Before National Arts Month ends, we spotlight a homegrown, all-original, made-in-or-despite-of-Covid animation for kids called Miming and Friends
By Meryll Yan
It became, in a poetic sort of way, a lifeboat for us out of the collective depression in 2020, a personal project where we could channel our creativity and effort into something new and, with hope, good.
Once upon a pandemic, a man and his wife found themselves paused.
After going through the stages of worry, despair, fear, frustration there arrived a quiet. How can one find in what might be the worst phenomenon imaginable a glimmer of good?
That man is my husband, Ramon del Prado, and in the seemingly interminable night of lockdown, he discovered the time to dig up an old dream, dust it off, and delve into its creation.
From Dumaguete to New York
Ramon del Prado is Bisdak or “Bisayang Dako,” having been born and raised in Dumaguete. Over a childhood spent mostly in a farm, it was natural to speak English, Bisaya, and Tagalog interchangeably and fluently. He was an ’80s baby, so there were the twin influences of Sesame Street and Batibot with occasional Betamax and later VHS viewings of Disney and Warner Bros animations and, of course, the classic Saturday cartoons like Tom and Jerry, Tex Avery, and the Looney Tunes.
What began as doodles and drawings turned into a life-long pursuit for art, culminating in a career as an animator. A bachelor’s degree of Communication Arts at De La Salle University was quickly followed by a master’s degree in Computer Animation in the NY School of Visual Arts, and as a Fulbright Scholar no less. Then he came home with a head full of dreams and a desire to create something unique for the Philippines.
But the road to being an animator here is not paved and, while there were some triumphs, there were also plenty of obstacles and, underneath it all, a lingering unchecked to-do of making an original Filipino cartoon.
Time and talent
Miming and Friends is a cartoon, yes. But it’s also envisioned to be a tool for parents, entertainment for kids and kids at heart, and with hope, also a window to Filipino culture, especially for young families who are growing up abroad. And if we are to be totally honest, Miming and Friends is also semi-autobiographical, carrying little nuggets of our quirks in their cartoon personas.
Miming is a cat-fish hybrid, physically modeled after our 14-year-old ginger cat, but in mind and spirit, she is the best of me—eternally hopeful, patient, and encouraging. Buboy, inspired by the hambubukag or flying lizard in Bisaya, is a mini version of Ramon—brave and daring even if a few times unsure, and caring with a huge heart of gold. Finally, the trio is completed by Anacorn, voiced and brought to life by Ramon’s sister, Anna. By day she is a Disney princess and performer based in Hong Kong and during her spare time, she takes on the mantle of the singing, ukulele-strumming mythical creature who is best friends with a weird cat and a funny lizard.
These three characters make up the heart and soul of Miming and Friends but they might never have manifested if it weren’t for a fateful brunch in Singapore. And while even a husband and wife can sometimes remember things differently, with this one both Ramon and I had a watershed moment and found a crystal-clear calling.
Back in December 2016, Ramon was the Philippine representative to a Wacom draw-off competition in the National Gallery. While we were there primarily for the event that gathered creatives across Southeast Asia, it was also an opportunity to spend time with one of my bestfriends who so happened to already live in Singapore, Jean Madrid.
That fateful brunch was post-competition and even though PH didn’t get the top prize, we struck up a conversation about animation and Jean, who was then a new mom to Bela, thought out loud about the desire to raise her children with Filipino roots while remaining global. She quipped to Ramon, “Your work would be perfect for that.”
This insight struck both Ramon and me like a bolt of lightning. For Ramon, it only reinforced something he has known for a very long time. He did after all found one of the Philippines’ few original story/character animation studios. We understood immediately that, as a people that is spread out all across this wide world, many foreign-based Filipino parents like Jean must feel the same need. It was a huge ikigai moment for both of us also, realizing it is something we could do with our collective skillset.
Life happened though.
And even though we both knew how powerful and driving that insight was, other things seemed to shore up in the urgent list, bumping this dream project down. Time, or the lack of it, was our enemy then.
But time became our friend with the lockdown. We know it is an extremely privileged place to be in and not a day went by that we would also wonder in fear or worry if it would last but those were unproductive drains of energy. So as creatives, we were glad to have the respite of Miming and Friends. It became, in a poetic sort of way, a lifeboat for us out of the collective depression in 2020, a personal project where we could channel our creativity and effort into something new and, with hope, good.
With Miming and Friends, and the structured process of animation, there was always something new to look forward to—from world-building at odd hours, to character design on the back pages of legal papers (provided by another best friend who is married to a lawyer), to retopology (where you optimize the sculpt for rigging), to rigging (where you install the controls for the movement) to script writing to voice acting and recording and to final animation. In each new step, each new stage, there was a goal to look forward to, and one by one, by taking those steps, we were making an animation and doing something worthwhile as the pandemic kept us indoors. Although grounded, it was an adventure nonetheless for adventure-seekers like us.
And because they say to write about what you know, we informed the content with snippets of our human experience. The first pilot of Miming and Friends shows a nervous Buboy being encouraged by Miming, a true as day retelling of me dispelling Ramon’s midnight misgivings about launching a channel. With the world on full germaphobe mode, we made an episode of washing hands while singing some ditties in English, Bisaya, and, later, Tagalog. And by far one of our favorite episodes, we have a loving dedication to Filipino snacks like kutsinta and taho, lit and shot in a very Netflix Chef’s Table way, which has been very much appreciated by parents abroad who want to share the Filipino food love language with their children.
When we lost a dear friend, Elmer Pueblo, in 2020, we turned our grief into art by creating a new character after him and we hope that we may bring him to life somehow and do him justice in future episodes.
We have also included an art activity series and a playlist so that children can work while playing these episodes and not just be sitting sponges. Finally, we shed a tear when we made our holiday special, as it captured a bit of the zeitgeist, with families currently apart but never too far, and the importance of chosen families instead of just the ones of blood.
There is a lot of love in Miming and Friends and the attention to detail can be almost neurotic. We have laid some easter eggs, like how Miming’s mobile of the solar system has the correct relative time for revolutions as the actual solar system and how the interior of their house has some small resemblances to our real home.
And while the need to juggle animation production with our day jobs and paying projects has meant that our episodes are still few, we are very grateful to have breached the 1,000 subscriber mark on Youtube.
Dark clouds may have been the backdrop for Miming and Friends’ fruition but, if anything, it only illustrates the power of art—the creation of it as well as the appreciation of it. Because in its making, we heal and overcome our fears and sadness, we put in the best and the truest of ourselves, and we serve it to the greater world in the hopes of brightening a child’s (or a kid-inside’s) or a parent’s day.
If that isn’t some form of magic, we don’t know what is.
Meryll Yan is the co-world-builder of Miming and Friends as well as the voice of Miming.
You may find Miming and Friends on Youtube.