Travelling with a Red Panda: Designing a Mascot Part 2

There are Twelve Principles of Animation. Rules that were developed by The Nine Old Men of Walt Disney Studios and applies, not only to 2D hand drawn animation, but to 3D animation. The Twelfth Principle is Appeal.


There is a reason why there are so many cartoon characters with big eyes and big heads. It reminds you of a baby. A what kind of horrible person hates babies? It is a very appealing look. So appealing that in more savage times, when one tribe fought the other and a baby from the enemy tribe was found abandoned, they would be adopted.

Freddy’s body is smaller than his head. He’s really top heavy, and I’m not sure if he could walk if he were a real life person. But his tail balances him out, at least visually.

You’ll notice, no hard edged. He only has round corners. He’s someone you want to hug and take care of.

I gave him kind of big hands and feet. Red Pandas have this, but also puppy dogs. I also gave him dark round eyes, sort of like Tin Tin, but played with the shape to give him slight Asian features.


But probably the biggest thing about him is that his proportions coincide with the Golden Mean (or Golden Ratio).
The Golden Mean exists throughout nature. I remember, around the time I was designing Freddy, I was trying to draw trees and plants better. That lead me to watching a lot of videos about Fractals and the Golden Mean.
There’s a theory by comic book artist Scott McCloud. Its called Masking. The basic idea is that we go on our daily lives barely seeing our own face. We know where our eyes and nose and mouth are. We can point at them with our eyes closed. But we don’t have a clear image of our own face compared to your, oh, say your mother’s. This is the advantage of a cartoon character, he’s an Everyman. He’s an “Every hotel guest”.
I could easily put a bow on him and now he’s a girl. He has no race or ethnicity. So if someone had a problem with a certain race, their problems are never projected onto him. He’s just a red panda and a lot of people don’t even know what that animal looks like, but everyone agrees that pandas are cute. All he’s ever been are colored pixels and drawings in my sketchbook. Yet we call Freddy a “him” as if you’ll get to meet him some day. [But if they ever make a giant Freddy the Red Panda costume, I want to try it on! I mean, they already have two hotels in Japan and a third’s coming up. Really, just one Japanese hotel should justify a giant Freddy costume!]

* * * * * * * * * *

Here was my pitch (or description of our hero).

Freddy The Red Panda
Freddy (rhymes with “ready”) is a Red Panda. A location icon always floats over his head like a halo and glows a little too. He likes to travel around the World, but especially Asia because that’s the only place he can find a Red Planet Hotel. Whenever he’s found a Red Planet Hotel, the Red Planet logo appears in his location icon (this is meant to be his default icon). Whenever he is tired from a long plane ride or at another hotel, he is sad, and the location icon has a sad face. When he checks-in at a Red Planet Hotel and sees how awesome his room is, or receives excellent service from the Red Planet Hotel staff, he is happy and the icon has a smiley face. Freddy just loves Red Planet Hotels!

So my pitch was to make him THE ultimate hotel guest. And I was imagining an entire animated commercial with him. The backgrounds would be in real life. You would first see him coming out of the airport, jetlagged and tired. The locator pin would have a sad face on it. He’d call a taxi and the Red Planet logo would appear in te locator pin, as if telling the driver where to go. And when he checks in, th locator pin would have a happy face. And there he would relax, looking at the view from his hotel. Or maybe he would jump on the bed with joy. Or maybe he’d have a goodnight’s sleep.

I’ve seen the redesign of him where they removed the locator pin from above his head. I can’t say I’m not disappointed. After all, they deleted half of his original concept. But also, I signed the contract. He’s not mine and I’m on a plane ride to Okinawa right now.


When I travel, I feel a bit vulnerable. What if the luggage get’s broken into at that shady third world airport? What if you miss the train to the airport? What if someone steals my suitcase? Will someone pick pocket me?
And all these thoughts are realistic. And everything you do to prevent all this is the adult self.
But your inner-child wants someone to take care of them. They want to not worry about any of these problems. And as a hotel guest, you want to have as little worries as possible. So I felt he made a better hotel guest. He represents everyone, everyone’s inner child. That part of you that wants to be tucked into bed, even if its in a hotel in South East Asia.
So making him an employee didn’t seem like a powerful concept to me. He’s like those children who travel alone on planes. He gets taken cared of. He gets good hotel service. He’s just like you, like the audience, like the potential client. Heck, he basically is me, as I go on this big crazy travelling adventure of living in free hotels!

* * * * * * * * * *

I rendered him in Adobe Illustrator, which is perhaps the least intuitive program for artists. But what it lacks in artist friendliness, it makes up for in precision. It took me about a day to render him and turned him in only an hour or so before the deadline.
He was posted on a page with the other contest entries and I told as many of my friends to vote for him. He only got, maybe 20 votes? This other guy got over 200 votes. And when I saw that, I just let it go and didn’t think about it.

Some weeks later, after the voting period, I was at the gym for my morning work out. I was resting a bit, ready to get on the treadmill. Someone left a comment on one of Freddy’s photos in my instagram account. He congratulated me. I thought that was great, I was one of the finalists. But when I saw the facebook page, the five finalists were picked long ago. I won!

I attribute my winning to my pitch, my description. The characters were well designed and there was even another Red Panda, another character that utilized the locator pin, and another character pulling along their wheeled suitcase. I noticed none of these entries got triple digits in votes, and I guess the votes didn’t really matter.

I sent them my files, signed contracts and did paperwork. I also had to design a turn around sheet. As of now, I And now I’m about to land in Naha, Okinawa after a five day stay in Tokyo Japan.


Freddy the Red Panda © Red Planet Hotels

Travelling with a Red Panda: Designing a Mascot part1

I’m on my first flight to Tokyo. I won a contest: free hotel stays for a year in four Asian countries. I plan to milk this prize.


Anyway, I won this prize because I designed Red Planet Hotel’s mascot: Freddy The Red Panda. Actually, this prize was earned more than it was won. After all, I have been working on animated commercials and TV shows for over a decade. With all that experience, with all those notes you get from your corporate clients and network executives; the ones that you think that are unnecessary, the ones you think make no sense at first. You get a sense of what major corporations want in their animated characters: the least offensive character one could design.

This first blog goes over what I was thinking when I designed the little critter. I’m probably going to offend some of the other artists who entered this contest. And to them, I do not offer any apologies to my constructive criticism. But instead of apologies, I offer you knowledge. Professional knowledge. So hopefully, you can land that next job or win that contest.

I really wanted to submit a Slow Loris. They are so adorable, slow, and somewhat unknown. They live in South East Asia, which is where most of the Red Planet Hotels are. It was a good idea. It was my favorite idea. But it wasn’t a corporate idea.

But nothing the rules said I couldn’t enter more than one mascot.

So I thought a Red Panda would be great too. He’s red, Red Planet Hotels are red. But I felt like this was an obvious choice. I thought everyone would design a red panda. They’re red. They’re cute. But in the end I saw, maybe five other red pandas. One of them was one of the finalists.
So I started drawing Lorises and Red Pandas. I did research on them.
redpanda 2
Then I found out that Slow Lorises are one of the few venomous mammals in the World! A hotel chain wouldn’t want a venomous mammal hanging around their guests, no matter how cute they are. So I dropped the Loris idea and concentrated on the Red Panda.

One of my biggest concerns was that he would be mistaken as a fox. And looking back, I shouldn’t have cared. For one thing, Red Pandas are also called Fire Foxes. Also, look at Jiminey Cricket from Disney’s Pinocchio. He looks nothing like a bug. Bugs aren’t very cute. He’s just a small green “man”. And everyone agrees he’s a cricket is because he says so.

So, I shouldn’t have cared if he looked like a Fox or not. Hello Kitty doesn’t look like a cat, it has no mouth and I’ve never seen a mouse that looked like Mickey. What’s more important is that he’s cute.

For inspiration, I watched John Oliver’s piece about Japanese mascots. From what I got from it, is that its an animal with a thing on it. So it was a Red Panda with a locator pin floating over his head. This was a good opportunity to put the Red Planet logo on him. Sure, I could have put it on his shirt, but I think it would be better if he represented the guest rather than the employees. And remember, Corporations spend lots and lots of money creating their logo. You want to help show it off.
The locator pin hovers over his head, like a halo or a thought balloon. One way you can symbolically see it is that he’s always thinking about checking into a Red Planet Hotel. Another was that he was blessed to be at a Red Planet Hotel. Both interpretations say something positive about the client.
Let’s play with word association. When you think of the words “Red Planet”, what comes to mind? Mars? Sci-Fi? Aliens?

I don’t know why this company is called Red Planet. Maybe we’re hinting at going somewhere far far away. Maybe its because red is a lucky color among the Chinese and Chinese culture has influenced the region for centuries.

I don’t know, but looking at their website, I never thought of the planet Mars. I felt that something associated with “alien” and “hotel hospitality” did not go together. In fact, Aliens have been known to abduct, rectally probe, illegally cross American borders and steal our jobs. Make sure you look at your word associations. Look at the possitive or negative word associations, how they linger in the culture, and how far away can we get away from anything negative.

Another reason I didn’t go with a Sci-Fi/Planet Mars theme is that some day, probably in your lifetime, we are going to send a man to Mars. Eventually, someone is going to die. The entire world will know about this tragedy. You saw Matt Damon in the Martian, didn’t you? When a dead astronaut is on every newsfeed and news show, checking into a hotel with a cute astronaut or alien would just seem insensitive.

I remember there was this one entry that went with Mars the god of war. My first thought was NO. Some of the countries Red Planet has hotels in have gone through some kind of war in the last couple of decades: civil war, a coup, or rebels in the hills. If you were staying at a foreign country, didn’t know the language well, maybe a little homesick, do you want to be reminded that its possible a war could break out? That mascot was better for a sports team or maybe a video game company. It has nothing to do with hotel hospitality.

I saw a mascot that was a red ant. Red ants bite and you don’t want ants in your hotel room. I saw a lot of well designed robots. There was this one robot that got a lot of votes, but after I won, I found out they wanted to make plush toys.
So to sum it all up, keep away from anything remotely offensive. Next, I’ll be talking about how I designed the character visually.

Freddy the Red Panda © Red Planet Hotels

Digital Tools For Comic Fans

The modern movie business takes a lot of heat for not being able to come up with original ideas. Roughly 90 percent (a completely un-scientific number that I pulled out of my hat) of new films are remakes, reboots, sequels, prequels, or spin-offs, leaving only the late fall Oscar contenders to provide original content—and even those are increasingly based on novels and historical events. It seems as if no one but the heavy hitting directors (Christopher Nolan, Quentin Tarantino, and I suppose James Cameron once a decade) is creating original stories.

I understand the general public’s gripe with this trend. It can definitely get frustrating. But for fans of the world of comics and graphic novels, the modern movie business has become something of a running tribute, constantly immortalizing our favorite characters and stories on the big screen. For example, I’ve had a blast explaining the concept of Marvel’s upcoming Civil War saga to friends who don’t know the comic background. Also, I can’t wait to see how the upcoming Star Wars continuation incorporates various subplots from graphic novels.

The interesting thing to me, though, is that as the movie business has continued to promote comic sagas for the past 15 years or so, we’ve more recently seen an expansion in the ways in which original comic content can be consumed and enjoyed. A lot of this, naturally, is due to mobile technology and ever-expanding app markets. Ultimately, through comic readers, video games, and even brand-new original content, there are just about limitless ways to enjoy graphic novels and the like these days.

The first two obvious examples that come to mind are DC Comics and Marvel Unlimited, both free apps in the Google and iOS app stores, and both designed to bring fans digital versions of all their favorite superhero comics. The two apps work a little bit differently, with DC Comics more about a free download followed by pay-per-issue collection (get it here), and Marvel Unlimited offering something that more closely resembles a subscription service (get that one here). But for avid comic readers, both are pretty great, and offer a huge variety of popular comics to enjoy. Personally, I kind of prefer the DC app’s format (though that may be because I’m more of a DC comics guy in general!).

As mentioned, gaming also plays a role, and in that regard we’ve seen some pretty interesting playable displays of old Marvel and DC comics emerge in the last several years as well. The Betfair Casino hosts a number of Marvel-themed games here that are surprisingly loyal to comic backgrounds, and though players will have to put real money on the line to play, the welcome bonuses and promotions at the site make it pretty reasonable to try these games out. You’ll find all the popular Avengers characters, as well as more fringe characters like Daredevil, Blade, and Elektra. Within the games, there’s lots of comic-style imagery displaying old villains, settings, etc. For somewhat-simpler gaming experiences, there are almost too many Marvel and DC app games to keep count of; though I’d point out Spider-Man Unlimited as a particularly good option for comic junkies, because its animation and action style make it look like you’re literally playing through the pages of a comic book.

Ultimately though, it’s not all about DC and Marvel. They may have everything from casino games and app arcades to digital comic downloads, but the world of comics and graphic novels is far larger than its two biggest players. For example, I for one am in it for the Star Wars content!

I shouldn’t need to mention gaming here because most any Star Wars fan is familiar with the endless range of gaming options available. But what I do feel the need to point out is the Star Wars Book Collector app (more info here), which might be the single best reference tool I’ve found for the hundreds of books and graphic novels that have spun off of the original Star Wars saga over the years. I should clarify that this isn’t like Marvel Unlimited or DC Comics in that it’s not simply a platform on which to read digital copies of Star Wars pieces; rather, it’s sort of an all-inclusive reference and organization library. The app helps you to track books you own, books you want, and books that are coming out soon. It will help you to organize your own collection, and will even put stories in order in terms of their chronology within the realm of fiction! And finally, you can also order books, and sometimes audiobooks, straight out of the app.

Beyond Marvel, DC, and Star Wars, there are also plenty of independent graphic novels and comics that have been brought to digital formats in recent years. The Huffington Post featured a nice list of six great graphic novel apps to try out, and it’s a great place to start. They even included the basic iBooks app, which I thought was a little cheesy until I realized that iBooks now has a comic and graphic novel section built into it. Who knew!?

So, that should be enough to get you started. I’m not usually one to support the full digitalization of entertainment, or the unyielding spread of rehashed fiction, but this is one area in which digital tools have been immensely helpful in making some great stuff a lot more accessible.


You are not neglected

So, personally it’s been a busy year. And like a lot of people out there, I got to get my act together.

But if you need to see new stuff from me, follow me on instagram.

Check it out:

Self portrait for vol.79 #sketchbook #ink #watercolor #art #selfie #drawing

A photo posted by Elan’ + + + (@toecomics) on



A Break-up Letter to San Diego Comic Con

Dear San Diego Comic Con,

When I first met you, I just graduated from high school. You were so cool. We would hang out all day and talk about what we wanted to be when we grew up. But around that time, you also started to hanging out with the popular kids. They were all wrong for you. They didn’t really care about you or comics. They just wanted to use you. Your attitude started to change. You got all conceited. I mean, you were still cool, even sexy with all that cosplay and sh!t. We still had some good times!

Remember that booth we rented? Or that table? Remember that magical night we watched Warren Ellis talk? Or that Tenacious D concert? Or when I was nominated for that award?! Or remember just simply, staying up late watching movies and cartoons? You always managed to blow my mind and show me something beautiful and new. You always seemed to inspire my creativity and my soul.

Those were good times, San Diego Comic Con. They were great, in fact. Those were times that, more than anything, I wanted to be inside you. And I wanted to stay inside you for a long long time. But now, everyone’s inside you: the press, Hollywood, people who’ve never even read a comic book. We just don’t have that special connection anymore and I can’t imagine sharing you like that.

Now I hear that you’ve become a Goldigger lately so more people can be inside you. So more people can use you and throw money at you. You’ve lost sight at what’s important, San Diego Comic Con. It sickens me a bit, but I’m not here to judge you. You’ve meant so much in my life: those fourteen or fifteen years we spent with each other are priceless.

The sad thing is, most of those people, those new people in your life, will never understand you like I do. Most of those people don’t love you like I do. They just want to have their way with you, maybe for the weekend or just one day, but I wanted you all the time. If I had you all year long, I’d be a very happy man.

It’s been over between us for a while now. Ever since that argument we had at the Portfolio Review section in 2010. What the f#ck were you thinking!?

Anyway please, please, San Diego Comic Con, please have some dignity! Or at least hold onto the dignity that you have left. You deserve so much better. You used to be so smart and charming, but now its like all of your intelligence has left the room.  {You see, that was a metaphor for all the smart and interesting panel discussions like the Comic Arts Conference or Spirituality in Comics… which was a panel discussion I was on one year…. its a metaphor for those types of events being moved to the Marriott instead of staying in the Convention Center.}

Anyway, I’ve been seeing other conventions. I started seeing Comikaze, probably because we live in the same neighborhood. Although we don’t have as long as a history like you and I. WonderCon Anaheim is really cool, but I had to admit, the first time we met, it was really rocky and the parking sucks because there’s that weird cheerleader thing going on. What’s up with that? AnimeExpo is awfully cute, and you know I have that thing for the Japanese, but… I never had deep, thoughtful, inspiring moments with AnimeExpo like I had with you.

I’ve never had a convention like you before and I’ll never have a convention like you again.

Here’s Looking At You Kid,
PS. But if I’m ever nominated for an Eisner Award again… I. will. SO. WRECK YOU!

—and you’d be all like, “say my name! say my name!” and I’d be like, “that’s how you LIKE it you naughty naughty convention!” And I wouldn’t give a f#ck whose watching!

Originally published here.

An Excerpt From That Novel I’ll Never Finish: Red Line

Last week, I took the Red Line, the subway here in Los Angeles, to Downtown. The train was filled with neutral, silent faces except for a father and his three very young children. He sang to them songs, the type you’d learn in Pre-school and Kindergarden. He kept them entertained as a means to keep them seated. A lesser man would yell at them and bark commands, but he sang to them and made them laugh. He made sure they were safe and behaved.


So, of course, I chose the empty seat across from him.


The father noticed my bag. My bag is one of a kind. It is an ornate and metallic Tibetan scroll holder attached to an East German Map bag. He pointed at it and told his kids that that’s the magic scroll from Kung Fu Panda. The children were in awe.


The train’s speakers announced that my stop, 7th & Metro, was coming up. So I showed the kids the metallic scroll holder. They asked to touch it and I let them. It is a mysterious looking thing that I traveled as far as Echo Park to attain it. I have two of them, each one cost me about forty bucks. Although I’ve seen some on eBay selling at 80.

Anyway, the kids wanted to see what was inside. I opened the cover and all there was were pencils and pens. “This is magic.” I whispered. The kids looked at me with confusion. “This is real magic. I use these to control words and pictures. Kings have ruled with art and pictures. And those kings have been brought down with words. Master the words that come out of your mouth, your heart, and the ones you craft with your pen. Ask yourself what the pictures are telling you, or more likely, what they’re selling you. Go to school, and sharpen your tongue like you sharpen a fine and dangerous weapon. Study art and understand the designed world. For some day, you may bring down a corrupt king or become a just one.”


My stop came up and the doors slid open. Instinctively, I threw a smoke bomb onto the floor and disappeared from the three children and their father. As I left, like a ghost, I said, “You’re an awesome dad!”

True story.

Theory of Everything Comics on Instagram!



Hey guys,

I know its been a while since I’ve posted anything up, but I have been fixing up the website a bit and normal day job stuff. Also my phone broke. But the good news is I got a new one and this one can support Instagram. So follow me on Instagram to see random sketches from my sketchbook. Currently, I’m stuck in Jury Duty and its mainly drawings of people sitting still.


Please give to the victims of Typhoon Yolanda (Heiyan)

Typhoon Heiyan (Yolanda)

Three weeks ago, a 7.2 earthquake hit Bohol, Philippines, the island my mother and much of my family is from. Over the weekend, Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) hit much of the Philippines. I’ve heard that a Tropical Depression is forming and another typhoon may hit the Philippines.

For the fans of my work, I ask you to donate whatever money you can for the relief efforts.




A lot of people are now homeless and clean water will be hard to get. Usually in post-disaster situations, its easy for people to get sick. Especially for the children and elderly.

Although the Red Cross is a reputable and experienced organization when it comes to disasters, the ABS/CBN Foundation is part of a news organization and have better information of where help needs to go first. If you have friends or family or just have an affinity to other countries that are in Typhoon Haiyan’s path, then please donate money to them instead or, if you don’t mind your kids getting a $20 toy rather than a $200 toy this Christmas, give money to as many countries as you can.

Thank you.