Pepot Art: Transmuting Media and Colors into Stories

Habulan ng Higante, diorama characters by Pepot Art

Images courtesy of the featured artistz

Someone said color is a language on its own, without words, and Joffrey (Pepot) Atienza is transmuting the canvas of his spirit and his facility for various media, into stories.

As a multidisciplinary artist, he goes by Pepot to family, friends, and now, everyone familiar with his work. He was born in Atimonan, Quezon, and resides in Lucban, popularly known as the art capital of Quezon Province, and a town that has inspired his current body of work.

Joffrey Atienza and his mother Cynthia Zamora, a.k.a. artist Thea Mujares, who introduced him to a world filled with colors and stories.

Colors and drawings had always been a part of Pepot’s life.

He distinctly remembers having won first place as a child for a kindergarten contest piece featuring smiling people and characters, allowing him to feel validation for his love of art, the use of all the colors he had a facility for using, and a fascination for creative expression.

Fast forward to 2017, Pepot submitted his 3D illustration, Malong: The Magic Cloth, as a contest piece to the inaugural ASEAN Illustration Awards hosted by the International Children’s Content Rights Fair (ICCRF) and won the first-ever Illustrator Award (Best in Fiction) in Chang Mai. The following year, he flew to Chiang Mai again, but this time to conduct art workshops also through the auspices of the ICCRF.

In retrospect, all this does not come as a surprise. Indeed, when Pepot asks, his artist mother Thea Mujares would tell him how he would draw on the walls as a toddler and exhibit, as it were, his potential even then. Not that he had had any inkling of what this all meant at the time.

But just as truth makes itself known as smoke signaling the presence of fire, his spirit for creation and color could not be repressed. And the truth is that he loved creating things from scratch. It was the act of creation that absorbed him.

When did he discover his passion for stop motion clay animation?

Pepot started his career as a motion graphics artist for a Yey! Kids Channel in ABS-CBN years ago.

“Part of my work routine was to explore different styles and trends in animation so that I can constantly generate fresh ideas for work. I stumbled upon stop motion animation movies like Boxtrolls and Coraline by Laika Studios, as well as films by Wes Anderson, such as Fantastic Mr. Fox and Isle of Dogs, and the level of detail in those works blew my mind.

“I was floored by the craftsmanship of those films—truly moving works of art. I looked for more stop motion animation movies to study. I tried doing stop motion execution mostly in clay and eventually in other styles for TV promos, interstitials, and channel IDs.

“As I became a children’s book illustrator I realized that I really wanted to delve into stop motion production, so I focused on making dioramas and dolls. This was because I realized that learning the technicalities of these things will strengthen my skills and the foundation of my craft.”

Compared to traditional animation, stop-motion is a filmmaking technique where objects are physically manipulated in small increments to mimic movement between individually photographed frames, taken using special cameras so that they will appear to exhibit independent motion or change when the series of frames is played back.

Pepot counts Chris Sickels and Jim McKenzie as influences, saying, “I really loved the depth of Sickels’ characters and how human they are. (While) Mackenzie creates these very eccentric, almost alien forms.”

He also happens to love Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali (Salvador Felipe Jacinto Dalí y Domenech) whose work, he says, is of the weird and the fantastical.

“I love stories about fantasy, exploration, and (things that) are out of this world. I really dig stories that push the boundaries of the known and unknown. Aside from that, I’d like to cover some serious issues, tackling very real-world stuff focusing on what kids deal with as they grow up. I want to challenge myself in the future and publish my own stories someday.”

“My favorite (art piece) would be ‘Alice in Wonderland Syndrome.’ It’s my latest sculptural work that incorporates some movable practical armatures or mechanics so that it can be animated.  I really love how it turned out because I got really creative and got to go crazy with the overall concept. I based it on a rare neurological condition that I happen to have where I experience a sudden distortion of reality whenever I get very excited or happy. They call it the Alice in Wonderland Syndrome (AWS) from the classic stories.”

As for his sources of inspiration, Pepot says his personal projects are usually inspired by childhood memories and experiences. “Ang dami kasing masaya and super lungkot. Malaking influence ‘yung maraming laruan.”

Growing up, he was surrounded by many toys. His mother managed a toy store back then and he had a run of the place.

And books. The kind that introduced the world to his impressionable mind.

“Books also taught me a lot about local and world cultures. Expanding knowledge is a way of also expanding one’s creativity, so I am glad for the early exposure. I am also fond of stories of strange and fantastical creatures told by the most interesting people I know. They made my imagination run wild with a never-ending supply of inspiration and ideas.

Priority ng nanay ko yung lagi akong nakakapagbasa.”

Needless to say, Pepot enjoys doing the work. It felt like he had his own world.

To date, he is working on children’s books with digital artwork and a complex Pahiyas diorama for which Lucban is known.

He is also fervently awaiting the actual release date of the books he has worked on, saying these may be released during the Manila International Book Fair. He started work on them during the onset of the pandemic and is hoping he would be around to see them before he leaves in September.

What is happening in September? Spain. Pepot has signed up to start a postgraduate course at the BAU, Centro Universitario de Artes y Diseño de Barcelona (BAU, College of Arts and Design) and he is flying to Spain a month early to prepare.

Sayang e. Ayaw ko magkaroon ng regrets,” he said.

“I always wanted to push my talents to their full potential. I love to surprise myself that I can still do big scary things that I never imagined I could achieve. And eventually, I want to be that spark of inspiration and impart everything I learned and this passion to the younger artists. That may sound very lofty but that is, for real, my goal.

“This master’s program is one of the only few animation programs in the world that is solely dedicated to stop motion animation. Usually, stop motion animation courses are squeezed in as an elective subject in Fine Arts and Computer Animation programs.”

The program itself will have theoretical-practical workshops conducted, including viewings and analyses of outstanding examples of each technique. During these workshops, students must experiment with the principles of animation and apply them to the various stop-motion techniques by completing exercises and guided practice in each technique and sub-technique.

“(Classes) start in October,” he said, and you can hear the excitement and anticipation in his voice. His tone echoed by the smiles he insists to color the world by.

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