The senior art director at BBH Asia Pacific speaks to LBB’s Zoe Antonov about his journey through creativity, love of gaming and how technology is changing the face of the industry by the day
“I always liked to tinker with stuff and hack things together.” This is what Nico Rahardian Tangara, senior art director at BBH Asia Pacific, says when looking back at his childhood self. Playing an MMORPG game at 14, he found a community of people creating private servers, which captured his interest - eventually making his own version. He set about customising the sprites for the monsters in the game, making his own weapons and quests, and even creating websites about the server.
“It was fun! I had 30 people playing on my server until I installed a new version of Windows and accidentally formatted my computer,” he laughs.
A gamer kid through and through, Nico also had fun with creating custom game maps for Warcraft 3 and believes that those experiences in creativity helped him learn that there’s “nothing you can’t do by gluing things together to see if it works.” That is the mentality he still carries throughout his creative career - and it seems to be working miracles! He finds that these challenges are exactly where creative problem solving inspires him.
When describing himself, Nico says he is a curious person by nature. “Every time I have questions about something in my head, I want to understand how it works and try to do it myself. Nowadays, a lot of artists share their processes and even make tutorials for people to follow.” A lot of his learnings come from following tutorials and make-shift explanations that he had to finish on his own, but that is what truly taught him how to be his best creative self.
But of course, it’s not all web tutorials. Nico attended the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts where he obtained a Diploma of Design & Media in Advertising and following that, pursued a Bachelor’s degree in Graphic Communication at Loughborough University. After finishing his studies, Nico quickly found his forte as a junior art director at Young & Rubicam in Singapore. He then moved to Ogilvy & Mather, where he worked on campaigns for Changi Airport, Jewel Changi, KFC and Singtel. Which leads to him joining BBH Asia Pacific in 2019 as a true ‘creative hybrid’, where he’s been involved in some of the agency’s most immersive campaigns such as ‘Honeyfruit’ and ‘The Battle of Baron’ for League of Legends: Wild Rift. He firmly believes that the next big thing is using gaming engines like Unreal Engine or Unity to fully transform production processes, “When you dive into it, your mind gets blown,” Nico says.
From his early days in the industry, Nico has learned many things, but one has stuck, “Don’t jump into execution, think of the idea first.” Back when he first started, the norm was to “sketch, sketch, sketch” (which included coming up with headlines too) and “Don’t touch the computer or mock something until you know: ‘What’s the idea?’.”
This lesson still sticks with him and he promises himself to never even consider doing a test or prototype of something he doesn’t think he has the full idea yet.
Nico’s favourite thing about his work is “figuring things out”, especially when an idea is being discussed. He says he particularly enjoys the part where the team finally finds out how to make something work, “It’s important to have something tangible to debate so we all have the same understanding.” To him, this is also the main point of developing a prototype early, whether it is a map of a virtual event, the shape of a fruit you are making, or the simple gameplay of an educational game.
“Everyone gets excited to see it come alive and the energy at that point of the process just keeps flowing and the conversation always revolves around how to make it better,” he says. And to Nico, one sure-fire way to make things better is to use technology and cookies to your advantage. “Once you train your algorithm to recommend you tech stuff, your newsfeed is going to be full of it. So if you are curious about something, watching a video or two actually helps you to be in the system.”
Using technology also enhances accessibility, which is something that gets Nico excited about the broader state of the industry. “The rise of technology that enables creativity to thrive is just amazing. Like how Unreal Engine 5 is democratising game design or how anyone can train a machine learning model. Technology is no longer something only engineers understand, you can make automation in your smart home with a couple of apps and zero coding knowledge.”
Continuing this line of thought, Nico has been helping his old school to examine the students’ work and it appears that, right now, they are producing 3D mock-ups, AR filters, and making app prototypes more easily than ever. “I think that is because everyone has access to the free software and tutorials from the community.”
Nico also never turned his back on his childhood self that was fascinated with games and creating his own worlds. Recently - after teaching himself the basics of 3D artistry - made a game for his daughter called ‘World Jumper’, all about the wonders of the ancient world. She is also one of the things that keeps him motivated and going forward in his creative journey. “My daughter always inspires me and how I want to share the next evolution of creativity!”