How to Make Personas Come to Life

CCVB Crowd Surfing Image Making-Of Video

While working recently on a DMO campaign targeting meeting planners, I was tasked with developing concepts for four photos needed to illustrate four “personas.”

Like anything that is conceptual, the first step was to develop sketches to help the client understand what we were trying to accomplish with these visuals. Sketching also helps us determine what props and people we are going to need when given the green light to go ahead. I had been given such a clear vision of what we wanted to accomplish for the first three personas (The Foodie, The Art Critic and The Wild Adventurer) that the first sketches I made of those concepts were approved almost immediately:

Persona Foodie

Persona Art Critic

Persona Wild Adventurer
Original persona sketches for The Foodie, The Art Critic and The Wild Adventurer

However, the forth persona was proving much more elusive for us all. In that early stage, we basically knew that the image had to have something to do with “someone interested in or seeking entertainment”. Since our first three sketches had pretty much determined the genders of our first three personas, we had decided that the subject of the forth persona would (likely) be a male. So based this information, I started referring (albeit somewhat unenthusiastically) to our forth persona as the “Entertainment Guy”.

My first attempt was to try to put our guy on stage… peeking out from behind the curtain. He had multiple appendages arranged to imply the image of a single person, but in theory it would be multiple people from different entertainment disciplines. However, the problem with this idea was that he wasn’t a visitor going “all out” as the campaign suggested. He WAS the entertainer.

Original persona sketch for The Entertainment Guy, version 1
Original persona sketch for The Entertainment Guy, version 1

My second attempt was to emulate the classic Maxell Tape ad by having multiple entertainment types “blow him away.” This was also rejected because our visitor was not an active enough participant like the other personas.

Original persona sketch for The Entertainment Guy, version 2
Original persona sketch for The Entertainment Guy, version 2

Figuring the third time would be the charm, I picked up my pencil once again to work on concepts that would have the “Entertainment Guy” participate without actually being the entertainment. For this concept, I drew inspiration from what is known as the second line often seen in New Orleans parades led by a brass band (the first line). Second lining refers to ordinary folks who join into the parade following behind the first line and who might bang a tambourine, make some noise or create some sort of spectacle of their own. I again featured multiple entertainers from different genres in costume joined by our “entertainment guy” beating a drum.

Original persona sketch for The Entertainment Guy, version 3
Original persona sketch for The Entertainment Guy, version 3

The third time was not the charm, and I was back with pencil in hand.

At this point, we were starting to plan the photoshoots for the first three personas that had been approved and were working through the age and ethnicity for each one of the first three. While we knew our entertainment seeker was going to be a guy, deduction revealed that we didn’t have anyone representing the middle aged group, and ethnically we decided our entertainment seeker should probably be white. So, our fourth persona would be represented by a middle aged white guy…  and suddenly it hit me!

I want to preface this by saying that like a lot of my fellow Stampers, my geek card is fully stamped (no pun intended). So the fact that I came up with “Silver Surfer” might have had a little to do with my background reading comics (he’s a character in the Marvel Universe usually appearing in the Fantastic Four series), but it might also have something to do with the fact that as a card-carrying member of an aging Generation X who loves all things entertainment, crowd surfing at a concert is where my mind went! The thought of having someone of my age or older crowd surfing meant he would literally be a “Silver Surfer!” Now we had a name for our final persona, and the idea and sketch were pretty simple. To give our Creative Director a little more visual guidance (sometimes this helps a lot), I also showed her REM’s video for “Drive” to demonstrate how I was envisioning the perspective of the scene.

Original persona sketch for The Entertainment Guy, final version. Fittingly named “The Silver Surfer”.
Original persona sketch for The Entertainment Guy, final version. Fittingly named “The Silver Surfer”.

Now… how were we going to make this happen? The actual “Silver Surfer” was selected through a talent agency, but we needed lots of folks for the crowd (for our “Silver” to actually surf on…) and we didn’t have the budget to hire that much talent. We really just needed hands and tops of heads, so we recruited our crowd from our Stamp team. One of our agency principals, David Allred (who is also known around the office as McGyver), built a contraption that would span between two ladders so that our talent could lie on top and give us a variety of poses without “a crowd” to actually hold him up.

A remotely-controlled camera was mounted on the ceiling in the studio and transmitted images to a computer allowing us to see the results in real time. Once we got the photo we liked, our talent was released and we began shooting various of photos of our staff with their hands in the air as well as some with cell phones (a newish concert phenomenon). The rest was all done in photoshop, compositing it into the final piece of art.

Final composite image for The Entertainment Guy persona - “The Silver Surfer”
Final composite image for The Entertainment Guy persona – “The Silver Surfer”

One “behind the scenes” note: the shirt applique was handmade by our staff. “Broadway” is a play on words referencing both the theatre community in Columbus and the name of their downtown’s main street.

We were very happy with the final image, the client loved it, and in the end, it was well worth all the effort that was put forth to make it happen.

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