The Drum's 'Unsung Heroes' series is a celebration of the people in the industry who slog hard behind the limelight for their companies, brands and clients. As they are seldom in the spotlight for their contribution to the success of campaigns, this is their time to shine.
The first from his family to break tradition by not becoming an air steward, James Ong is currently enjoying his job as a motion and innovation specialist at Isobar, where he uses modern technologies like virtual reality to help clients create virtual experiences for their customers.
Why is your job important?
The onset of disruptive/experimental technology is a very important aspect of our business and the work we do for our clients. I am part of the team that researches and deploys new technological solutions for client problems.
Some of the emerging technology we have been experimenting with include binary facial tracking, pose estimation, robotic arms, and spatial computing.
In fact, we recently rolled out a great piece of tech work for Chevrolet using spatial computing technology.
We developed a mixed-reality showroom for General Motors, not only enabling consumers to virtually experience a car showroom anytime and anywhere, but also solving a real problem for Korean dealerships which often lacked space to display a physical car.
What is the hardest and stressful part of your job?
I am always facing new challenges, as we are constantly learning and experimenting with new ideas and innovation that can be totally foreign to me (in the initial stages). Coupled with sometimes unforgiving timelines, it requires me to think in a totally different way or change the way I do my work.
Another factor which I believe can be quite stressful is when a prototype or demo is shown to the client for the first time and it doesn't work the way it’s supposed to; we usually have to figure out a remedy within seconds!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part is when the finished product or solution reaches the end user. When they try it for the first time and provide positive feedback with no major complaints, that is when I can finally breathe easy as all the things that I thought could go wrong, instead went right and smoothly.
First thing that comes to people’s minds when you tell them your job?
“So, you are a video editor / 3D Artist / IT guy?", “What do you do exactly?” or "So you are a jack of all trades". These are just some of the most common responses I get when I try to explain my job to others.
How would you correct/explain to them what you do then?
I would usually tell them that I am a chameleon (as well as a problem solver) for the different innovation projects that I work on, which can range from being a project manager, to a 3D artist, and a designer all rolled into one.
Or I would just say that I do a myriad of projects which require me to be in a different role every day in other to get the job done across all the innovation projects.
Is there anything you want to change in your job?
The one thing I would love to have less of, are 'emergencies' for certain projects where sometimes I could be running around the country to fix certain problems or get some items for a specific deliverable.
One minute I could be on my desk answering mails and the next I could be at a hardware store looking for specific tool or even going to a location for a shoot.
But that is also what make my day-to-day so interesting where each project I work on lets me experience something I have never done before, and it always pushes me to be better and give nothing less than my best in everything I do
Which was the campaign that you worked on, that you are most proud of?
I think it would be an innovative piece of work that we did for Johnnie Walker. We develop hologram mentoring for their Black Label brand, which would be one of the toughest and yet most enjoyable assignments that I've ever been part of.
The concept of bringing whisky mentoring to the masses while keeping it affordable and innovative at the same time was something that was very challenging for us to achieve. There was a lot of work that went on behind the scenes, from sourcing of the plastic holograms at an affordable rate, developing a hologram video, at the same time communicating with all the different Diageo markets that were a part of the campaign.
I remember having to adjust to three different time zones (US, UK and Thailand) while keeping to the production schedule of both the video and the hologram pieces. It was a very interesting year for the project from beginning to end, and it definitely helped be become more adaptable and to multi-task better in everything I do now.
Who is someone you want to emulate in your industry?
I would definitely want to try to emulate GMUNK for sure. If you’re wondering who he is, GMUNK is one of the top visual and design directors in the world where he uses game-changing techniques to craft bold futuristic themes in films and in the real world.
He always uses a fusion of science-fiction themes, psychedelic palettes, and practical effects, to get his signature style, which would then be showcased in feature films, commercials, experimental installations, music videos, graphic design, and title sequences.
As his workflow and way of thinking are revolutionary, it would be my aim to reach at his level.
If you weren’t a motion and innovation specialist, what would you be?
If I wasn't a motion and innovation specialist, I believe I would be an air steward for Singapore Airlines! Everyone in my family had joined SIA as a cabin crew, so it’s sort of a family tradition.