The society of respected film critics that hands out the annual Gawad Urian in cinematic excellence

RICHARD ABELARDO: Eksperto sa Visual Effects

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RICHARD ABELARDO: Visual Effects Man

By Agustin Sotto

The changing colors of the painted bird and the princes turning into stone in Ibong Adarna, the gangplank over a deep chasm in Prinsesa Urduja, the castle in the air in Prinsesa Basahan, the transformation of Jaime de la Rosa in Taong Paniki, the parting of the Red Sea inTungkod ni Moises, and the rampaging monster in Tuko sa Madre Kakaw- these are some of the cinematic memories created by Richard Abelardo.

Richard Abelardo - or Mang Kandong to his intimates - is a visual effects man par excellence who pioneered in special effects in the late Thirties and taught the craft to his relatives (brother-in-law Teody Carmona, brother Bayani Abelardo and nephew Benjamin Resella), later important film artists in this field.

Richard was born on September 29, 1902 in Bulacan. He learned scene design from his father, Juan Abelardo, the sculptor of the Biak na Bato monument and the foremost scenic artist of his time. His father painted the backdrops of zarzuelas and stage presentations at the Zorilla and other theaters.

Early in his teens, he became scenic artist for a photo studio. He was commissioned to do the sets of a silent film being photographed by Ricardo Marcelino. However, the production wasn't finished, but this firmed his resolve to go to Hollywood. He learned to play the saxophone in first cousin Nicanor Abelardo's orchestra and applied as musician in a band playing aboard a President liner. In 1923, he jumped ship in San Francisco and motored to Hollywood.

Because of his-artistic abilities, he became a Union member and was allowed to work in a number of Hollywood productions at Warner Brothers and Universal. Among the films he worked on are The Cat and the Fiddle, Footlight Parade (1933), One Night of Love and Charlie Chaplin's Modern Times.

Because he wanted to see his ailing parents, he went back to Manila in 1936. He was invited by Vicente Salumbides to work on his Florante at laura (1939). For this, he created the domed palaces of the fictitious royalty. He worked at X'OTIC when it opened in 1939 and was later summoned by his kababayan Dona Sisang to work on Ibong Adarna. He introduced the crane to local filmdom in the movie Palaris and background projection in Ibong Adarna. After the war, he opted to stay in the Philippines, working for Palaris Productions, Fernando Poe Sr.'s movie company. He directed his first film for him in 1948 with Malikmata with Jaime de la Rosa. Dofia Sisang got him to direct Engkantada for LVN, about archaeologists stumbling upon the fabled kingdom of Mu ruled by centuries-old Lilia Dizon. As it was the last film of Lillian Velez, it was a big hit at the box-office. His career as film director already established, he, however, continuedto do special effects. In 1950, he worked on Fritz Lang's An American Guerrilla in the Philippines.

He collaborated with Botong Francisco on two films which he directed: Haring Kobra and Higit sa Korona. For the former, the duo created stupas and other Balinese structures to visualize a mythical country south of the Philippines. For the latter, they recreated the Egypt of the Pharoah. They also worked on the big LVN movies directed by Gregorio Fernandez and Lou Salvador Sr. For Doce Pares, they built a Moorish palace atop Intramuros. For Rodrigo de Villa and Prinsipe Tenoso, they had mattes of medieval kingdoms.

Richard also pioneered in prosthetics with the hairy face of Jaime de la Rosa in Taong Paniki and the giant reptile in Tuko sa Madre Kakaw. For Big Shot, he developed a special kind of trick photography that would show dancers atop a ceiling.

Aside from films, Richard designed the sets of some theatrical productions, especially those of Bert Avellana's Barangay Theater Guild.
Clearly, Richard Abelardo's achievements have enriched Philippine cinema.