We spoke with the writer and director of Pixar and Spark Shorts’ Float — Bobby Rubio.
The short film is his directorial debut as a storyteller, with Rubio’s previous work focusing on major blockbusters including UP, The Incredibles, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Tarzan and Pocahontas. It has already amassed over 60 million views on YouTube, and counting. This release represents Pixar and Spark Shorts’ support and solidarity with Asian and Asian-American communities around the world against Anti-Asian hate.
The social movement tagged #StopAsianHate and #StopAAPIHate is spreading, as Bobby Rubio the Filipino-American shares his personal stories, tales of Filipino folklore and supporting representation in the creative industry.
This is the uncut conversation from our feature on ‘Asian Stories’ coming out this Fall in print.
Interview by Sarah Wei and Faye Bradley.
Paradigm Haus: How did you get started in the creative arts?
Bobby Rubio: I got started at a very young age. I was drawing ever since I was a little kid. I was really into Star Wars and superheroes like Superman. I do remember my father could draw a little bit and when I was two or three years old, I kept on heckling him and asking if he could draw Superman for me. Then one day he said, ‘why don't you try it yourself?’ Maybe it is because my father is an artist, but not professionally trained, and my grandfather an architect. I think there has always been a graphic artist in me. All my life, even when I was in elementary school, I drew — even until High School, I drew.
I love comics and since I lived in San Diego, every year I would go to Comic-Con. Every year, I would go and show my portfolio, at sixteen years old I tried to be a comic book artist for Marvel. They said, this is pretty good, but you probably should go to school.
I wanted to be a comic book artist, originally, I was going to go to New York for this. But since I live in San Diego, California, my mother did not want me to go to New York. She said “you are staying in California. There's no way you're going to New York — and so I went to California Institute of the Arts, the college Walt Disney started.
PH: Has your Asian American background affected the reason you went into the arts, and how has this affected your come up within the industry?
BR: For myself as an Asian-American, Filipino-American specifically, I know our culture, our parents wanted us to be engineers, doctors, lawyers and nurses, the arts wasn't what they were pushing for. Because at the time, if you were an artist, you were a starving artist and there was no career in that.
"Because at the time, if you were an artist, you were a starving artist and there was no career in that."
When I was a kid in the seventies and eighties the only cartoons that were out weren’t really good. The Little Mermaid wasn’t even out yet. And so my parents did not see that. Well, actually Filipino Americans did not see that as a viable job to have, to be an artist or a cartoonist. But my mother saw that I had talent and she knew how much I loved it, so she was actually very encouraging of me drawing and creating. Maybe it's because that's all I was really interested in.
I didn't want to be a doctor. I didn't want to be a lawyer. And I took up journalism a little bit, ‘cause I thought maybe I could be an editorial cartoonist at one point. But I just loved comic books so much. This mainly because of seeing San Diego Comic-Con every year when I was growing up. I would go there, and see, those artists, who were my heroes. So I think that's why I wanted to be an artist.
PH: Especially with Float, do you see more representation now? It's inspiring, that we’re seeing kids from like Filipino backgrounds, for example, taking up the arts.
BR: I do. I do. I think it's because Disney has had a good run of 20 years now, of success, so parents are looking up to us as a viable job and career.
The funny thing is, I, I know I've made it because now I'm getting a lot of notes from aunts and uncles and Filipinos all over the world asking me to mentor their kids. I appreciate that they are starting to see animation and art is a way to live your life and have a pretty good one.
PH: Do you think your Filipino background has affected your creative process as well?
BR: My mother had a clothing manufacturing shop when I was growing up. She would make clothes, t-shirts, skirts and stuff. And I saw, she had a strong work ethic. She worked from seven in the morning till eight at night. And I saw my mother do that, worked her fingers to the bone, you know, she worked hard, and that's an immigrant life. I saw that hard work and I saw that hard work ethic.
I think it is ingrained in me because now I know what it takes and how hard people have to work to get what they want. I know being an Asian American, there are things that I have to work harder at to get because I have to show that I have the talent to pull it off to, to do it. And I thank my mother for showing me the hard work and tenacity to keep going, and keep working hard.
PH: That's amazing. You had originally drawn the character as Caucasian, and then switched the story — why was that? Did Spark Shorts help you make the switch?
BR: I originally intended for Float to be Caucasian, white characters. In this situation, it was Jillian Liebert, who is our story manager [at Spark Shorts]. She told me that the characters should be Filipino because the story is about myself and my son. And so, it was partly Pixar pushing me to switch. If it was my choice originally, I would have made them white. I thought that they should be because I was thinking commercial that's what people would want to see. This is what made me turn, she asked me, ‘how is your son going to feel when he looks up on the screen? And those characters are white.’
"This is what made me turn, she asked me, ‘how is your son going to feel when he looks up on the screen? And those characters are white.’"
That hit me because I didn't want my son to think that he wasn't worthy to have a story at Pixar. I didn't want him to think that being Asian was something less. At that point, I changed my mind. No, these characters are going to be Asian. They are going to be Filipino. I want the next generation to be able to see themselves on the screen and see themselves as worthy as lead characters in a Pixar film.
[At publishing, Float has over 60 Million views on YouTube – since its wide-release three weeks ago]
PH: It proves that these films can be commercial. People of color can be successful too.
BR: Yes. It's one thing when you don't know the numbers, but on YouTube, I can see this is a smash. It is reaching the world. Plus, just looking at the comments they're not talking about the Asian part. They're talking about being a person that's different and everybody can relate to that. So, I think, that is why it has resonated throughout the world.
"They're talking about being a person that's different and everybody can relate to that."
PH: Where do your story ideas come from?
BR: I like comics and toys. I mean, I think it's obvious if you look behind me [a room full of action figures, cartoon characters and collectibles].
As with Float [his own story, between his Autistic son and himself as a father], I will use my experiences to make stories more authentic. Even with all the stories that I'm creating now, there'll always be a sense of my own personal story in there. So it feels real to me and hopefully, it feels real to the audience.
"Even with all the stories that I'm creating now, there'll always be a sense of my own personal story in there."
PH: Are there any Filipino folklore stories that you would like people to see?
BR: I would love for people to see I put it on my Instagram, a Filipino superhero called Neighborhood Legend. The Filipino superhero holds Eskrima Sticks.
These Eskrimas originate from Filipino martial arts. It evolves stick fighting, and people know of it popularly from Black Widow. We’ve seen it multiple times with characters like Nightwing and Batman, and so does Daredevil. That's great, but I want a Filipino-American to represent the culture.
Because of this, I want to create something where it comes back to my culture — to a Filipino character. One who is performing art and utilizing our martial art. It is ours. It is our Filipino martial art form. That's why I want to tell this story because I want to reclaim it.
I feel it is also the Asian American part of me. I know when I was younger, I wasn't interested in my Filipino heritage. I was just trying to be American. Now that I've grown up and I'm much older, I find myself trying to search for my culture. I want to take that lesson and teach it to my children so that they will know their own Filipino culture as well.
Find Bobby, his stories and more Neighbor Legend on Instagram @BobbyRubio.