Uprising in association withLBB & Friends Beach

Uprising: Changing How Image Is Absorbed with Onda

Production Company
Los Angeles, USA
LBB’s Ben Conway speaks to the ProdCo director about finding his unique voice in many disciplines, and why more surrealism is needed in ads and music videos

In his short directing career so far, Onda - now signed to ProdCo in the US, UK and Amsterdam - has already worked with Kanye West, adidas, On Running and more. He has become a true generalist, priding himself on mastering videography, graphic design, photography, creative direction and more, but didn’t have any inkling that this career awaited him when he was growing up in Miami to a family of Cuban and Peruvian immigrants.

However, after losing a parent at a young age, the director did have a sense of perseverance and dedication instilled within; qualities reflected throughout his work and career journey ever since. “The mortality salience of having a parent taken from me has taught me to see five steps ahead and be grateful for everyone and everything that comes my way,” he says. “It also allows me to know that even if I'm in the driver seat one day, I can be in the backseat the next. It allows me to work hard and put things into perspective.”

As a young adult, Onda didn’t realise studying film was an option until he was in his mid-twenties, and because of this, he didn’t develop his filmmaking skills for some time - instead studying business at college. “I struggled to stay focused and ultimately dropped out. However, I had a realisation that if I wanted to pursue filmmaking seriously, I needed to graduate with good enough grades and try to get into the University of Southern California (USC). So, I made the decision to return to college with the goal of achieving that, which I eventually did.” 

Onda was accepted into USC’s film programme in 2019 and moved to LA, where he got his first experience of filmmaking. After buying his first video camera, a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema, he used it to film a boxing recap video for Daniele Scardina, an Italian heavyweight. “It was horrible but at the time I thought it was incredible. [It’s] funny how life shifts if you push yourself to get better.” 

He adds, “The pandemic gave me time for research and development so when I got my first chance I was able to rock it and elevate.”

This first chance to ‘rock it’ in the industry came serendipitously after Onda ran into The Rock's videographer, Jon Cruz, at the gym. At the time, the director was sharpening his VFX and editing skills, working in the gym lobby on a sequence for a men’s health clinic. “He asked if I was freelance and down to take on some work,” explains Onda. “Eventually he reached out and offered me a gig with the Westbrook Entertainment Company.” A few months later, Onda was already working for Westbrook founder, and Hollywood star, Will Smith.

“From there I leveraged that job to land my next one with Sean Combs when his main videographer, Kaito, stepped back to work on a documentary.” And from there, Onda met Kanye West on a photoshoot, who then hired him to do photography for the rapper and his Sunday Service Choir. “I also did creative for the Donda Doves sports team and much more design help all around. At the time Virgil had passed and Ye was telling me I'm Virgil now, as I was editing with him and in front of him. That was a cool moment.”

The music video for 'Diet Coke' with Pusha T and Kanye West became a catalyst for Onda’s career - a quick turnaround project put together with director Omar Jones and producer David Wept. “A few hours before call time I was with Ye and Julia Fox at a private dinner party and Ye almost didn't make it to set,” he shares. “I was able to convince him saying that Push was waiting and we only needed him for a couple hours. Overall, it went amazingly and it was one of the best moments in hip-hop I think.”

A multidisciplinary talent, Onda tries to do something different with each project. It provides versatility to his craft but, he says, it can also sometimes overshadow his expertise in certain fields. “Granted, I think I can go to bat against anyone, it can be hard when potential collaborators think I may be in another creative bracket than they envisioned. However, I think it's what makes me special. It enables me to grasp the full creative as it unfolds right before us.” 

While he says that every project - no matter the medium - is as creatively challenging as the last, collaboration can certainly alleviate some of the pressure. As such, cultivating these connections is one of his biggest lessons that he learned early on. “This is a long career, your peers will be around for the next 40-50 years so why not just treat everyone with respect and admiration?”

Recently, Onda pushed his creative boundaries even further, directing Big Sean’s ‘Precision’ music video, using cutting-edge Neural Radiance Fields (NeRF) AI tech. “NeRF is a simple 3D image capture that you can turn into video,” he explains. “That was fun and rewarding, and at the same time exhausting. The big name makes it sound very intense, but it's actually not that hard to tame. It allowed us to easily and quickly capture virtual 3D representations of the actual on-set environments for subsequent manipulation in post-production. Several glimpses of the film set are sprinkled throughout the video, offering insight into how these scenes were shot.”

The video depicts an artist seeking validation from corporate America upon their return to the world stage - and the film’s application of future-facing tech is a risk the likes of which Onda wants to see more of in the commercial world too, especially when it comes to turning up the “weirdness”.

“It feels too bland right now, too safe,” he says. “A lot of jokes fall flat most of the time and I think we need to forget what most of the world thinks, and understand that the ‘niche-ness’ of an idea is usually what cultivates super fans and cult classics. In music videos, I would love to see more narrative-driven and less ‘sexy’ [work]. I think people forget the song and the video are two different things. It's a chance to create an image that transcends the idea people have about an artist. You get to create something intangible, so why not make it a bit surreal or out of reach?”

He continues, “Finding my voice in the art, enabling me to tell stories from a viewpoint nobody has had before is a big motivator.”

Also motivated by the faith put in him by his peers and family, Onda enjoys exploring the obscure pockets of art and culture to find inspiration. Although, to avoid becoming derivative of other’s work, he also enjoys decompressing with media that doesn’t invite as much study or introspection - such as the many “shitty reality dating shows” on TV.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2024, the director has several secret plans underway, waiting to be revealed, but all come back to his main goal. Whether it’s his photography work, creative direction, music videos or commercial filmmaking, all his disciplines combine to leave a distinctly Onda-shaped footprint, leaving his unique mark on every aspect of visual creativity he touches.

“My focus,” he concludes, “is to continue to change the way image is absorbed.”