When motion designer and illustrator Ardhira Putra was a kid he often drew Son Goku from Dragon Ball as well as copying characters from other comics such as Astro Boy, Doraemon and the Adventures of Tintin. When he was 16, it was all about MTV and its respective channels, where Putra fell in love with the idents and graphics that framed the music videos.
“I also loved going to the bookstore to look at graphic design books and magazines,” he says. “At that time I was only using my graphic design skills to edit my profile picture on Friendster. Then I bought Adobe Photoshop and all the tutorial books as there weren’t any videos tutorials on YouTube yet.”
Top: The Future is Female. Above: Macros. All images and animations: Ardhira Putra
Putra’s passion for the visual world led him to study animation at Multimedia University of Malaysia and he was introduced to the world of motion design.
“It really opened my heart to everything to do with Asian cinema, animation from the Gobelins school, Pixar animation, Japanese animation, and I read blogs to search for inspiration,” he says. Still based in Singapore, these days Putra works full-time for a software company, but by night creates animations and illustrations for various clients, often creating projects for the independent music scene.
The creative’s style is almost like stepping back in time with a combination of 80s and 90s graphic design and poppy colour palettes, with nostalgic references to boomboxes and cassette tapes. “I have loads of inspirations and most of them come from vintage and Asian pop ads,” says Putra. “I can be inspired by a poster, an album cover, a billboard, a TV commercial, my favourite Japanese cartoon as a child, and vintage video games like Sega Saturn or Nintendo 64.”
Putra sees his style as just being himself and his most recent project epitomises what makes his work so distinctive. Released last month, Putra was the brains behind the video for US producer Engelwood’s track Crystal Dolphin. The song was already popular having been used on millions of TikToks over the last year, but the official video takes it to a new level.
“Crystal Dolphin’s original sample is from Dolphin in Town by Kingo Hamada. I looked at the year that was released, which was 1982 and so I researched what was going on in that year but from the entertainment pop culture perspective,” explains Putra on the aesthetic for the video.
“From that I gathered photos from Google and Pinterest, and started to create the scenes that I liked the most. I then started to colourise it.” For Putra, colour is a key part of his work as it informs the mood and vibe of the finished creation. “If I feel comfortable with the colour, I can already imagine how things move.”
Putra is now experimenting what he’s able to create through his animations and illustrations and how he can execute the ideas he has in his head into tangible visuals for people to enjoy. “That’s why for now I prefer to work alone,” he says. “My personal project for me is just the freedom to create.”
Ideally the eventual goal would be for Putra to give up his full-time job and work as an independent creative, but he’s realistic about what that involves. “I have to think about how to survive financially, and that is my big challenge for the future,” he says. “So it’s going to be a step by step process, like going from working on personal projects for free in 2017 up until the Crystal Dolphin project, that took time.”
Ultimately for Putra, he’s happiest when people are enjoying the images he creates and the nostalgia people feel when they see his work. “Some of my illustrations are like a response to the late 80s/90s Asian pop culture, and I am glad that some younger people who didn’t live in that era can still enjoy my work,” he says.
“I have personal feelings towards the colours, shapes, objects, and designs I use. So when people look at my work, I am really glad that some people can relate, and that it might also connect to their memories as well.”