Visuals for the Presto 03 campaign: Instant go

+cruz at W+K Tokyo Lab

The first time I met +cruz was in the kitchen of the Gaijin House I was staying in when I first moved to Japan. When I realized who he really was, I found it very encouraging for me that even the new art director of Wieden+Kennedy starts off with such humble beginnings. Tokyo realities! Now, a few years later, I went to visit +cruz at his huge and sunny apartment in Hiroo, to talk about what he has achieved since he decided to move “back” to Asia.

Interview by Uleshka


Old Gaijin house dining-kitchen

+cruz at his apartment in Hiroo

When I first came to Wieden+Kennedy to look at your work, you were involved in the making of Nike Presto 03 and had just started experimenting with all those colorful graphics for the “technoactive instant go” moving color campaign.


Presto 03 campaign

Presto 03 campaign

Presto 04 pushed you even more into directing, fusing live-action, animation, film and painting for the Urban Canvas series. Can you tell me a little bit about the motivation behind this project and how things evolved?

Basically, right after Presto 03 for Japan, we got the briefing for the upcoming Asia-wide campaign- Presto 04. 3 of us including me, John C Jay and Barten Corley locked ourselves up in the meeting room and brainstormed until we reached the final concept: expressing instant go with raw urban art and energy flowing through a Pan-Asian environment, connecting various Asian countries with the spirit of youth art, movement, music and visuals. That was a big vision, however the budget was really small compared to budgets for Nike US, and therefore we had to be really creative and come up with alternatives.


Urban Canvas- visual

Urban Canvas- visual

So that is why you basically had to be everything: the art director and co-director of the films, print designer and print director, videographer and photographer.

Yes, we definitely couldn’t afford to hire a real director, but someone had to do it. Urban Canvas was my second official directing gig and it was all by accident. John Jay asked if I was up to it, so I obliged. That was like learning to swim by diving into the deep end.

Urban Canvas was a huge collaboration between everyone from W+K, the artists, friends helping in LA… Hiromi from W+K always said that she would like to try out something with photography one day so I just gave her the camera and said, “Shoot!”. It was all experimental and very real.


Urban Canvas- Sasu painting on glass

Urban Canvas- Live paint in LA

Where and how did you find the right people, then?

When we assembled the team, we wanted to create something relavant to our Asia market but also give it a global perspective. John Jay knew Skwerm of the Barnstormers; Sasu, a Japanese female graffiti artist, was a local friend of the agency and with a lot of luck, we found FREK, a 19 year old Hong Kong kid who painted tidal waves and electricity all over the city. Music was by DJ Uppercut, who we signed later to our label, W+K Tokyo Lab. After shooting footage in Tokyo and Shanghai for a Pan-Asian urban canvas, the whole team flew to LA. Skwerm, Sasu and Frek had a dry run, painting and sketching with each other for the first 2 days, after which we did a live paint for 3 days. It was a real dream project.

You had quite a low budget for this – how different would the project have been if you had more money?

That is the best question, because if we had more money, I wouldn’ t be directing it, meaning it wouldn’t be my work. (laughs) If we had more money, clients would want a really famous “brand name” director, with clout and guaranteed security – and then the videos would look completely different. The tight budget we had to work on was really challenging, but since we were forced to use new, sometimes unorthodox methods, we were able to create something original. Urban Canvas turned out to be unexpected, raw, real and it just had the spirit of this new generation we wanted to touch.

I’ve been known as the guy who can achieve this kind of creativity without money.

I think one of the reasons why Presto turned out the way it did is because there were so few people involved, not so many filters in between, no heavy client talk… so the result was very close to what we envisioned.


+cruz talking

How open is Nike in terms of experimentation? It sounds like they really trust you.

They do! Nike is always open for something new. They are willing to take risks unlike many other clients and that makes them the best client and sponsor in the world, quite possibly one of the best sponsors of youth creativity. I always say that you are only as good as your client allows you to be, so therefore I am very lucky to be working with Nike.

Along with the success of Presto you were one of the main forces to start Wieden+Kennedy Tokyo Lab in 2003: a new music label concept of creative expression. How did this label evolve?

W+K Tokyo lab is all about good music, fresh visuals and new concepts of creative expression embracing the concept of “hybrid”. It was basically John’s idea. He wanted to do something to release Japanese artists worldwide. It is not a labour of economy, but a labour of love. Tokyo Lab is all about networking and connecting friends, a creative platform for myself and others to create under without corporate restraints. Finding people globally and enabling them to do something they couldn’t normally do themselves – with Tokyo as a centre. Something like the W+K Tokyo Lab had been planned for a long time, but it only works on a volunteers basis, meaning it has to be done after the practical paying jobs like the Nike work and who fucking wants to volunteer after 12 pm?
 You! (laughs)


works from W+KTLab, Afra- Digital Breath

works from W+KTLab, Afra- Digital Breath

This morning, I got introduced to someone by one of my staff calling me the “Ichi-ban crazy art director” of W+K – meaning that in the highest respectable way in a Japanese sense. So…. I am the Number One Crazy Guy! I don’t really want to carry that title, though…

DJ Uppercut was one of the first releases on W+K Tokyo Lab and it is still one of my favorite ones! Those simple movements of the characters have this Asian shadow puppets feel about them. When I saw that video, I instantly understood what you meant by “hybrid” and your other often-used term, “historic futurism”.

For that project we were very much constrained by time, so we allowed our biggest enemies to be our best friends. Three weeks allowed us basic animation, so we had to rely more on the story and design to carry the weight for that one. But I was really happy that the challenge it brought on a non-slick feel to the video, almost as if it was a “flash” inpired motion graphic.


works from W+KTLab, DJ Uppercut

works from W+KTLab, DJ Uppercut

works from W+KTLab, DJ Uppercut

works from W+KTLab, DJ Uppercut

How difficult was it to get the label started and explain the idea of Tokyo Lab to other people?

Starting W+k Tokyo Lab was really hard. If you say that you are from W+K and show all the Nike work, that helps, but still having no reel to back it up with and just saying that you have good musicians, great artists and want to do something cool visually etc, is like having no arms.

W+K Tokyo Lab is our experimental outlet, so there are a lot of people who are willing to work with us, even if the money is not big- the work will pay off in the end. However, you mostly have to explain that to people first, that this is their chance to make something good. They often cannot see the worth in it themselves and that is a bit unfortunate. It makes me feel like a huge car salesman (smiles) and I really don’t want to keep doing that. Luckily, it gets better with every new piece we release.

I am a firm beliver that “necessity is the mother of invention.”

After all the success of FatBros and others, everyone is waiting for the next piece. That is a great position to be in, but there really is a lot of pressure on me, because I can’t possibly go down with the quality. You have to go up every time… that’s hard!


works from W+KTLab, Hifana- FatBros

works from W+KTLab, Hifana- FatBros

I heard you were considered to direct videos of people like Bjørk- but could not accept the offers due to your position in an ad-agency. Were you able to change anything about that?

Yes, I re-negotiated my terms, so now I can also direct outside the usual agency environment but under +cruz / WKTLAB. WKTLab is my creative outlet that lets me experiment beyond the confines of an ad agency. I also shifted priorities, so that I have more time for Tokyo Lab now, but still, Nike remains my main work.

You just managed to release the second Hifana album: CHANNEL H, a 45 minute DVD with visual Hifana tunes.

That was crazy actually… I mean, we could have gotten away only doing the Wamono video, but we made a whole DVD. (Laughs)


works from W+KTLab, Hifana- Wamono”,”works from W+KTLab, Hifana- Wamono

works from W+KTLab, Hifana- Wamono”,”works from W+KTLab, Hifana- Wamono

works from W+KTLab, Hifana- Wamono

works from W+KTLab, Hifana- Wamono

It’s the most anticipated piece for us, the sequel to FatBros. People keep telling me, that this one feels much more Japanese, not only because of it’s theme Wamono, meaning “Japanese things”. This one is actually inspired by the great Japanese film legend – Ozu. So when we shot footage, we were locking off the camera low, our camera doesn’t move and we made a specific decision to avoid all those slick cuts usually found in motion graphics. Therefore, all the weight of the video was based out of the characters movement and emotions, essentially their “acting”. If they didn’t move well, the whole thing would fall flat! Teaching that to the animators was actually a real challenge…

The DVD is a collaboration between the VJ-crew of Hifana and W+K Tokyo Lab. Your other video I really like is the Akero. Now where did you find those chicks?


works from W+KTLab, Hifana- Akero

works from W+KTLab, Hifana- Akero

Akero is all about beach, sun, fun and chicks…. so again having a challenging budget, I collaborated with my students of the Temple University, Tyler school for the Arts where I taught. The girls were friends of the students and they definitely broke my image of Japanese girls being shy!

In your films, you have a very interesting mix of film, live action and animation – a lot of animation in the case of Wamono… fusing, sampling, mixing…. it all comes down to the hybrid, that is you.

To be honest, after seeing the Wamono video, I actually think I’d had enough of animation. I’m more interested in doing film… not film in the usual sense. That is what made me special, that I did not do film. My work fuses film, digital media and graphic design. It breaks down the rules of what design, art, illustration, music and advertising are and merges them into a holistic expression. What I mean, when I say now that I am interested in film is that I didn’t have the chance to direct people, real people doing different things, yet. I’d like to do something like that, more of character studies… that kind of stuff. The Nike Bukatsu is a little bit in the direction of what I mean when I say directing people.


Nike- Bukatsu campaign

Nike- Bukatsu campaign

Did you ever dream a film or fantasize a story you would like to shoot?

I never dream! I get so jealous of the people who do. When I sleep, I don’t see anything. In my whole lifetime I can remember 3 dreams. One is my mum being held by King Kong.

How do you usually imagine or visualize something, then?

I have a lot of things inside of me. Not a lot of visions, more thinking and notions. A lot of creative people have visions and draw them, I have ideas and write them down. If you put a project in front of me, I can think about it visually, and the thing feeding that is all the stimuli from my life as a whole. This is why at anytime in my life I want to try something new; travel, walk in a new street, get lost in the neighbourhood…. I often get lost on purpose.

You travelled all over Asia- and chose to live in Tokyo. Can you sum up your vision for Asia and tell us why you believe that Tokyo is the perfect place to realize your ideas from?

Tokyo to me is a microcosm of what happens in the world. It’s a place with such big spending and buying power, the speed at which people digest fashion or design here is so quick – much quicker than any other country. People in Tokyo crave new things constantly, they are all afficionados, experts on what is good and new, and therefore they lead the “culture of new”. This the reason we are able to create such campaigns here, for Asia – with Tokyo as the base.


+cruz’ collects pieces from his travels through Asia

+cruz reviving the alphabet of the Filipines

I really want to bring up Asia. I’m trying to re-instill pride in Asian culture and make them realize that there is more in them than they think. That instead of paying attention so much to the West, they should rather draw influences form their own past. When I did research about the Filipines, I found out that we actually had our own alphabet before the Spanish invaded the country. None of my family members even knew that.

Doing pop media is not the most obvious way to do that. You are more likely to see artists trying to do that intellectually, but I try do that through mass media advertising. The ones who own media are the ones who control the masses and the winners write history their way!


Nike basketball

Nike basketball

I’ve never seen a Nike commercial before that had Asian kids in it, nor a Nike commercial celebrating street-art moving through Pan-Asia as a positive force. If people in the US see it and if they are celebrating this in Cannes, then I feel like I’m contributing to the very culture I want to affect, helping them stamp a global mark that “interesting things are happening in Asia- Now”.

Thank you very much, +cruz!

  • http://www.gabrielpliska.com Gabriel Pliska

    Great comments. I am an english teacher in Bisei, Okayama, Japan. It’s gorgeous here. I am starting a breakdancing class soon. I am excited to get the locals involved in dance that I learned back in Ottawa.
    I met John Jay once or twice as well in Portland when I worked for an architect company there for 9 months.

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    Sorry – I think we lost some comments here, when switching over to WordPress!

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    I am totally in love with the output form W&K labs, so much so that I cut it a remix it live to music at clubs etc..Yes I am a VJ.

    the best shot of all is from uppercut v ninja with the ninja guy on the decks, people go mad for that one at a club, also it makes the DJ look cool to be associated with a ninja.

    class!!

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