Jess Espanola (right) with Emmy Award
By David Casuco
Los Angeles: Multi-awarded animator Jess Espanola put the Philippines in view during the 60th annual Creative Arts Emmy Awards last week, bagging one Emmy trophy for his work as Assistant Director for the The Simpsons' "Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind," which was named "Outstanding Animated Program (for programming less than one hour)."
Also given recognitions, along with Jess, are the top executives of Fox Gracie Films and Starz Film Roman, namely: James L. Brooks, Matt Groening (the creator of "The Simpsons"), Al Jean, Ian Maxton-Graham, Matt Selman, and Tim Long, executive producers; John Frink, Kevin Curran, Michael Price, Bill Odenkirk, Marc Wilmore, Joel H. Cohen, Ron Hauge, and Rob Lazebnik, co-executive producers; Lurie Biermacki, and Rick Polizzi, animation producers; J. Steward Burns, writer; Chuck Sheetz, director; Mark Kirkland, supervising director; Patricia Shinagawa, animation timer.
"The Simpsons" (FOX, Gracie Films in association with 20th Century Fox), bested four top nominees, namely: Creature Comforts America "Don’t Choke To Death, Please" CBS, Aardman Animations production in association with The Gotham Group; King Of The Hill "Death Picks Cotton" FOX, 20th Century Fox Television in association with 3 Arts Entertainment, Deedle-Dee Productions & Judgemental Films; Robot Chicken "Robot Chicken: Star Wars" Cartoon Network, ShadowMachine Films, and SpongeBob SquarePants "Inmates of Summer / Two Faces of Squidward" Nickelodeon, Nickelodeon with United Plankton Pictures, Inc.
Jess, who graduated with a fine arts degree from the University of the Philippines, is the first ever Filipino to receive an Emmy award. Although some long-time Filipino residents in Los Angeles are ambivalent on the distinction heaped on him, saying someone else — a Filipino-American engineer — set the milestone in the early 80s, a claim that remains unsubstantiated as of this writing.
Meanwhile, Jess is riding on a crest of mainstream accolade, a feat that validates the common knowledge that Filipino animators are among the best in Hollywood.
"That's correct, a lot of Filipino artists are in the cutting edge of the animation industry. I guess I am lucky that I worked with "The Simpsons," said Jess.
Actually, this is the second time that Jess got involved in an animation project that won an Emmy. He was also an assistant director for "Futurama," an animated show that won the Emmy in 2002. Unfortunately, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences did not include the assistant director in the nomination process then.
How does he feel rubbing elbows with the prime movers of the American entertainment industry?
"It was cool. All of us nominees had a party on August 26 at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences where everybody was given the certificate of honor, but the announcement of winners were set a couple of weeks later on Sept. 13 at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles where the formal announcement was done. During that day, all of us from the studio anxiously waited. And when the final reckoning came, the master of ceremonies called out, 'and the Emmy goes to... The Simpsons!' I thought I punched the air and hollered yeah! It was a surreal experience for me. The excitement was just so overwhelming at that moment," Jess told this writer in an exclusive interview.
Jess, who was given permanent U.S. residency status as a "person with exceptional ability," has an equally compelling life story. Raised by a single mother in a depressed area in Central Luzon, Jess used his artistic talent to survive when he came face to face with hunger.
"I experienced real hunger while I was a boy. There was no food on the table most of the time. Sometimes I just imagine I already ate. It was a hard life," said Jess.
Amazingly, despite the great odds, Jess still remained on top of his class, and people started helping him out when they noticed that he was an exceptionally talented kid. He was among the high achieving students in high school that gained scholarships at the University of the Philippines.
When Hanna Barbera put up Fil-Cartoon Inc., a subsidiary outfit in Pasig, Metro Manila, Jess was hired as a team supervisor and lead animator. Jess's works were, and still are, considered standards of excellence in Philippine animation.
Jess and his family moved to Los Angeles in 1994.