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Emmy award-winning Filipino artist tells love story inspired by his wife, who died of breast cancer, in ‘Blush’

By Brooke Villanueva Published Oct 12, 2021 3:36 pm

After showcasing his brilliance in well-received films like Zootopia, Mulan, and Big Hero 6, Emmy award-winning Filipino artist Joe Mateo is now shining as both writer and director in one of his most personal projects to date—Blush—under Skydance Animation. 

The animated short revolves around an astronaut whose spaceship is hit by an asteroid, causing it to crash-land on a dwarf planet. In there, he meets the love of his life—a visitor that easily captivates him. “We started with this planet that looks barren and boring. When the astronaut lands, there’s nothing there and he has a very limited supply of oxygen,” he said, as per Variety. “When this visitor shows up, the music starts and we see this planet transform with color and vibrancy.” 

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Inspired by his late wife Mary Ann, who died after an eight-year battle with breast cancer, the film is rooted in their love story, which started when they crossed paths during their college years at the University of Santo Tomas. The film creative recalled that at the time of their introduction, Mary Ann turned red and blushed. “I took it as a sign that she liked me,” he told Animation Scoop. “But later I found out, it wasn’t the case. Mary Ann just naturally blushed often. Her nickname back then in high school was ‘Ketchup.’ That’s her thing.”

Their friendship later blossomed into something more. With two kids by their side, the pair eventually moved to the United States and found their way to Disney, making use of their strong passion for animation to follow their dreams. Mateo joined the Walt Disney Animation Studios, while his college sweetheart ended up working at Disney Art Classics and Disney Interactive for a decade.

The heart-tugging scene in the movie where the main character wakes up from his sleep, gasping for air after losing his special someone—somehow shows how he felt after his wife’s death. “The idea came from me struggling to breathe, having a panic attack after I lost my wife. That’s something I didn’t experience before,” he recalled. “It came from there. Experiencing that for the first time and having difficulty breathing, I realized that my wife was my air.” 

Blush, which is about 14 minutes long, is now showing on Apple TV+. It features Filipino references like the mango tree, his wife's favorite fruit that served as a representation of growth and life. Watch the trailer here: