A couple of weeks ago, we told you about how Sydney agency Re (opens in new tab) created a new brand identity (opens in new tab) for Australia's second biggest telecomms company, Optus. Part of that rebrand involved the idea of a character to help customers.
The aim behind the new character was a friendlier approach, with greater support and understanding - and a little bit of cheekiness too. Here's how Re did it, from start to finish...
To build a character that would resonate with customers meant understanding who currently does it well. We looked at partnerships like Buzz and Woody, Wallace and Gromit, Snoopy and Charlie Brown, plus other brands that use avatars. The Japanese approach to characters was also a big influence.
02. Begin with a blob
We wanted to keep the character simple, and have him come from a similar world as the typeface. This meant a simple shape, simple expressions and no complexity. We began with a blob with simple arms and legs - the more abstract the better.
03. Hone the styling
As we integrated Ollie into visuals, we continued to hone the styling of his body, limbs and expressions. Through some scribble discussions in the team, we turned him into an 'O', obviously relevant to Optus and giving him greater reason to exist. The counter of the 'O' became his face, and soon after the realisation that this and his eyes were all that we needed to build his expressions, his mouth disappeared.
04. Develop the character
After the presentation to the client, where Ollie was approved almost immediately, we took it upon ourselves to make sure he was drawn correctly and his character developed. We had our lead designer spend a few days exploring as many iterations as possible and then built a brief for the next step. We commissioned three illustrators to take two days each and see where they could take him and improve him.
05. Decide upon illustrator
We reviewed the work, gave feedback, and ultimately settled with one illustrator, Marco Palmieri, who understood what was great about our character, but also what could be improved. We handed over 50 per cent responsibility for Ollie's personality, and that ownership meant Ollie could grow and develop naturally, through the eyes of a character specialist.
06. Hone the details
Poses were developed and details were honed, such as mittens for his hands, how he's shown on a yellow background, and how his eyes work. His limbs followed one of our rules - if he didn't need them, they didn't appear, so often Ollie has legs only.
07. Get Ollie animated
We worked with M&C Saatchi, the illustrator and a digital agency, Make, to get Ollie animated so he'd work online and on TV. Marco is also an animator, so Ollie's personality stayed true to our original hopes because the hands that helped shape him also developed his movement. Nexus in the UK was also commissioned to work on a launch TV commercial.
08. Tightly manage
We had to tightly manage the creative teams involved. We started to notice shifts in Ollie's personality and he started to appear everywhere, often feeling more like a cartoon character rather than a brand avatar or mascot. This is the danger with having multiple studios involved too early. Our client works with our team to suppress any major deviations to his personality.
When creating a character, take the time to explore possibilities, and open up to something you might not be ready for. Work with people who do this for a living and allow them to bring their own point of view to the character. As the design develops organically, what you started with may be very different by the end of the process, and that's a good thing.
This article originally appeared in Computer Arts issue 218.
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Seen some amazing character design? Tell us in the comments!