When Andrew Bandong was assigned to work at a Starbucks store on the Glendale, California grounds of DreamWorks Animation, he was ecstatic.
Having studied art in his native Philippines, the 38-year-old barista was thrilled with the prospect of creating coffee drinks for creative types.
His work locale for the last two years has been behind the studio gates of a sprawling Tuscany-style campus handcrafting beverages and interacting with “DreamWorkers” and their guests. It’s a unique setting that invites a special kind of familiarity between the small staff (just Bandong, manager Doris Guevara and an occasional fill-in) and employees of the entertainment company, whose feature films have grossed in the neighborhood of $13 billion worldwide.
From Handcrafted Beverages to Hand-Drawn Art
As he settled into his role, Bandong began to amuse himself by posting original coffee-themed art on the promo board and elsewhere in the store. Given that he was smack dab in the middle of an animation hotspot, it wasn’t too surprising that his work stirred some commentary – all of it encouraging. Bandong, who’d drifted away from pursuing art as a career years before, sensed that his cheering section wasn’t just being polite. They thought he had something.
So Bandong pushed ahead and DreamWorks animators continued to urge him on. “They kept asking for more artwork,” he recalled. “They wanted to see my own art style. From there, I developed friendships.”
Among the professionals who found Bandong’s work intriguing was Rune Bennicke, who got his start in his native Denmark in the early 1990s and has since run up a list of credits that includes Balto, Mulan, Lilo & Stitch, Brother Bear and Enchanted.
“In our world – animation – we talk about being ‘on model,’ meaning they’re correct. They look like the characters,” Bennicke said. “Andrew’s drawings were all on model. That’s impressive. You don’t often see that, especially in sign painters and that kind of thing.”
Bandong’s informal DreamWorks fan club continued to grow. A drawing inspired by the snail character in the 2013 film Turbo prompted an invitation to contribute to a regular feature at the Starbucks store – an exhibition featuring DreamWorks artists. How to Train Your Dragon 2 was DreamWorks’ big summer of ’14 production, so Bandong decided to paint characters from the film, giving them a unique twist.
“I didn’t want to do a watercolor or just a pen and ink,” Bandong said. “I wanted to think outside the box. You know, they know me as a barista. Might as well use coffee. So I experimented and it worked amazingly as a medium.”
“It was a really good idea,” Bennicke remarked. “It bridges the gap between us: our characters…in coffee.”
Bandong was invited to become the first non-DreamWorks artist to have his own exhibit. Again he chose coffee as his medium. Again his work was well-received. He even sold two pieces to a film director visiting from China.
These days, Bandong continues to close up his Starbucks® store nightly. Frequently he then visits with Bennicke, who gives him guidance on the technical side of designing for animation and offers suggestions on putting together a professional portfolio.
Bandong, who relocated to the United States when he was 17, hopes to one day become a full-time artist and the mentor he jokingly refers to as “Master Rune” believes his talented pupil could make it happen.
“I was taught by people who didn’t charge me anything,” Bennicke said. “They just took me in and started teaching me about animation and drawing and things like that. I’ve always felt that, if there’s anything I can do to pass that on – to anyone who’s interested in learning anything – I feel that’s what I should be doing.”
Photos courtesy Andrew Bandong's Instagram page