Filipino artist design interactive game made for children aimed to assist kids make right choices and decisions in life


NEW YORK — Looking for somebody who knows the minds of children, Columbia University turned to the Filipino illustrator of Batman and Spider-Man. Manila-born Rafael Kayanan — whose client list includes Miramax, Paramount Studios, Warner Bros. Marvel Comics, and Nickleodeon — found himself developing a CD-ROM game for New York city children ages 8 to 12.

“The CD-ROM is about offering them choices and options when faced with a problem or put under peer pressure. Ultimately, it was a tool about decision-making,” Kayanan, 40, told The Philippine News. Columbia decided to use comics art knowing that the simple almost crude linework would appeal to children. “It didn’t look like adults had a hand in shaping the world,” he said.

It was an involved project that took several months of observing the city’s interesting little details. Kayanan took hundreds of pictures of buildings, parks, stores, and street scenes and illustrated them cartoon-style. A basic map of the cartoon city and a rough paper model divided into sections had been prepared. “The visual interpretation of 85% of the buildings was drawn first with a marker and then touched up in the computer. I drew the buildings based on descriptions of the project art director. We worked one block at a time and pretty soon a whole city was established.”

Kayanan also drew the characters in the CD-ROM. “We have a wide spectrum of cultures, shapes, sizes, and age groups represented. It comes pretty close to the faces kids in New York see everyday,” he explained.

Working with Kayanan was art director Beth Anne Berger of Imagedog, a multimedia design company. She said the children identified with Kayanan’s characters. “They saw some of themselves and some of their friends and neighbors in them. A lot of that had to do with what not only how they looked, but what they sounded like — shy and quiet, loud and bossy etc.”

Without his “incredible” interpretations of characters and the “clever details and richness of the city” recreated, Berger added, “I would have had nothing to work with.” Kayanan has been a comics illustrator for nearly two decades. “I started reading and admiring comics through the Tagalog books my father brought home when I lived in the Philippines but was too young to draw professionally. I only worked in the US comics industry although I have worked in the US with the likes of the great Alfredo Alcala and other Filipino artists,” he said. Among the characters he created, children would be familiar with the Chewbacca series for Dark Horse Comics, X-Files for Topps Comics and Fox TV, Babylon Five and Firestorm for Warner Bros and DC Comics, Conan the Barbarian for Marvel Comics, and Resident Evil for Image Comics. “I’ve worked with just about every comic book company in the States,” he said. “My forte has always been the ability to create the look to fit the story.”

He also developed characters for computer games such as Turok 2 characters for Acclaim and Nintendo 64, Turok 2 action figures for Playmate Toys, and Nick Arcade for Nickelodeon. Kayanan is more than a gifted sketcher. He knows Photoshop, Quark, Flash, and Illustrator and uses computer technology to simulate fight choreography among his characters.

Kayanan came to the States in the1970s when he was eight years old. He considers himself the “bridge” between the first wave of migration of comic book talent — led by Nestor Redondo, Alex Nino, and Alfredo Alcala — and younger-generation artists such as Gerry Alanguilan, Nick Manabat, Whilce Portacio, and Lenil Yu. “I am part of the transitional phase between the old school and the new wave,” he said. He is married to an American of Italian and Scottish descent.

He spoke highly of his colleagues, old and young, calling them “masters of the brush, pen, and ink.” They have a huge following in both the East and the West, he said. He noted distinct European features to characters developed by Filipinos but theorized these must have come from academic training more than the conscious mind. Today, he sees some Japanese influence in Filipino comics art.
The break came when Kayanan, a first year student at the Ringling School of Art and Design in Sarasota, Florida, attended an art convention in Tampa. There he met an artist by the name of Pat Broderick, who showed samples of Kayanan’s drawings to the DC Comics publisher in New York. It didn’t take long before he was offered a job. “I never looked back since,” he recalled.

Kayanan spotted the Columbia project at an online job posting. He contacted Imagedog, which sent him a concept sketch. “Within 20 minutes I had drawn and colored the same character in a more animated pose, with a word balloon above him saying something. After a face-to-face interview I was on my way,” he said.

Currently working on the film adaptation of an old fantasy character, Kayanan said he is incorporating Filipino martial arts in the choreography of this particular project. “It combines my art experience and martial arts, something I never thought would happen. It’s been a fun and rewarding experience.”