The Wildbytes creative coder grew up in a surprisingly low-tech environment and still has a complicated relationship with technology
Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Leo Da Costa grew up with a black-and-white TV, no home computer and film photography. These days his life is quite different. He’s a creative coder at Barcelona-based experiential design agency Wildbytes with clients such as Sephora, Timberland, New Balance, Fenty Beauty and others. He spends his days creating product launches, retail experiences and installations powered by cutting-edge digital technology. A software engineer with a background in digital art and master’s degree in video game creation, he worked in the video game industry before moving to Wildbytes two years ago for the chance to flex his creative muscles.
LBB’s Alex Reeves got to know Leo a bit.
LBB> What were you like as a kid and was creativity or technology (or combining the two) a big feature?
Leo> Ever since I was a child, I have always felt drawn to video games, computers, cell phones and everything related to technology. I've grown up in a decade full of technological developments in many areas, it was a time of technological leaps. I went from having a black-and-white TV to colour, from no home computer to super-thin laptops with 3D graphics games and high-speed internet, from analogue photography to digital cameras, all of that only through my childhood.
Living through such a massive amount of change had a clear impact in my interests in being part of the technology industry.
Additionally, I have always been a fan of animation, Disney studios, in particular. Their ability to create living characters and worlds that were able to transport me to unique places together with fascinating stories has been an inspiration to me. Through this medium, as well as with video games, a perfect blend of art and technology can result in magical worlds.
LBB> How did you end up in video game development?
Leo> While doing my computer science degree, I also developed an interest in design and creative programming. I found in video games a way of merging my interests to create new worlds, characters, and new experiences for the users to enjoy.
LBB> What games did you work on?
Leo> My video game career started as a quality assurance tester for ‘The Respawnables’, a mobile game developed by Digital Legends, while doing my MSc. in game development I developed, together with my team, my first commercial game called IRR - Infinity Random Race - as a final project.
After finishing my MSc, I worked for two years at Kohda Interactive. We developed two mobile games for iOS and Android with more than one million downloads called ‘Cosmic Challenge’ and ‘Cosmic Go’.
LBB> What did you most enjoy about that process and what did you not like so much?
Leo> What I enjoyed most was the possibility to combine technology, art and music to create new worlds, characters, and stories for users to remember and experience.
Nevertheless, developing a game is long and very arduous work that often goes unrecognized. Nowadays, the free-to-play business model has damaged the game industry by making its users grow accustomed to free content while expecting high quality. In the mobile industry, few users are willing to pay but are very critical of the applications they download.
LBB> What was it that attracted you to Wildbytes?
Leo> Wildbytes gave me the opportunity to work with an interdisciplinary team in projects with cutting edge technology that brings together art, music and creative programming, by creating memorable experiences.
LBB> Are there any projects that you’ve recently particularly enjoyed? What was so special about them?
Leo> Yes, recently I’ve worked on two projects while working for Wildbytes. Both of them used computer vision as well as artificial intelligence, areas in which I’m particularly enthusiastic about. The first one consists of an AI-powered mirror that, through the integrated camera and contextual information, is able to recommend relevant products to the passerby. All this based on parameters like current weather, gender, predominant clothes colour, and dress patterns.
The second one was a project for New Balance. The idea was to recognize exceptional woman that set their own trends and don’t follow the mainstream. Using Artificial Intelligence, a camera analyzed the clothing styles of people walking through a commercial area in Madrid. The system was capable of detecting exceptional fashion styles who were rewarded with New Balance shoes and had their minute of fame by being shown on the large-scale digital billboards on the public square, the second largest in Europe in terms of foot traffic.
In both projects, I enjoyed the technical challenges as well as the joy and surprise it generated in the people who were able to experience it.
Lastly, I have a small project in certain regard due to its social impact. This project was developed over just 48 hours in the hackathon, Hack the Light UP, as part of the Llum Barcelona Festival. The project used the light matrix on the Glòries Tower in Barcelona to deliver an awareness message about the deaths of refugees coming through the Mediterranean Sea. It made the hashtag #FreeOpenArms a trending topic.
LBB> How have your talents and interests grown and changed over the years?
Leo> I’ve always been interested in technology. Through time, I have developed the capacity and passion for combining it with other areas to generate innovative and surprising results.
On the professional side, I’ve tried to grow not just as a developer but also in other areas. I’ve tried to be part of the creative process as well as leading creative technology efforts in different projects.
Outside of work, I have a keen interest in photography and video editing. Now, I’m trying, even more, to develop personal projects in these areas, including a secret project that combines technology, photography, and audiovisuals.
LBB> What are you most fascinated by in your daily life and work?
Leo> The most fascinating thing about my work is the brainstorming of ideas for new projects. The process of our team with different backgrounds, points of view and disciplines to conceive a disruptive idea that mixes the latest in technology, design, art, and music is extraordinary. It is like creating a new potion where each of us contributes ingredients to create a unique experience.
Furthermore, the moment when the project, after hard work, is finished and you are able to see the smiles and wonder in the users, it brings a huge sense of satisfaction and achievement.
LBB> And outside of work, do you nerd out about much? Are you still into gaming?
Leo> No, to be honest. When I started working in the game industry, little by little my hobby transformed into my work. This can be a double-edged sword, as you might be working on something that you are passionate about but with the risk of making you enjoy less what you did in your free time.
At the moment, I spend my free time by going offline; taking a walk through the city or the beach, a short bike ride or just exercising. I think the best ideas come when you are not searching for them. Many of my solutions or best ideas come when I am doing one of these activities. Today, I try to develop my creative skills and there’s nothing better than a good day off at home surrounded by nature.
LBB> You are a hard man to research! Is there a reason you have such a small digital footprint?