Visual and Concept designer Noel Flores photo by Mimi Morada
As an icon of the Filipino common tao, Juan Dela Cruz embodies the traits, attitudes and aspirations of a race shaped by struggles to attain nationhood, freedom from foreign powers and democracy. For the fantaserye, the creative minds behind ABS-CBN’s Juan Dela Cruz at ang Bakal na Krus (JDC) produced their own mythology to capture the central character’s core values, hurdles and transformations that eventually lead to the fulfillment of his destiny.
While storytellers strive for the audiences’ confirmation of the characters in JDC, the tandem of veteran Production designer Manny Morfe and Visual Concept designer Noel Flores took the mantel of visually presenting a fantasy world culled from local folklore, and historical imagery inserted into modern day setting. Morfe visualized the physical environment and Flores visualized the fictional and fantastical world of JDC.
Flores is an award-winning designer for films and TV shows. A graduate of University of Santo Tomas, College of Fine Arts, he designs fictional characters and props as Visual Concept Design lead at ABS-CBN while teaching part-time in the academe.
Veering away from the traditional farmer’s garb, Flores updated the basic costume and personal effects of Juan Dela Cruz, portrayed by Coco Martin. The camiso de tsino was updated by a matching cargo pants, boots, arm band and trinkets. Maroon as the main color worn by Juan is reminiscent of the devotion to the Black Nazarene, a permanent fixture of subculture in Quiapo where Juan resides. Other colors such as yellow, green, dark brown, black leather, and blue enhanced the emotional theme of the scenes. Beige reflected formality, yellow for reflective moments, blue for transformations while green for rejuvenation.
The steel cross of JDC is a special relic from a priest who practices exorcism that came aboard a visiting Spanish galleon. Later on, the steel cross was passed to Datu Bangarao. “Since it’s a foreign artifact, I have to place the origin of the cross way back in world history, during the birth of civilizations. Originally in bright red, we darkened the color to indicate how the cross was passed on through generations and has endured conflicts, wars and ageing. Its inscriptions, an existing prayer, show the quality of an old, Dominican relic with gold, red and blue color schemes.
We added the blue gems to indicate that the socketed holy weapon is an emulated item. In video games like Diablo and Torchlight, weapons get powered up with gems, a concept gamers can easily identify,” says Flores.
The Kapatiran, a brotherhood in cognizance with the Katipunan, is not only anti-colonial but also anti-aswang taking over the Earthly plane. As revolutionaries, the Kapatiran borrowed heavily from the symbolism of the Katipunan with slight deviations such as the rays on the emblem that emanate from a cross instead of a sun. The ceremonial dagger, bolo (farmer’s knife), clothes, tattoos, bracelets and pendants were riddled with inscriptions and Bible verses akin to the agimat (amulet) believed to give the bearer invulnerability and inner strength.
“The visuals in JDC have historical links, images that are familiar and remind viewers of our past. We have to stick with Filipino images, and characterization for the story true to the concept. Rosario, a female character, was fitted with espada y daga (sword and the dagger). This is a very colonial and post-colonial fighting style used in the martial arts of galleon seafarers. The Kapatiran uses arnis, the Filipino martial arts,” adds Flores.
Juan’s basic costume
Unique to the fantaserye, Flores reveals that JDC’s fictitious inscriptions for the aswang and for the engkanto were based on fully functional syllabic scripts. The aswang alphabet design was inspired by our local tribal or lumad scripts while the engkanto writings are more reminiscent of elvish language, something gamers and Dungeons & Dragons players are also familiar with. Televiewers can actually use the syllabic script to write their own name or messages.”
Juan’s journey is marked by battles against aswangs with each round earning him personal and spiritual development. Each transformation showed the progression of weapons: the cross turns into a sword, a bow, a whip, a spear and back again to a sword; only this time it is upgraded with mightier powers. By mastering these weapons, Juan evolves into his heroic character as he confronts his destiny.
Flores explains that “akin to video games, a player goes through changes with each level as he masters a certain move or skill and then upgrades to the next challenge. Juan follows that pattern. In the final stage, Juan’s weapons will be of no use. He will be conquering his ultimate battle by transforming into pure energy, trumped up to full power. His being will be transformed only when he fully accepts the ultimate sacrifice required of him.”
To portray Juan, writers and visualizers rely heavily on the viewers’ confirmations of what Filipinos are. In his struggles and even in mundane goal of wooing Rosario (Erich Gonzales), Juan must act in character of a modern Filipino with traditional roots. JDC’s confirmations were seen not only in the realities of life, but also in local folklore that the TV series extensively explored. Beyond the visuals that supported the story, Flores boldly put forward the culture, a way of life, of the aswangs or supernatural beings existing with humans.
Flores explains that “the supernatural beings in JDC are not the typical, non-thinking aswang (ghouls), engkanto or tikbalang. The creatures have goals and aspirations just like human beings. They belong to a certain caste and visually they are identified through their appearances we have designed. The Lahing Alipio, the group on top of the caste system, have inscriptions on their faces signifying major feats like slaying a Kapatiran. More inscriptions means more achievements, an entitlement of respect.
Visual cues also indicate the change from human faces to having pointy ears and inscriptions to full aswang with white hair with yellow shades, small horns, spikes. The color violet was assigned to the aswang because it means deception. In their quest to take over the Earthly plane, the aswang uses deception to blend in society and manipulate the humans.”
In the end, Juan’s story will reveal lots of confirmations and surprises leading to his ultimate sacrifice. Whether he will side with the good or bad, the audience will be surely in discourse of Juan’s choice. One thing is for sure - the creative images will be there to help move the story of Juan.