Character Development on a Barnyard LevelBy resident animal impersonator Jessica Holmes
“Oh wow, really?” I gaped, wide-eyed like deer in the headlights, at the account executive.
Every concept in a pitch deck packs its own particular punch. Especially at the moment of conception … er, selection … by a client. It turns from a whimsical la-la-la in a flowered field idea into a deadline-heavy reality.
This year, as the account executive relayed, the Western Idaho Fair had picked “The Best Dates Ever.” In the real world, the concept of a surreal farmyard dating app named Tender with eight different barnyard characters chatting back and forth meant work. Hard, weird work.
“I can’t believe I get paid to do this.” I repeated this over and over. In my head and out loud. Especially during the early stages of the project, as I scrolled through endless pages of data on cartoon animal characters. Their names. Their personalities. Their group dynamics. From Bessie the Cow to Miss Piggy to Bojack Horseman, the field was large, and it was odd.
As I struggled with naming the characters, one thing stood out. Keep it simple, name-wise. No one was winning any allusion awards with these cartoon character names. It was Bugs Bunny not Augusten Bunnyroughs. Porky Pig not Paunchy Porcine. Wile E. Coyote not Canis Rambunctious. (Though I would pitch a hipster coyote cousin named Kai O. Tea, as it sounds like someone you’d meet at Burning Man.)
I’ve done naming (usually of brands, not llamas) quite a bit, so I know one thing is true. When it’s right, it hits you right in the gut. You just know. And when I came up with each of these names, especially stacked up against a long list of other options, they socked it to me.
Welcome to the barnyard: Charley Horse. Fleece Woolerspoon. Bo Vine. Shana Llama Ding-Dong. Ferris Fowler. Peggy Banks. Bunnie O’Hare. Kid Flock. #nailedit
Personality profiles went hand in hand with the naming. (Hoof in hoof?) Each character needed a distinct vibe and Fair-related passion that would translate across mediums and into illustrations. Luckily, the names gave a hint of the character to come. And tongue-in-cheek jokes helped fill in the blanks.
Ferris Fowler (a nod to the mischievous Ferris Bueller) loves carnival rides. Fueled by adrenaline, he “ain’t no chicken.”
Kid Flock (like his namesake nod, Kid Rock) gets your goat with all his gloat because he thinks he is the G.O.A.T. (Greatest of All Time). He has 127 blue ribbons. A fact he’ll repeat ad nauseum.
Bo Vine just moved here from California where he would go to cattle calls auditioning for parts. He loves taking gym selfies and showing off feats of strength at the Fair.
Did you know that the scientific name for llama is “llama glama”? I do, because research. The glammed-up Shana Llama Ding-Dong is a three-time winner of the Fair’s Llama Dress-Up Contest (an actual event that just makes your imagination giggle).
Bunnie O’Hare tends to get a bit hyper and go down some rabbit holes when she eats too many Fair treats. She also has an old-school hip-hop review show on Radio Boise called “Bunnie Trax.”
Fleece Woolerspoon dyes her hair wild colors and uses it to knit stuff to enter in the Fair. Blue hair = blue ribbons baby!
Charley Horse considers Bret Michaels his hair idol and never misses a Fair concert, because he’s one rockin’ horse.
No matter how much prep we put into this, we never could have completed it without the mad skills (and wild imagination) of local illustrator Julie Pegan. It’s like she read my mind, then one-upped me with even more humorous details and personality-filled flare.
We sat down with her one happy happy hour, and over several drinks (this is advertising, after all), decided on the two (and sometimes more) images we wanted for each character. One would be Fair related. And one would be something you’d typically see on social media. You know. Selfies. Snapchat filters. (We gave Peggy wings. This pig is fly.)
Phew. All that brainwork, and we’ve only just begun.
But it was worth it. Because we literally brought these characters to life.
Several months later, filming our potential TV spot for next year’s Fair, seated in a bumper car, crashing into Ferris Fowler and Shana Llama Ding-Dong (aka giant mascot costumes), I thought:
“I can’t believe I get paid to do this.”