From Sketch to Screen: How Fil-Am Artist Jay Oliva Laid the Groundwork for Trese
Oliva goes beyond the ordinary by introducing us to the world of Trese.
In the first episode of the Netflix anime adaptation of Trese, Miranda Trese receives a worrying call from her husband. She hurriedly performs a ritual of protection on a young Alexandra and tells her to hide deep in Mt. Makiling. Before her daughter runs off, she reminds her to “see beyond what’s outside.”
It’s a powerful scene that shapes the woman Alexandra would eventually grow up to be. It’s also not in the original graphic novel.
“Her mom was basically trying to tell her [that] you need to see outside of what you see every day, and how your role is very unique in that there’s a certain responsibility to who and what you are,” explains showrunner Jay Oliva during his virtual interview with Esquire Philippines, in line with his partnership with Globe Platinum for The Platinum Series.
“As Filipinos, we all have to kind of walk that thin line between being ourselves but also being what our family expects of us. And in a lot of ways they clash, but we try to find that balance.”
As much as Alexandra ultimately ends up doing things her own way in the series, she continues to take on the responsibilities handed to her by her parents. Oliva added the scene in Makiling because he believed that this was the emotional core of Trese: the balance between family and duty.
Finding the emotional core in stories is a skill that Oliva has refined throughout his more than 20 years of experience in the animation industry. From his first job as a cleanup artist on the 1996 Spider-Man animated series to his directorial work for DC Animated Universe films like Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox and Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, he’s always managed to find the most resonant elements of each story he tells and emphasize them onscreen.
In the case of Trese, those elements hit a little more closely to home.
Connecting with His Roots
When Oliva’s animation studio Lex + Otis won the pitch to produce Trese for Netflix, Oliva saw it as an opportunity to connect with a side of his heritage he’d only known through stories.
“My parents come from a small town called Buhi in Bicol, and they speak a dialect,” he shares. “[They] would tell me stories about dwende and tikbalang and all these kinds of different things.”
He underscored that as a kid, it’s so far removed from where he’s at, but it added this kind of mysticism and magic to where his parents are from, and where his family’s from.
“Doing Trese was kind of a way for me to reconnect to that, because I grew up on these things that I’ve been told existed in my culture” he explains, adding, how working on the series for him was “a labor of love.”
“It was kind of me reconnecting to a culture that was always ‘foreign’ to me, but something I’m very proud of.”
It was something Oliva admits he wasn’t expecting to do, but he’s quick to remind himself that most of the success he’s enjoyed thus far came unexpected, too.
Paying It Forward Through The Platinum Series
While the experience made Oliva the person he is today, he also understood that it wasn’t something anyone should ever have to go through. When Globe Platinum approached him with an idea of what would help send kids in the Philippines to school, he jumped at the opportunity.
Their collaboration would result in The Art Behind Netflix's Trese, an exclusive artbook collectible released as part of The Platinum Series. Oliva collected illustrations and storyboards from his actual work on the series, and included commentary on the many different choices he’d made for the show. Each sale of the art book will fund a school kit courtesy of World Vision, and help disadvantaged Filipino children get an education in the middle of this pandemic.
It is, in many ways, a convergence of what Oliva values, from storytelling, to his Filipino roots, to the importance of education.
“There are many times in my career that I wanted to give up, many times where my career could have gone another route,” he says. “I wanted to show all these kids that no matter what life has dealt you, you can always turn it around.”
“This project is something that is near and dear to me because of that, the whole aspect that this was going to also help children. I wanted them to kind of ‘own the extraordinary’ in the sense that they want their lives to be better.”
Like the titular character in his hit anime series, Jay Oliva takes every chance he can to see beyond what’s outside. With his artbook collectible and the stories he tells, he hopes to inspire others to do the same.
Watch this video to learn more about how Oliva brought Trese to life for Netflix, and continues to do through his exclusive collection for the Platinum subscribers: