I was born in 1977 in Jacareí, a mid-sized industrial city in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. At the time my parents were attending university in the neighbour city of São José dos Campos. Thus I never really lived in my birthplace, and a few years later my family moved to the capital, São Paulo.
Those were the times of Pong, even though in Brazil the device surely must have arrived years after it was available elsewhere. In São Paulo I had my initial brushes with tech. First it was the Atari 2600. My apartment building had a shared room with eight of those consoles for the kids to play, and I definitely pierced a hole on the palm of my hand playing Decathlon. Then it was a friend’s computer, the TK-85. I never really did anything to that computer, but I recall the day when its owner, a much older friend called Junior, who actually was 12 years old at the time, pretended to have invaded the police networks with the TK-85. All of us kids ran away from his apartment in terror of being caught and hid for a couple of days. Alas, at the time there was no such thing as a modem available to the public in Brazil.
My second contact with lies was when I asked my dad to buy me my own Atari and he acceded. He wrote a check for 1000 units of whichever currency circulated in my country at the time, exactly the price of an Atari. He could see my excitement and gratitude holding that check in my hands and instantly I noticed a strange expression on his face. He was playing a joke on me, and his signature on the check was nothing but a random scribble. Between Junior and my dad must lie the foundations of my sometimes too defensive relationship with truth and trusting others.
It would not be many years later that this same dad gave me something much better than a videogame: a real computer. It was an MSX, a product that never caught on outside Brazil and Japan, and was far less powerful than an IBM PC XT. Still it had games, albeit recorded on cassette tapes, and it ran Basic.
Basic was the first programming language I learned, at the age of about 9 or 10. I copied code for games from magazines and books, learned a lot about the “draw” command. Soon I was spending a lot of time drawing letters with code, much like the fonts used in American college sweaters. Also I was trying to reproduce logos of companies like Esso (or subsidiary of Exxon which had a nice oval around it) and, very near the end of this phase, MTV. I still remember that the original M on their logo receded to the back at an angle of 35°.
MTV had a much stronger effect on me than just that logo, and in due time I was much more drawn to music than to programming. Later, at the age of 15, I seriously picked up the guitar. I studied it like crazy, went from trying some Metallica and Nirvana riffs to Jimi Hendrix then Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Guy then Steve Vai and Joe Satriani then Pat Metheny.
Along followed the most intense years of love for an activity ever in my life. My musical interests deepened and widened exponentially. Not much later I started teaching neighbours and playing in bands. I owe a lot in all those regards to my first and most important music teacher, Heitor Castro. I had started taking lessons in his bedroom, and when later he opened his own music school, I got the honorific title of student number 001 and soon also became a teacher there. He should have used number 000001 or longer, because the people he taught, directly or through his materials, is now surely in the hundreds of thousands. I thank Heitor every day. And just as his school’s name says, the man has certainly taught me “More than Music”.
Parallel to the beginning of this music love affair, I was finishing high school. I got alphabetized at 4 years old and skipped a grade (or someone made me do that), so I finished high school at 16. I wasn’t yet good enough to seriously consider a musical career, and at the same time wasn’t mature enough to have any inkling of what else to pursue, so I took my engineer father’s advice and also went along with some friends into engineering school.
I scored high enough in my exams to be put in what they called a “Special Class”, made up of the top 80 students. The top 40 got a full scholarship. I was number 63 and had to pay full tuition, but still had to hang with people who frankly were much, much smarter than me. Or more interested, I’ll never know.
For many years I had a dialectical thing with nerds and nerddom in which I’ve always been a total and utter nerd, but strongly rejected that fact. In recent years I’ve embraced my nerd core, but at the time it was still a bit painful to live side-by-side with Mathematics Olympics competitors, 18-year-old computer-chip designers, people who had take Calculus IV for fun at 15 and such. Not least because they really were academically far superior to me.
The result was that my grades were terrible from the get-go. I only really studied music anyway. Long story short, a couple of years later I was rehearsing at a friend’s home and saw he had drawn a cartoon-like but man-sized character that showed amazing talent on his side. I asked him what was that, and he told me that he was studying Industrial Design. I was almost halfway through college and had not made the knowledge leap to figure out that, in Brazil, Industrial Design was also Graphic Design. Worse, at this precise time I had a little proto-startup designing business cards and logos on my dad’s computer, by the name of Top Print. I was a practicing designer and had no idea of the world I was in.
Pretty soon I had changed majors to Graphic Design and I was a much happier young man. I had the luck of getting an enthusiastic teacher, Guto Lins, in my first design class even before making the switch. He introduced me to the work of Neville Brody and others, and I took it from there.
I got a little training in drawing and watercolors at school. I vividly remember, after a few weeks of brainy exercises like filling pages with parallel lines or china-ink gestures, we were assigned something totally different: to represent some small object with ink in 3 or 5 minutes. I was amazed to realize how convincingly I could render things. You can be taught to draw and paint after all, I realized. At the time I didn’t take it much further but I never forget the calming effect that painting with a brush had on me.