careful attention had to be paid to achieving the correct atmosphere. My own childhood was so happy and carefree, it really brings home the plight of these desperate children. My heart goes out to them.

Grace Yoingco, Head, Ink & Paint Department: As a mother, the images portrayed in the film really make me aware of the fate of children in other parts of the world, whose fate is so much more unsettled and unsure than that of my own. I pray that all the children in the world can grow up enjoying a happy childhood as mine are.

Ellen Santiago, Color Stylist: Getting the colors right for this project had many demanding aspects, enhancing the happy moments and solemnifying the downward aspects. I carefully researched the different skin shades of each race portrayed. I hope our small effort goes a small way to eliminating this dreadful use of human life.

Lani Manapsal, Cel Painter: It's an honor to be part of this project. The destruction and wanton abuse of such young lives is so wrong. I hope and pray this evil will end soon.

Au Uaje, Head, Special Effects Department: The tears flowing, such a strong scene. We experimented with using glue, pantone, airbrush and dry brush to get just the correct effect. I think the realism of the shot will bring home the crass futility of child soldiers.

Teddy Rodriguez, Head, Final Checking: I felt privileged to have been a part of the project. If only, in a small way, it may start to bring to an end the evil that is war and the disregard of human life. This is such a worthwhile film.

Dong Bagos, Xerox Checking: This film had complications--most of it was on 24 field. I hope that these atrocities it helps to bring to light will soon be only bad memories.

Nary Jamlig, Animator: Youth is the only hope of the future--for God's sake, stop killing the world's children!

Boatman Lacamiento, Layout Artist: "To some children, childhood is just a dream." When I read this line on the storyboard, I realized exactly what this project involved. I had to come up with layouts that could put over this dreadful practice and in some way help to stop it altogether. It was a film I thought very relevant and I was very happy to have been asked to work on it.

Alice Manuel, Administration Head (Voice-Over): Doing the voice-over for this project was considerably more difficult than I thought. After viewing the rushes, I felt inspired as I delivered the line. Such a sensitive issue. As a mother, I knew what this film is all about.

Each comment is similar and they all relished working on such a socially relevant film. I also enjoyed the experience enormously. It is not often that one gets to work on a project from its conception to completion. And, as a parent, I too hope we may have helped put an end to child soldiers.

John W. Rice is an Animation Director at Fil-Cartoons.