by Erin Chew, AsAmNews Arts & Culture Contributor
How does a physics major go from working on math equations to animating a popular Marvel series? For Ben Juwono, the animator for Marvel’s latest series “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur,” the transition was about pursuing his passions.
Juwono immigrated to the US at sixteen with his parents from Indonesia. He spoke very little English and gravitated toward math and sciences, eventually earning a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree in physics. After feeling an empty void, he decided to change his life trajectory and make his passion of drawing and animation into his career.
“It is weird, but it wasn’t till I completed my studies in physics, did I realize that this was not how I saw my life. That power, math and sciences had on me as a teenager had stopped and I knew it was time to turn my passion of drawing into my career,” Juwono told AsAmNews in a recent interview.
“Making a 180 degree career switch was difficult and it was my friends in college who inspired me to learn storyboarding and the rest is history.”
Since the switch, Juwono has worked on several popular animated shows including “Big Hero 6 The Series” and “The Adventures of Puss in Boots.” Now, he serves as the supervising producer and animator for “Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur.” The new Marvel animated series is based on the popular comic book about the adventures of 13-year-old African American teenager Lunella Lafayette and her partner in crime – a giant red T-Rex.
Based in New York, ‘Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur’ delivers a fast paced, hip and very urban styled take on an animated superhero series, with tinges of showing the realities African American and people of color face and at the same time presenting a teen hero who makes a difference protecting her Lower East Side Neighborhood from danger.
The Marvel animated series boasts an all-star cast, headed by Diamond White (Empire, Bold and the Beautiful) as Lunella and featuring Fred Tatasciore (Family Guy) as Devil Dinosaur (red T-Rex) among other big names.
Visualizing and bringing a comic book series to life is no easy feat, particularly in this modern day where the need for more genuine, unique and representative heroes/protagonists are in high demand. Juwono discussed his thought processes, inspirations and how he inserted these elements in ‘Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur’ to hopefully do justice to Justine.
“Working out where to start when animating is a major challenge, but I have been fortunate to have great mentors and the voice cast who were able to guide me- particularly with the this series,” Juwono said.
‘Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse’ was a big inspiration for the bright colors and high-energy animation and ‘One Piece,’ a manga I’ve been reading since the early 2000s, gave me cues on how to reflect feeling and emotions.”
Despite the fact that this series does focus on an African American teenage hero, Juwono mentioned that his experiences growing up as an AAPI and as a person of color helped him relate, which he loosely integrated as elements into the series. In addition, he stated he hoped the discussion around representation is not something which happens in isolation, but is normalized to inspire all generations of Americans.
“We always need more representation, there is no such thing as reaching a peak or ceiling when it comes to being enough. However, it needs to be seen as a regular thing, so it can be integrated into the mainstream and audiences of all colors are less scared of what’s different”.
“When I came to the US as a sixteen year old, I had little English and did get made fun of and bullied in school. Not fitting in and standing up for myself is an experience I loosely integrated into the series as well as touching on topics of a multigenerational family under the same roof, which is common for Indonesians.”
All six episodes of ‘Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur’ can be streamed on Disney+.
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