And the Special FX Emmy goes to … a Filipino and a Cambodian!

FilAm Creative hosts ‘Westworld,’ ‘Gotham’ computer-generated graphics directors

FilAm Creative networking always ends up with a group picture.

HISTORIC FILIPINOTOWN, Los Angeles, CA – If you’ve ever wondered how HBO can make its sci-fi Western series, ‘Westworld,’ look like a futuristic amusement/theme park exclusively for trillionaires, and not like the empty scrubland in Simi Valley, Calif., where it’s filmed, then meet Filipino Mark Anthony J. Nazal, Emmy award-winning visual environments and effects creative director.

It’s difficult not to get caught up in their enthusiasm.

Mark and fellow Emmy award-winning VFX arts director, Cambodian American Sina San, took time off from their hectic shooting schedules to network with FilAm Creative members who work behind or in front of the camera, or both. Sina won for her special effects artwork on the Fox TV Batman series, ‘Gotham.’

“We both knew that if we didn’t do something to help you all after winning these, then they might as well just stay in their box,” the 31-year-old Mark told an enthusiastic audience Aug. 26, at a gathering hall inside the Pilipino Workers Center in Historic Filipinotown here pointing to the shiny, golden, and very heavy Emmy awards he and Sina each won for the jaw-dropping visual effects they created.

Mark said his competitors included Netflix’s ‘The Crown,’ filmed in southern England, and Hulu’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale,’ filmed in Canada. Mark said the fact that two Asians making movie magic in Los Angeles won, speaks volumes about how much the world continues to look to Hollywood for innovation.

“But Southeast Asia has a unique aesthetic and unique stories,” added Sina, who specializes in matte painting. “The landscape, the patterns, the colors. Tech(nology) has brought the visions of Chinese, Japanese, Korean filmmakers closer to us here in the West.” Sina herself is making a film about the Cambodian version of the Filipino aswang. She treated the audience to a piece of her ‘look-book,’ preliminary clips or film sketches of how she’d like her entrails-sucking sorceress to move and kill.

About 50 FilAm Creative members and media members, mixed and ate pansit and drank jugo de melon, and enjoyed free DVD giveaways brought by Mark and Sina. A Gawad Kalinga social entrepreneur, Sara Beatrice, was selling Kaya Essentials beauty products made from cold-pressed coconut oil. Part of the proceeds from each body cream or lip balm sold goes to feeding nearly 20,000 children in the Philippines.

But the evening’s excitement truly came when Mark and Sina pulled back the curtain and showed the behind-the-scenes of their work, transforming a green screen into the moody, skyscraper-swept black night sky of ‘Gotham,’ as Batman and his sordid nemeses battle for the city’s heart. It was magical as they showed how a dusty scrubland plain in Simi Valley, just northwest of Los Angeles in Ventura County, was transformed into a lavender-hued, lush valley with towering Kilimanjaro-height mountain ranges ringing the actors, who only were working in front of a blue screen.

Born in Quezon City, Mark said he came to the United States in 2005 as a teenager. He grew up in the United Arab Emirates and Australia and got his first VFX Emmy nomination in his second year of work and won the Emmy for ‘Westworld’ in only his fifth year in the industry. It’s difficult not to get caught up in his enthusiasm.

“The more collaborative you are, the better your film will be,” he assured FilAm Creative members, most of whom have to work on shoestring or micro-budgets. “You don’t necessarily have to equate having a low budget with having that all too familiar low budget look. Talk to a VFX supervisor. Elevate your general production values. But remember, know how to augment. Not every shot is a VFX shot.”

Both Emmy winners said they are doing what they love in an industry that whipsaws forward with advances in technology that can make an elderly person look young and vice versa with just an algorithm.

“Do what you love because you’re going to make it, if you go for it,” San said, as she added that her love for art made her follow her heart and help create an entertainment industry cooperative called Creative Lightbox, where moviemakers help each other bring their vision to the big screen.

“For me it was do or die,” added Mark Nazal, with his always encouraging grin.

“It all started with Photoshop in high school,” he added, as he showed us clips of home movies he made with his siblings disappearing or flying out of windows with a flash of light. “My love for this grew through doing it and refining my skill set. I had to make it here. I had no other choice.”