In the Dead of Winter We by R.A. Villanueva

Last week when I shared 2 Degrees by Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner with animation by Jonathan “jot” Reyes, I mentioned that Reyes has also made a fully animated poem. This is that film, made for the poem “In the Dead of Winter We” by the Filipino American poet R.A. Villanueva, from his book Reliquaria,” which won the 2013 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry.

The film was nominated for the 2015 Webby Awards in the Best Online Video: Animation category, and the write-up there reveals some fascinating details, including the fact that Reyes and Villanueva are brothers:

What inspired you most to follow your dreams/vision while working on this project?
There could be no other way than to follow my vision. By definition, the entire project was a dream, it was a vision interpreted. This wasn’t a commercial, not a branding package. There were no clients, no expectations. All the work, all the years my brother put into crafting his lines, I could do no less than put everything I had into it. It was a culmination of every skill I had learned to date, an exhibition of years worth of tutorials with a pure purpose.

What made your project stand out in your industry/field and unique from the rest? What obstacles did that present and how did you overcome them?
The was no budget allocated for this animation. It was created in a short amount of time. “In the Dead of Winter We” was completed in one week, worked on only during nights after I came home from my day job, and through one sleepless weekend. There was no money for voice over, so I called my brother and asked him to recite his poem for me as inspiration, not knowing it would be used for this. I actually think that worked out well as the tinny voice and ambient street noise added to the piece. A green blanket hung over my apartment’s front door served as my green screen. Restrictions force us into creativity.

When did you first know that this work was going to be something special?
Immediately. It had to be special. It was for my brother. It was intensely personal. It wasn’t just about me and family, it was for them. In our day jobs, we’re often asked to sacrifice personal goals for the sake of buzzwords: product, branding, experience, etc.. Clients strip away meaningful bits as they see fit, as if at a salon. They craft it in their image, in what they want to see. For this, there was no client, no expectation. Whatever I put out there would be my own interpretation, and it could be nothing less for my family. In the end, it became the fusion of my family’s collective creativity.


  1. Reply
    bmorrison9 23 July, 2015

    Wow. This film is brilliant! Thank you for posting about it. I love the filmmaker’s description of keeping it personal–so easy to sacrifice the heart of the experience when we start thinking about marketing.

    • Reply
      Dave Bonta 23 July, 2015

      Yes, I’m sure that’s true. For animators, that’s where the money is, but I know that the arts organization Motionpoems, for example, has had great success with getting professional animators to do work for them, even for far less money than they would usually get, precisely because it’s such a purely creative endeavor.

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