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Creating characters to differentiate your visitor attraction

From the silhouette of Mickey and Minnie’s ears to the cheeky accent of the Meerkats from the ‘Compare The Market’ adverts, these characters are as identifiable as the brands themselves. That is the impact a well-designed character has on a brand. Imagined and designed right, and a family of characters can help your attraction be instantly recognisable, bring your live experience programming to life and be an exclusive differentiator that your guests can only experience at your attraction.

The Moving Picture Company (MPC) conducted research on “effectiveness of advertising with characters”. Based on their study, brands that use special characters in their campaigns observe nearly a 41% increase in their profits. The improved emotional connection they make with their audiences is one main reason for this improvement.

And with guests leading choices with emotion, characters are great to introduce within your attraction to encourage return visits, purchase merchandise, encourage involvement within activities as well as an incredible tool for marketing and delivering your brand message.

Characters are an amazing tool for live experiences and activations and they can bring any area of your attraction to life. Plus with the evolving advances of technology, it now means there are even more ways for characters to interact with your guests. This can be with pre-recorded scripting or with the insanely awesome, performer-driven, real-time show control that features characters such as Big Bird who walks freely and responds directly to kids around Sesame Place in San Diego. Something that is totally driven by performer-centric interactivity. Just imagine how truly magical that moment is!

Over the years I’ve had the privilege of creating and developing many families of characters from the BUGZ for TUI, the Magic Planet characters for Majid Al Futaim in Dubai and Pipsqueak’s Mouse House and the Starland Krew at Parkdean Resorts. Characters are a really powerful tool and can be sometimes underestimated, however there are some practical things to consider when designing your family of characters for any live experiences.

Here’s some factors to consider when thinking about introducing a new character into your attraction or resort:

What does your character represent?

Think about what message you are trying to represent within the characters’ development. Perhaps you’re a Zoo or Safari Park and you want to get your message across about conservation or maybe you’re representing the culture and history of a specific country. Thinking about these elements at the beginning stages ensures you get your important message across clearly and are sympathetic to the cause. A good example of this would be considerations of the characters backstory and appointing talent for the voice development that matches the culture being represented. Remember a character without any purpose is just a human in a costume.

Where will you programme your characters?

I’ve seen characters designed that are far too heavy to perform in, their feet far too long to walk up stairs, and costumes that are too wide to fit through doorways. Ensuring performers have back of house facilities nearby should also be considered, especially in hotter climates as costumes can only be worn for limited time periods. Thinking about where you will be programming your character from the start will help reduce these issues and ensure you have happy performers.

Does your designer really understand the operational needs?

When creating your brand asset, aligning the brand visually both in digital assets and as a character costume is important to ensure your guests have a linear experience. For example, designing super skinny bodies that are unachievable to manufacture as a costume skin or heads that are not possible for a wearer to see out of, or incorporating pantone colours of fabrics that are not available, are all common mistakes. Ensuring whoever is designing your characters has actually experienced wearing a character and fully understands the operational needs and practicalities required by the wearer, prior to approaching a costume manufacturer, will also save you financial heartache further along the line.

Do you have dedicated character training?

There is a huge difference to a character being a costume to becoming a believable, living object or animal and that is all down to training your performers correctly. Creating a dedicated training platform that fully explains how to bring your character alive, together with the back-story and a bank of signature moves, is key to making your character 100% believable. It also ensures whoever wears the costumes, brings the character to life in exactly the same way as the performer prior, ensuring your guests experience a seamless transition and not a character that feels and looks different than if they did half an hour ago. There are also other important factors to consider such as the following examples:

  • Health & Safety Of The Wearer

  • Costume Wear & Care

  • Character Dressing

  • Getting To Know Your Character

  • Role of The Host/Walker

  • Child Safety

  • What To Do & Not To Do

What is the height of the performer?

Being able to see the human underneath the character skin because they’re too tall for the costume, or the costume drowns the wearer will ruin the illusion and your investment. You may not have the luxury of casting character performers specifically for the role, so factoring this into your design from the beginning stages with your designer and then your costume manufacture will help tackle the issue. Remember there are always more ways to create a character than the obvious, see below regarding puppets as one example.

How old are your guests?

For me, thinking about the guests' wants and needs has been an absolute game changer and a successful tool, especially when designing new characters for tots and preschoolers. With such little people, a towering full scale character can be scary and overwhelming.

Rethinking with this in mind has led me to create characters families in the form of puppets and a two foot cuddly puppet is an amazing way to introduce a cute, cuddly new friend into your attraction so tots run up and cuddle them, rather than running away crying. Also operationally, puppets can be a much more functional choice as they can be operated by anyone of any size. And with training, puppets are a fun way of driving and delivering the activities, taking the pressure off of your hosts and giving them extra confidence, especially if they’re not from a performance background.

Next steps

Whether you choose a human, an object or an animal character to represent your brand, characters are one of the best ways for guests to form a connection with your brand. They bring your attraction to life, get your message across and incorporated within your live experience programming, can offer activities, performances and one-to-one experiences that differentiate your attraction to your competitors.

If you would like to understand more about your furry lovable friends, give us a call at Katapult where we can guide you through the entire process of creating characters and ensure they are a success both creatively and commercially.

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