Nico Cardenas — better known online as Otakumouse, is a talented designer and prodigious toy collector based right here in Manila. He has done plenty of design work for world-famous Japanese pop culture guru Danny Choo and his company Mirai. We’re delighted that Otakumouse has taken a few minutes from his busy schedule to talk to us at magnetic-rose.net on the ins and outs of toy collecting, design work, and having DC as a boss.
First of all, tell us about yourself and your blog and the groups you belong to 🙂
Hi! I’m Nico and I work as a Designer 🙂 I’ve been designing and drawing stuff since I was a kid, and didn’t really expect that I’d be doing the same stuff professionally. I mostly suck at every subjects when I was still studying — except for those subjects with the words “design” or “art” in them.
I’ve been working in the design industry for nine yrs now, and was lucky enough to work with brands like Marvel, Google, P&G, Columbia Pictures, Activision, MTV, and other international brands. Here in the Philippines, I mostly work with clothing brands like F&H, Penshoppe, Bench, Petrol, and RRJ (those large billboard designs you see in EDSA :P).
My work is a combination of Design and Coding, so it gets tricky and stressful sometimes. I worked in an corporate environment for two years when I was starting out in my career, however I decided to work remotely from home since most of my clients are from overseas. I have been working from home for five yrs now.
I also manage my own personal blog at otakumouse.com. It’s just a simple blog where I post everything related to my hobby — which is figure collecting. Sometimes if I’m not busy, I also do reviews of my figures. And if I’m not collecting figures, I usually race with on bike. Cycling was my original hobby before figure collecting.
How did you get into collecting? Do you have any favorite lines or franchises?
I didn’t really plan on collecting figures but when I was still working for a company, all of my coworkers’ tables were decorated with their toy collections. Only my table had no toys, and it made me feel really isolated with the group — kinda like you’re the “nerd” and they were the “cool guys”. Even though I’m was just on the lowest pay grade at that time, I decided to buy figures to decorate my workspace (mostly cheap or on sale Marvel articulated figures). That’s the time I realized how cool figure collecting is, and that hobby continued to this day.
When it comes to statues, I mostly dig the works of Good Smile Company, Alphamax, Kotobukiya, and Alter. When it comes to articulated figures, I mostly only buy Hot Toys figures specially their “movie masterpiece” line — where they accurately recreate all of the iconic characters in the movies.
Now for the sticky questions: what is it you really do? 🙂 What can you tell us about about working for Danny and Mirai Inc.?
I’m a Designer and I mostly design stuff: Websites, Posters, Illustrations, Visual Effects, Logos, you name it! As long as there are graphics on it, my job is to make those graphics beautiful. I also code which complements my design skills perfectly. This combination made it possible for me to design and develop something without asking for a programmer’s help. This is also the reason why I managed to design and develop my own blog from scratch.
Early last year, I was contacted by Danny Choo of Culture Japan via email asking for my services. It was a real surprise — I have no idea how he managed to contact me! My blog was just a personal blog and was not that popular at all. I suspect it hd something to do with my Figure.FM (a figure collectors social media site) account.
Of course, in the otaku world, everyone knows Danny. A lot of us idolize that guy because of his cool personality and also because of his strong ties with the otaku and anime industry in Japan. So the moment I received that email from him, I was super excited!
He requested me to have a video chat via Skype and that’s the first time I get to talk to him in person. Of course, I would not let the opportunity pass so I quickly took some screenshots of my screen. The funny thing is, when Danny heard that I’m actually taking screenshots of our conversation and told me to wait because he needed to fix his hair first. He fixed his hair and then told me, “Ok you can now resume taking pictures”!. Very cool but super embarrassing on my part hahaha!
In my early months, most of what I do for Culture Japan were all design related. But lately, Danny realized I also have a bit of skills in coding so he asked me to re-design and re-code his Culture Japan Website. Collaborated with Chris Gaunt (his tech guy) and we managed to roll out the new version of Culture Japan website which is what you and see right now.
I also do Visual Effects / Post Production work for CJ and I was actually the one who created some of the brand’s VFX footage — including the Culture Japan Season 3 animated opening, his Culture Japan Con trailer that was showcased in Malaysia, some more VFX footage on the actual CJ CON event, and other brand related post production work.
Other notable design works I did also includes the Android UI design of his Mirai Smartdoll, the design of the Mirai umbrella (itagasa), Malaysia Tourism’s Penang Map, and Japan Tourism’s Japan Map — in collaboration with his in-house creative guy Linus.
Can you discuss some of the challenges you encountered while doing your job?
There are lots of challenges I encountered and one of them is Danny’s keen attention to detail. I mostly work with western clients and most of them are pretty laid back when it comes to overlooked design details or mistakes. But Danny? That guy’s a ninja when it comes to attention to detail! He’s very detailed-oriented and is a perfectionist. He wants everything perfect up to the very last pixel!
I had a difficult time adjusting at first, but later on I managed to adapt to his work style. His detailed-oriented mindset also helped improved my skills a lot. Today, our work chemistry is close to perfect and he just sends me the work I need to do with his outmost trust.
Do you have any advise for people who want to pursue similar lines of work?
Hmmm… I can think of five things:
1) You should set a clear goal in life. What do you want to be? What career do you want to pursue? When I was in high school, I already made up my mind and told myself that I want to design stuff for a living. That way, I know what course I need to take, what stuff I need to study, and what are the companies I can set my foot on once I graduate. I see a lot of youngsters these days who pick a college course based on how popular it is, or based on how many of their friends will pick that same course, — or worst based on what their parents wanted them to be.
2) If you’re going to college — don’t listen to your parents! Follow what you want. Remember that you are now beginning to shape your life and the first step for that is to make sure that what you’re going to do in the future is something that you’ll love. It’s your parent’s job to respect your decision. Always remember: choose a job you love and you will never have to work a day in your life.
3) Always always always study! The design industry is a very competitive place and getting outdated with the latest trends and technologies can be fatal to your career. So many good designers are showing up everyday so you need to make sure that you stay updated – and you can only do that by studying. It sucks, I know — but you have to 🙂
4) Publish your works online. This is the best thing to do if you want to gain exposure. Publish your works on sites like DeviantArt or Behance. All of my present clients discovered my work online (including Danny Choo). Also, make sure you have the right contact details in case they decided to get in touch you.
5) Always keep those design juices flowing! How? By creating your own projects! When I was first starting out in my career, I don’t have a portfolio to showcase to my clients or on my site. What I did was create imaginary projects for imaginary companies; half of my portfolio ended up beaing composed of these personal projects. It will make you a better designer because the main critic is yourself. It will improve both your judgement and design sense, which is the ability to identify if a design looks good or not.
I still have lots I want to share with you guys but sadly — that’s all the time I have right now 😦 Many thanks to magnetic-rose.net for this wonderful opportunity. It’s been an honor answering these questions!
You can view Nico’s toy collection or challenge him to a bike race at his blog otakumouse.com. Thank very much again to Otakumouse for sharing so much of his personal experiences with us at magnetic-rose.net!