Meet Irmay Ledesma, The Creative Mind Behind SB19’s Pagsibol Era Visuals

A paper bag can have many uses.

Get the behind-the-scenes scoop of how SB19’s Pagsibol visuals from the EP to the photobook came to be from Irmay Ledesma.

Related: Cool Filipino Creatives You Should Meet: Vol. 1

Apart from a big bang, SB19 will definitely be ending their 2021 grateful with all the success they have achieved. From chart-topping songs, top-grossing concerts, history making nominations, and more, SB19 had one of, if not the best year of their career to date. No doubt the boys worked so hard all-year round to achieve their success, but let’s also not forget all the people who worked and helped the group behind-the-scenes to make their current era as successful as it is as they too deserve praise and recognition.  

One such important person who played a pivotal role in many of SB19’s projects this year is Irmay Ledesma. If you liked the group’s Pagsibol visuals, concept photos, and other supporting materials, then you have Irmay to thank as she served as the creative director of SB19’s Pagsibol photos, photobooks, physical EP, and other visual assets. She helped give SB19’s latest era its distinct holographic-like look.

NYLON Manila recently talked to the talented creative to give us the lowdown on what it was like working on these projects as well as with the members themselves.

FIRST MEETING SB19

Irmay Ledesma is no stranger to the music industry, as this year marks the fifth year she has been working in the field. As a creative director, producer, and multimedia design freelancer, as well as co-founder of an artist management company, Irmay has a packed portfolio that includes working with clients like Netflix, Pepsi, Ayala Malls, Shopee, and Globe. But believe it or not, she initially did not see herself working in the field. “I had different dreams when I was a kid, and even as I grew older I still didn’t think I’d be working in this field,” she shares. She took up Information Technology in college and worked as a systems analyst for 5 years while taking on freelance design projects from time to time. After a while, it dawned on her to pursue a career in creatives full time, which she did.

Like quite a few SB19 fans, she first heard of the group through their viral Go Up dance performance video. But the first time she would meet them in person was in 2019, during the 28th Philippines-Korea Cultural Exchange Festival. “I went as our management’s representative to accompany one of our artists who also performed in the event. Our dressing room was beside SB19’s but we didn’t have much interactions besides exchange of greetings at that time.” Little did she know though that she would soon get to work with SB19 on an extensive level.

WORKING ON PAGSIBOL

Processed with MOLDIV

Irmay Ledesma initially came on board because she was hired by Sony Music Philippines to design SB19’s Pagsibol photobook. But even as early as their first meeting, it occurred to Irmay that this project would be much more than a simple design gig. “The details of the overall concept that SB19 wanted to go for was shared by Jah and for a number of reasons, I felt like I have unconsciously manifested this project for a long time. It’s as if it’s really meant for me. Jah’s presentation talked about using different colors to convey the varying messages of each song in the Pagsibol EP and using a Malavida art-inspired holographic art to represent the entire EP visually.”

She expressed how the details shared by Justin about playing with lights and projections, especially the use of holographic/iridescent motifs for the era’s visuals were right up her visual aesthetics. “For these shoots and because of my personal love for colors, I already have Pinterest boards that fit the overall concept and initial direction that Jah wants and I did tell him this during our meeting.”

Later on, Sony Music expressed willingness to produce two versions of the Pagsibol photobook, and Irmay suggested dark and light variations. Justin and ShowBT were receptive to her ideas and when she pitched them her deck, their response gave Irmay a boost of confidence of sorts. “Jah literally said, ‘Wala na akong masabi,’ and he added that I was able to capture what they wanted to go for, and was able to enhance it even more.” Details were then ironed out before production began.

FROM CONCEPT TO EXECUTION

Inspiration-wise, the overall visual idea of the era came from what SB19 wanted to share through the Pagsibol EP and its songs. The EP’s cover art came from a literal pagsibol, but “also still show the colors to represent the varying messages and rollercoaster of emotions triggered by the songs.” The concept photos, meanwhile, take inspiration from the individual songs on the album. “The layouts with song elements are the ones released as teasers for the EP—field layout for Version A (light) and projections for Version B (dark). The rest of the layouts are in line with the overall concept and continuity with the released Ikalawang Yugto photos as Pagsibol is a part of that comeback.”

Working on the Deck Updates – Holo Art Design Studies Page

While it’s one thing to pitch an idea, it’s a whole other ball game to see that idea to fruition. And as Irmay shares, the process behind it all was anything but simple. “For the initial stages of planning and designing, we used that Malavida art for the dark version design studies and chose a similar, but light one for the other version. There were initially three design studies that we narrowed down to two. For the Pagsibol logo, we also initially used a placeholder. Then came the time when we had to create our own custom holo art and logo, which were a bit tricky.”

For the logo, it comes from the actual word pagsibol to sprout and grow. At the time, the only iteration of the logo was in the What? music video through gravel and plants. But that didn’t fit with the aesthetic of the EP. Luckily, they found a workaround through the use of holo art.

“We started creating the holo art intended for the dark version, so its solid color chunks were mostly black,” she says. “We had two studies for it. For the second one, which is the selected art for the EP, the colorful parts of the first study was replaced with a holographic foil-like graphic, which isn’t entirely created digitally. With the intention of having actual holographic foil on the colorful parts of this study when put on the physical copies of the photobooks, I wanted the digital holo art to have the colors and texture of a real holographic foil, which as I realized is something that would be easier to achieve through another way if I have the right source.”

Brainstorming with Various Albums as References

So, what source was that? A holographic paper bag, as shared in this story of creativity and resourcefulness. “The paper bag I had was a bit crumpled as I’ve used it and had it for a while. So, I quickly went to the store where I bought it, which is just right across where I was living in Seoul, got another one, and as I was walking back home I took photos of it that later on got tweaked a bit digitally and ended up on the final holo art. The colors and texture you now see on that holo art is simply from a paper bag with reflected lights from a common street lamp somewhere in Seoul.”

Irmay was not alone when she worked on the project. She had a team with her, which included her sister Nina. The projections used for the concept photos were all custom graphics created by her team expect for the one used for MAPA, which as provided by ShowBT. Though Justin did have input as he gave his ideas for the graphics. Also, the SLMT text seen in one of the projections is Justin’s own handwriting. When all was said and done, Irmay and her team had all their assets ready which included the logo, holo arts, and the holo foil photo. She and her team also had to present over 20 studies for the cover art and chose a new design for the photobook box, which ended up as the full holo art with a debossed logo at the center you see now.

HER BIGGEST PROJECT TO DATE

Irmay has worked on her fair share of creative projects. But she admits that working on SB19’s Pagsibol visuals was a lot to take in. “At first, I was just very thankful for the trust given to me. I was very happy as well because my ideas and work done were very well appreciated. But a different wave of emotions hit me during the next few weeks. Jah expressed his wishes that, even just remotely, I’d be allowed to coordinate and directly work with the other teams involved especially with the photography team. So, I was included in those meetings as well. It was no longer just pitching ideas; it was making sure that a good follow through is ensured.”

Not only was this her biggest creative direction and design-related project so far, it was also the time when SB19 got their history-making BBMAs nomination, so the pressure was real. But overall, she was happy and grateful for the creative freedom they have her for the project.

Irmay collaborated with SB19 for the project. Specifically, she worked closely with Justin as he was the group’s creative director and the point person for the group’s ideas during their meetings. While she never got to actually meet him in-person during the whole production of it all as she was in Korea at the time, she did express that Justin was a joy work with. “The communications were online, Zoom meetings and group chats. These come with a number of limitations but I didn’t have any problems understanding him and communicating with him. We agree on a lot of things and most of the final creative direction and design decisions were built on top of each other’s ideas. He’s smart, dedicated, and very appreciative. I thanked him numerous times for his trust and he’s thanked me for my passion and efforts.”

FROM SEOUL TO MANILA

Speaking of Korea, Irmay did all of her work for SB19’s Pagsibol visuals while she was studying in Seoul for her master’s degree in Design Management from Yonsei University, one of the most prestigious universities in Korea. For many people, grad school alone can already be stressful as it is. But for Irmay, she worked on the SB19 project all while she was working on her thesis while taking one class. So how was it like balancing all that? According to her, it was surprisingly enjoyable.

“I was asked to bid for the photobook project when I thought I could still handle another project on top of my school work and job at our management company. But my thesis suddenly needed more time and dedication from me that I had to take a leave from my job until I graduate. It was around that time when I got the news that the photobook project was given to me, but I didn’t hesitate and still grabbed the opportunity. I was then a full time student with working on the Pagsibol project as my sanity breaks hehe. I enjoyed working on the project that it was enough to count as breaks.”

All that hard work though was worth it, especially with how the visuals Irmay and her team produced were received by the public and SB19’s fans, A’TIN. “The fans are very appreciative and we’ve received a lot of great feedback from them. Their messages and appreciation are very heart-warming. Plus, I got to see the assets and photos we worked on put on billboards, various online contents, and ads around Metro Manila, even in Seoul! Especially the ones in Seoul, I got to see them personally and I felt an overwhelming sense of fulfillment and I’ll always keep that with me.”

THE LIFE OF A CREATIVE

For Irmay, she says that the best part of her job is being able to collaborate with other people. “Learning from them, from the different experiences and perspectives, expanding my knowledge through them. I won’t ever want to stop learning this way.” As for what she doesn’t like, she didn’t specify a specific moment. But she did say how she worked on this project all the way in another country and felt that it could have been better if she was in the Philippines.

Even though creatives rarely become the face of their work or get the public attention they deserve, their work is invaluable to many people. They do important work and it’s so much more than just drawing something on a computer. This is something that she wanted other people to be aware of. “Nowadays, organizations must recognize design’s value and learn its benefits from a holistic view to be competitive. Design’s role has expanded to a point that it’s now multi-disciplinary, has both tangible and intangible propositions, and can be holistically applied to an entire organization.”

For people who want to work in the field of creatives or have a similar profession, Irmay advices that you should have a multi-faceted look at the world of design. “It’s best to expand your understanding of everything related to this profession and that includes the business side of design and creatives. It’s very valuable to have multi-disciplinary exposure and perspectives, increased design literacy and awareness, and adopt a holistic view of design.”

As for Irmay herself, she feels very blessed to have been able to work on this project for SB19 and is a big step in her achieving her goals. “It’s actually my long-term career goal to be a creative director and I’ve been plotting some steps to conquer in order to reach that position.” Who knows, she may even work with SB19 again one day.

Continue Reading: Breaking New Ground, SB19 Takes Root And Grows Even More In Pagsibol