This Is Max

Being one of the world’s largest hotel price comparison companies, HotelsCombined recently underwent a brand refresh. Enter Max. To compliment the overall identity of HotelsCombined (a project handled by Interbrand Australia) Supervixen were approached to handle the creation of Max. 

As a global brand, HotelsCombined needed a universal identity/symbol that conveyed trust and familiarity, that also stood out from the competitors. It had to  work in the multicultural markets it was to be implemented.

The idea of a cute toy bear is as trustworthy as you can get, it signified that comforting trustworthy friend and often as a familiar symbol we may have taken with us during our travels.

 

The thought of introducing a moveable 3D character as part of our brand identity refresh was equally exciting and scary as it was completely  new territory for us. Furthermore, our expectations were  fairly high and probably somewhat conflicting. We didn’t want a cute and cuddly bear for an on-off campaign, but something really unique that reflected our rather focused and serious tech company culture from the inside out. We wanted something our employees could feel proud of for the long term, but at the same time added memorability to all aspects of our global brand and user experience in a likeable way.  It was evident that a successful outcome was highly dependent on execution and on somebody who had the ability and patience to really understand our business.

It turns out, Supervixen did just that. They were very understanding, transparent, honest and professional throughout the entire process. They’ve always kept their cool, even with many cooks on our side and, often times, conflicting feedback involved. Supervixen and their team managed to create something we initially couldn't envision at all and definitely didn’t believe would be executable in this cool way. Today, we can't imagine our brand without Max. He's not only a crucial part of various aspects of our brand marketing but also widely used in our internal communications and has quickly become a much-loved member of the HotelsCombined family.

- HotelsCombined -  Head of Communications


 

All the options...

To start the creative process we had to lay out some initial concept designs for Max. Who is Max? What will they need to do on screen? What is their role in all future marketing and PR work for HotelsCombined?

To understand this, we needed to understand the culture in which Max is to be born into. HotelsCombined wanted Max's personality to reflect the culture of the company. As a technology focused company, Max should represent the seriousness of the software development, the no nonsense attitude towards powering a service that required specialised skills and pioneering work to execute.

Essentially, Max is an IT guy, a fixer, an organiser, a doer. Max isn't an entertainer, not deliberately funny, and above all, is reluctantly very cute.

One of the initial design elements was the stern brow shape/arrow. This was very clearly defined as an important aspect of the overall visual brand identity

 
 
 
 

Drawing a bear is relatively easy. Drawing a second bear that is different again, is easy. Drawing 35 bears all with their own definable look... well that's another thing completely. Saying this, it was very fun!

Elements such as, are there pupils? Is there a mouth? Are there clothes? Is there fur? Etc... all options were explored and refined.

Initial sketches were made to clarify exactly the elements everyone agreed would work in conjunction with the rest of the brand, and of course the subjective matter of what is cute. Ultimately a short, rotund, vinyl-esque design was preferred.

That's one iconic head.

When designing Max, A key design feature we needed to consider at an early stage was 'What will Max's head look like as an icon?' Given that HotelsCombined has a complimentary smart device app, the notion of an icon was incorporated into the overall company branding so the app's icon will carry this identity.

The frames below outline some loose design concepts that incorporate Max's silhouette and the graphic design asset of the upside down triangle (A feature used throughout the rebrand).

 
 
 
 

In the really real world... kind of...

Once the initial stage of character design was established, it was time to take the project into the 3rd dimension. Before we crack open the expensive applications, further artistic interpretations were needed.

To get a feel for Max in the real world, we worked up some style frames of Max in real-life situations. This played a big part in letting everyone involved with the design process imagine Max  in future creative.

Essentially, Max will be real, we needed to answer the question of would this design work in a real-world situation?

It was a resounding yes.

 
 
 
 

Inside the computer?

Max was designed from the outset to be transitioned to 3D space. It's not a defining element to the appearance of the final design, merely a consideration when thinking about form.

Even so, the challenge of articulating such a short, stumpy character with no real definition of where the body ends and the head starts was just the beginning of the challenges to create a posable character like Max.

As such, Max was in constant development, from his initial base model, through the following TVC animations. Adding articulation points and systems as required by the animators.

Mouth shapes were added, teeth were a later addition to give max the ability to say "T" , the ears ended up with 6 bones each to aid in custom animations, and his legs and arms were given the ability to stretch infinitely long to compensate for the fact they're pretty much non-existent in resting pose.

Early on we decided on the colour and surface finish of Max.

Max is white and blue... for obvious reasons. HotelsCombined have a distinct colour palette and what better way to show it off than have a mascot brandishing their livery. And a brown bear was just too ordinary for us.

Fur was ruled out for a variety of reasons. One being the immense technical challenges of animation and rendering fur can produce, and also the fact that at the time there were multiple TVCs on air with furry animals, we wanted Max to stand out of the crowd.

On the surface finish side of the 3D, we worked on the texture extensively.

Though what at first glance appears to be a flat white finish, actually comprises of many layers and shaders to achieve that perfect soft marshmallow texture, with very subtle transparency and layers of painted specular variations in the appropriately worn areas.

 

A Max is born!

For HotelsCombined, the initial request was to create posed images of Max for their re-branded website and brand marketing assets.