While exploring options for rebranding a respected statewide airline, we came across a Canadian airline called Porter. As part of their current brand, they use a distinctive stylized raccoon named Mr. Porter in their advertising and branding. In the examples below, you can see him flying comfortably, visiting exciting locations, and pointing to what I'm sure are some great deals.
The client was immediately intrigued by the possibilities, and though it was a pretty extreme difference from their previous look and feel it was also radically different from what anyone else in Alaska was doing. As one of the more vector illustration inclined artists in the group, I was selected by the account executive to create the new mascot, a raven.
CHALLENGES & STRATEGIES
I began by researching the raven, both in stories and in life. In Alaska Native mythology, Raven is most widely recognized as The Trickster, similar to Coyote in the southwestern United States. In his most recognizable story, he stole fire from the sun to give to mankind. Ravens are also quite clever in real life – they are some of the only birds able to solve complex problems with tools.
Though we didn't necessarily need to incorporate these aspects into the character, it was important to get a good idea of his place in popular culture to understand our context. We definitely wanted something approachable and friendly, but modern. No Disney or sports style illustration--this guy needed to be all clean lines and geometry.
My first hurdle was also my biggest challenge. How do you make a raven approachable and friendly? There are all sorts of examples of majestic ravens, evil ravens, badass ravens... but not so much friendly. As you can see in the sketches to the right, at first I had some difficulty creating something "relatable"while keeping the clean geometric style we were looking for.
After about an hour of researching and sketching I took my grumpy, stumped self over to our junior art director for a consult. She helped me realize that I was stuck on in my analysis of the raccoon--part of what is compelling about him is that he is always looking at you. Direct eye contact helps draw the observer in. To me, that element was important to keep, and I was stuck trying to give the audience two eyes to connect with. She pointed out that ravens frequently look at things they're interested in out of one eye or the other, and that to have him in profile wouldn't fight his "humanity", but would both help define his silhouette and reinforce his curiosity.
After that conversation and another few sketches, I arrived at this guy. He wasn't perfect, but I knew it was time to step away from the pencil and pick up the mouse.
With a whole afternoon left to flesh him out and an enthusiastic response from the account folks and the other artists, I dug into developing him with a vengeance. He became a temporary focal point for the team, with people tossing ideas out left and right- he could go fishing! He could be a traveling businessman! He could go to Hawaii! Before we got too far down the dress up line though, I wanted to make sure he could be easily translated into motion graphics. Thanks to my experience with Flash animation, I worked on making him completely modular, with wings, tail, feet, head and beak that could all be easily positioned and keyed. I demoed the positionable character, and a new forward facing body, in the below "poses" sheet.
THEN it was time for costumes. Within a day I had created Hawaii, Safety, Navigator, Fishing, Business, and North Pole raven, to demonstrate his flexibility and worldliness.
If you know anything about Alaska, you know we love our Xtra Tuffs, the brown and beige rubber boots widely used on fishing boats that made their way into Alaskan fashion like cowboy boots. So of course, how could we put our little raven character into those boots? He'd be too small- so small he would fall in! I had to bring that to life as well in a quick triptych for giggles.
Ultimately, though he was widely loved and all agreed he was spot on, the raven character was deemed too much of a departure from their current brand. They chose a beautiful, more conservative evolution of the brand developed by our art director for print and broadcast... but they did decide to keep the character on the back burner as a potential online and social media mascot.
With a client who likes playing it safe, it was encouraging to see that they were open to trying something drastically different from both their own safe zone and the standard strategy for their competitors. In my book, that's a win!