AFTER nearly a year of anticipation, Pixar’s first-ever animated short featuring CGI Filipino characters is set to be released next week.
“Float,” written and directed by Filipino American storyboard artist Bobby Alcid Rubio, will be available for viewing on streaming service Disney+ on Tuesday, November 12.
In the roughly seven-minute short, a father tries to keep his infant son’s special ability to float a secret. But once it gets out, the father must decide whether to run and hide or to accept his son as he is.
A father of three sons himself, Rubio shared that the story is based on his relationship with his son Alex.
“I’m a storyteller at heart. I was thinking of doing this story about my son and me…I’ve been holding onto this story for eight years and I finally felt like it was time to tell it,” Rubio told the Asian Journal.
Rubio began storyboarding his idea about two years ago as a personal project and showed it to colleagues who nudged him to pitch it to Lindsey Collins, the vice president of development at Pixar Animation Studios.
She then suggested he submit it to SparkShorts, an immersive storytelling program that gives studio employees six months and a budget to develop animated short films.
“Diversity and inclusion are at the heart of SparkShorts,” Collins said in a statement. “The program was created to provide opportunities to a wide array of artists—each with something unique to say.”
The Fil-Am artist recounted that “Lindsey saw it and she felt it was a great candidate to be part of the program, which allowed me to become a writer and director for the first time here at Pixar, which was amazing because now it wasn’t just me. I had the backing of Pixar, which gave me access to all our brilliant animators, artists, designers [and] editors.”
“Float” was one of six shorts selected for the program this year and was briefly screened at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood for a week in early October before it hits Disney+. Fellow Fil-Am Krissy Cababa served as a producer for “Float” as well as “Loop,” another short in the program.
Rubio admitted that he initially characterized the father and son as Caucasian. But his colleagues suggested that he make them Filipino to reflect his own story.
“I wasn’t even thinking of them being Filipino. It was through my colleagues that had pointed out, ‘This is your story. This is about you and your son so the characters should be Filipino.’ This is just my unconscious bias. I’m not used to seeing Filipinos as lead characters and it felt very empowering to have my coworkers push this diverse person of color to be a lead,” he said.
He added that he “owned” the Filipino-ness of the story and the pride that it could give others.
“I was blown away and inspired. From that point on, I owned it and I was like, ‘That’s it, these characters are going to be Filipino.’ I am super proud that Pixar had allowed me to do that — to have now the very first CGI Filipino American lead characters,” he said.
A San Diego native, Rubio recalled being drawn to the world of comic books when he was in sixth grade. Through the encouragement of his teacher, he created his first character, The Charger, and went on to draw a weekly comic strip for the class.
The Charger character was Filipino and 5’2”, embodying the characteristics of his father Robert.
“When I was younger, I believed comic books were things that inspired me to want to pursue art and in comic books, I found a way to tell stories — my stories. Even at a young age in sixth grade, I was already thinking of making the characters Filipino American like myself and my father,” Rubio said.
The budding artist earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts from California Institute of the Arts and landed his first job at Homage Studios in La Jolla.
He spent nine years at Walt Disney Feature Animation as a traditional artist and storyboard artist on films like “Pocahontas,” “Tarzan,” and “Treasure Planet.” He also had a stint at Nickelodeon Studios where he was an assistant director and storyboard artist for “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” before moving to Pixar.
He initially applied to be part of “Ratatouille” but that did not pan out until he heard that the next two movies would be about a robot and another about an “old man and a boy scout.” His work with the studio began with “Up” and has since included “Brave,” “Monsters University,” “Inside Out” and most recently, “Incredibles 2” and “Toy Story 4.”
“I wasn’t planning on being a story artist. I wanted to become an animator…The funny thing is, I feel like I got this EGOT but it’s a Disney EGOT because I actually worked at Disney Feature Animation, Pixar, [and] I also do Marvel comic covers. Nickelodeon is a side thing. I just gotta now work at Lucas Film and ESPN then I’ll have it,” Rubio joked.
One of his young sons is also showing interest in drawing but he isn’t pushing any style or method on him. That’s the same advice he would give to emerging creatives as well.
“I believe you should find your own voice, tell your own stories and keep moving forward. As an artist, you’re gonna get a lot of critiques going up and you have to be able to take them…In my animation career, I’ve been through many places and worked with many different people. You could learn from everyone. Don’t be discouraged and keep moving forward,” he said.
Outside of his day job, Rubio continues drawing and works on his creator-owned and independent comic series, “Alcatraz High,” “4 Gun Conclusion,” and “ENFORCEMEN.”
Since the announcement of “Float” in January, social media has been abuzz with many Filipinos in the U.S. and even globally proudly sharing their excitement of being seen and represented.
Rubio is one of 50 Filipinos who work at Pixar, and they collectively call themselves “Pixnoys.”
“I was amazed when it hit social media and people started talking about it and talking about how much ‘Float’ meant to them, seeing themselves represented on screen for the first time. Being part of a major studio like Pixar, it’s nice to be recognized in that way because you feel like there’s some worth in that we are being noticed,” Rubio said.
Despite the characters of “Float” physically looking like him and his son, it’s not “really Filipino American specific,” he said, as he intends the story to be universal and relevant to any viewer.
“The characters could have been white, African American or Latino. I think that’s eventually where we would want to go in Hollywood and mainstream media — it doesn’t matter what the ethnicity of the character is…I don’t have a cultural thing. There are no dancing lumpias if that’s what people are expecting. It’s really about a father and son who happen to be Filipino American,” he said.
He continued, “At the end of the day, [‘Float’] is about the bond between father and son. It’s about unconditional love, especially amongst family members and amongst everybody. I want that to be the end thing that people get. It’s about love and acceptance and hopefully, that will resonate.”