Creating a new release of Ubuntu is always a complex undertaking. At Canonical, delivering Ubuntu is our core mission, and each new version represents the culmination of months of effort from colleagues throughout our organisation – not to mention the contributions from our wider, open source community. And as our Bionic Beavers and Trusty Tahrs race towards their release dates, one of the final steps is to bring them to life with a mascot.
Each release is given an alliterative, animal codename – such as Dapper Drake, Precise Pangolin, and Maverick Meerkat. With Ubuntu 20.04 LTS imminent and Focal Fossa ready to be released, we caught up with Marcus Haslam, Head of Brand, to learn how he and his team consistently transform these unusual codenames into iconic Ubuntu mascots.
“The first stage of the design process is research,” explains Marcus. “The animal is often an unusual or rare one so I’ll do some initial research to learn more. From there, I’ll sketch out some ideas; we’ll have a few internal meetings to choose a design; and then we’ll draw them up and create the wallpaper.”
But this process is easier said than done. The team typically has just four weeks or less to design the mascot, and capturing the codename in a small, simple illustration is no mean feat. In recent years, the team has also begun integrating the mascot with the default wallpaper for each release.
Marcus continues: “The image can’t be too detailed, since it has to work at various sizes and in various contexts. With that in mind, the hardest part of designing the mascots is conveying both the animal and the adjective. In the past we only focused on the animal, but recently we decided to make it more difficult for ourselves and also integrate the adjective.”
Given how bizarre these adjectives can be one of the main challenges facing Marcus and his team is striking a balance between seriousness and fun. This was particularly true for the Ubuntu 19.04 mascot, Disco Dingo.
“Disco Dingo was the hardest mascot to design,” Marcus reveals. “We had to be very careful not to make it too ridiculous. It was difficult at first, but we’re very pleased with how it turned out. And the community loved it.”
Positive feedback from the community is always appreciated, especially because Ubuntu fans never shy away from giving honest criticism. But even negative comments are not entirely unwelcome, since they just go to show how much users care about Ubuntu. Community engagement with the mascots is always strong, and some fans even go as far as to create their own artistic interpretations of the Ubuntu animals.
“I absolutely encourage the community to make adaptations of the mascots,” says Marcus. “It shows that people have a real love for Ubuntu, that they feel connected to it. It gives a sense that these releases belong to all of us.”
At Canonical, some of our favourite mascot re-imaginings come from German painter Sylvia Ritter. Sylvia has created beautifully vibrant paintings of all 30 Ubuntu animals (and counting), and she has been kind enough to tell us a little bit about the ongoing series:
“The idea came to me in 2015. I’m a huge fan of Ubuntu and I love to paint animals, so this seemed like the perfect project. With lots of motivation, I painted 25 animals within the next year, and since then I’ve been keeping up with the Ubuntu releases. Disco Dingo and Eoan Ermine have been the hardest to paint so far. It took me a month to complete Disco Dingo, but it was a huge success on Reddit with 50,000 upvotes and lots of lovely comments.
“I wouldn’t be able to do this without my Patrons, fans, and family – and especially my husband, who introduced me to Ubuntu in the first place. I created these paintings using my favourite open source software: Krita, Blender, Inkscape, and Gimp, all of which I can highly recommend.”
With Focal Fossa complete, Canonical’s sights remain set on the future, and Ubuntu users can expect many more years of updates and unusual animals. Ubuntu 20.10 is next on the horizon – and we can’t wait to see the next mascot that Marcus and his team bring to life.