How we used Consistent Abstraction to Build our Identity

Luke Faxon reflects on building the visual identity of Anibles

Anibles
6 min readAug 28, 2022

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Serendipity and the Safari Park Game

Around a year ago I was approached by a client who needed help designing characters for the safari park game he was working on.

During one of our calls, he explained to me that he’d learned software development specifically to help animals. This resonated with me, as I’d always cared about wildlife, but had not yet found a way to apply my own skillset in that area.

Look, I love my job as an illustrator. But I couldn’t help feeling at this point that I should also be using my creativity for a greater purpose, on something which could make a difference in the world.

The more I worked on the project, the more I wanted to be involved in its continued development beyond character design

In our endless discussions about the project, we identified some key issues around conservation branding which we felt needed addressing.

The Problem with Wildlife Visuals

One of the main problems we identified was with the positioning of wildlife products and branding. They all seemed identical, and lacked both character and originality. The artwork was plain, old fashioned and uninspiring, and the branding as a whole just seemed dated.

Row upon row of generic toys. We can do better than this

It was these visual issues, amongst others that we had identified, which led us to believe that the project we were working on needed to be so much more than just a safari park game.

We saw that the world needed a modern wildlife brand built for the 21st century, containing stories and characters based on real life events. It should provide unique, innovative products, with modern branding and eye-catching visuals. It should also raise awareness and funding for conservation, closing the loop and honouring the natural world that it’s based on.

But what visual direction should we take in order to solve the problems we’d identified?

Abstraction

We first needed to figure out how to make it stand out.

I believe that beauty lies in simplicity, and that simplicity is sought after in a world in which we are constantly bombarded by information, complexity and detail.

This is something Steve Jobs knew very well when building Apple. He always strove to create sleek, minimalist products, and the response to them speaks for itself.

It’s also something that’s helped me throughout my career. My brain naturally works to simplify. My mind seems to have trained itself to do this subconsciously in order to streamline my creative process. Turning complex objects into simplified geometric shapes allowed me to better recreate them on the canvas.

The norm for wildlife branding, however, tends towards realism and therefore complexity as it tries to recreate animals in different mediums.

We decided to challenge this status-quo and go for a much simpler visual approach. We abstracted the forms of the animals and simplified them into geometric blocky shapes which stand out against the usual fluid, life-like forms. These shapes naturally suit flat shading, as opposed to the complex gradients and patterns usually used. This distinctive design language instantly gave our characters a strong sense of identity.

One problem we initially faced with the blocky design language was that it did not lend itself so well to creating the cute, cuddly looking characters that we had in mind. We kept trying to find a solution, and after hours in the studio experimenting, we finally figured it out.

By beveling their edges, and making their limbs and characteristics much more compact, our characters began to look both friendly and easy on the eye.

Stumpy limbs and exaggerated features are cute

The approach came with additional benefits too. Firstly, the design language was easy to understand no matter the viewer’s age. Secondly, it fit perfectly with our business strategy of abstracting negative conservation issues into a pleasant, rewarding experience. Abstraction all the way through.

Consistency

Next, we needed to figure out how to replicate this design language across our whole world.

Our decision to abstract characteristics of our creations gave us creative licence to reuse them across our whole domain.

For example, a bear, a turtle and a human have vastly different eyes, but because we abstracted their design we were able to use them universally:

Features such as eyes and ears are reused across species

The consistent reuse of these features creates the foundation of our brand’s design language. Those who know Anibles will know that an eye that looks like the above belongs to a character from our world. Even those who don’t know about Anibles will be able to look at two characters side-by-side and know that they exist as part of the same world.

A consistent design language may seem an obvious choice, but it’s essential to branding and is not being implemented in products based on wildlife.

With a few exceptions, it’s really difficult to look at two animal toys and know which brand made them. How much money and brand loyalty is being left on the table because of this lack of identity?

Can you tell me which brand(s) made these?

Another huge benefit of consistency is immersion. Inconsistencies, whether visual, narrative or character based, have a high likelihood of breaking the immersion of an audience. As stories are so central to our strategy, it’s imperative that we remain consistently consistent in everything we create.

This goes beyond the design of characters and environments, but applies to our products as a whole. We want the entire Anibles experience to be consistent. If you experience one of our stories in an animated show and then jump into one of our games, you should feel like you are continuing in the same environment. When you’ve finished playing the game and look at a toy on your shelf, it should look like a physical copy of its digital counterpart.

The beauty of all of our characters and environments being modelled in 3D is that we can achieve this seamlessly across various mediums.

Wrapping it up

I remember putting abstraction into practice even as a child. One of my earliest artistic memories goes back to when I was around 4 years old in the living room of my childhood home. I was helping my father decorate, and when the wallpaper was removed from the walls, I grabbed a pencil and began furiously drawing abstract fantasy dragons and creatures on the bare plaster. To this day, if you were to strip back the wallpaper from those very walls, those illustrations would still remain, as if drawn yesterday.

This makes me think about my ancestors, 60,000 years ago, painting pictures of animals on the walls of a cave that they would have similarly called home. A cragged canvas containing some of the earliest known artworks and stories of our history, illuminated by the flickering light and security of a smouldering fire.

The fact that we’re still expressing ourselves in the same way our ancestors did thousands of years ago, through abstract paintings of animals, is indicative of the fact that we have a deeply rooted desire to use art to connect with nature.

Anibles are my cave paintings. Just like those ancient drawings, I hope that they’re still around for many years to come, telling the story of how we fixed our broken relationship with nature.

You can keep up to date with Anibles on Twitter and in Discord.

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