DOMINGO Rivera is lucky to be alive. He survived the Big C and later, a car crash. And he has since continued doing what he loved most: animation. He is his story.

A graduate from the then College of Fine Arts and Architecture in 1975, Rivera has worked for famous studios like the Yoram Gross Film Studio in Australia, and Warner Brothers Studio and Walt Disney Studio in the United States. He was also part of award-winning films such as The Iron Giant, The Simpson’s Movie, Atlantis: The Lost Empire and Enchanted.

But building a stellar career was never easy for him. In 1995, he was diagnosed with cancer and had to go through a major surgery.

“I said to myself, maybe I still had a goal in life. It’s hard to believe after that. You really have to experience it yourself,” he said.

Even his field of choice took a few bumps. His parents wanted him to take up marketing at the Far Eastern University. He wanted fine arts at UST and he got his way.

“They were discouraging me because they say there’s no money there. I took the challenge. I said I’ll prove it to them,” he said.

After passing both of the schools’ entrance exams, Rivera told his father that he really wanted to become an artist and he wished to take it in UST.

“I really wanted to be an artist. People were discouraging me. I was challenged. I said I’ll prove to them. My dad said ‘Okay. I’ll support you whatever you wanted to be,’” he said.

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Big break

After graduation, he joined a small studio called Vergara Films Studio where he learned animation.

“We did television commercials for different advertising agencies. We were shooting for NBS Sampaguita and National Media Production Center,” he said.

He only discovered later that his newfound skill would prove useful in his career when he landed jobs in top animation studios abroad.

It was in 1982 that he met Australian film producer Yoram Gross, owner of one of the largest film studios in Australia, through a friend’s relative.

“He offered us a job, all three of us Filipinos—two from UST and one from another school. That’s why I was able to fulfill my first dream, to be in Australia, which was my first choice,” he said.

The downpour

Rivera thought that working with one of the most prominent film producers in Australia was the beginning of his career. But then came a bad news in 1985.

Only three years into his job, he was diagnosed with diabetes and was told he might never have children.

“I was the only boy in the family so I said this could not be,” he said.

He recounted that he immediately took time to contact his former girlfriend who was working in the United States at the time.

After working in Sydney for eight years, he went to Los Angeles, California in 1991 to marry his girlfriend and to begin a new journey in his career in the world of animation.

“I wanted to go back to Australia because it was a beautiful country. But my wife told me my career was better here in the United States in Hollywood especially because this was the entertainment capital of the world,” said Rivera, who has worked in the US since 1991.

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A few years later he figured in a big accident, his car a total wreck.

“A pick-up truck beat the red light and collided with the car. I saw the car flying in the air then it landed on the hood of my car,” he recalled.

But as luck would have it, Rivera left the scene without a scratch, and was even able to help other victims.

Putting the ‘Home’ in Homer

In 2006, Rivera was hosting a party at his house in Los Angeles when his head hurt so bad that he was banging it against the wall.

He was then rushed to the hospital to have an immediate head surgery for a blood clot that confined him in the hospital for several weeks.

“It’s because of my blood sugar—the food and the drinks that I had before,” he said. “Then, I didn’t know what happened. They were just telling me their stories.”

And another dillema struck, a jobless Rivera looked at his lists of debts.

“All our creditors and our bankers [were] calling us, including the school (administration) of our children, because we were late paying our dues,” he said.

On April 13, 2007, he got the phone call that would save them from their crises. A devout Catholic, Rivera prayed hard to God to help him and his family to solve their problems.

“I told the voice (God) ‘You want a permanent job? You’re going to be on the credits of the First Simpson’s Movie.’ After saying that, the phone rang,” he said.

It was his friend Katherine Concepcion on the other line offering him a job to be one of the animators for the The Simpsons Movie.

Intolerance and hate speech

As the assistant producer of the movie, Concepcion told him that he only needed to go to the office at 3:30 in the afternoon and sign the contract.

Rivera said that he could not believe it because she told him he was not even in the list of recommended people.

Everything turned out well for Rivera. He won the fight against diabetes and now has two children, one of whom is in college.

“Whatever you do, be the best of it. You could be the head of a restaurant. Be the best out of everything,” he said.


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