THOUGHT LEADERSHIP | ARTICLE

Q&A: How The Dweller Came To Represent The Basement

April 3, 2018

It’s not a logo, or a mascot. It’s the Dweller, and it represents the agency’s ethos. Our ECD Noah Sarff [NS] sat down with the agency’s co-founder and CEO, Brian Phillips [BP] to uncover the origins and inspiration for this iconic representative of The Basement.

NS:

What does it stand for?

BP:

Jacob Leffler and I launched the company in 2007 as a digital design and animation studio to service advertising agencies across the country with the convergence of digital and traditional strategies. We wanted a name that represented a creative space and the artists, that wasn’t abstract or difficult to remember (or spell). I think they’re closed now, but I always thought The Orphanage had the freshest name of any studio at the time. In addition, it was important that our last names (Leffler & Phillips) were not featured. Our studio culture – and, ultimately, the Dweller – was going to be based on artist collaboration and not the names on the door.

NS:

What was the inspiration?

BP:

In the mid 90s I found my inspiration for designing characters and initially expressed it through graffiti art. I have books and books of characters, but I can point to Sam Keith’s “The Maxx” as having the most impact on me. I was introduced to “The Maxx” by the animated series on MTV in 1995. The characters had depth and an incredible art style. In the story, the main villain has an army of little egg-shaped soldiers with sharp teeth called Isz that inhabit two realities. Their super-power is versatility. In our world, they can assume an identity by wearing different clothes. That concept of versatility inspired the Dweller’s design and adoption as the anchoring symbol of our studio’s brand story.

The Maxx comic art.

© Sam Keith

NS:

Were any other options considered?

BP:

Not really, I created one drawing and shared it with Jacob assuming he wouldn’t get behind it. But to my surprise, he loved the uniqueness of the concept. In fact, he’s the first one who called it the Dweller. It all came together so quickly. I’m fascinated at how a seed of inspiration can turn an offbeat character from my childhood into an iconic representation of my agency’s culture.

NS:

How has it changed over the years?

BP:

The whole concept around the Dweller reflects change. It’s our primary brand asset and we encourage liberal exploration of its depiction. The three teeth on the bottom are really the defining feature. I’m confident most shapes with three teeth extruding down would read as a Dweller to us. It has shown up as oil stains on concrete, in toy keyrings for babies, and we’ve transformed the iconic Michael J. Fox and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

NS:

What is your favorite iteration?

BP:

There have been hundreds at this point. My favorite is always the next version.

Dweller fink style
Gif of the Dweller as Rudolf.
Gif of the Dweller as Marty McFly.
Dweller Logo Animation

NS:

I’ve always likened the Dweller to the M in the MTV logo. In the 80s and 90s, the network infused personality and attitude into the mark in so many interesting ways. The simplicity of the shape gave it the versatility to be endlessly reinvented without losing any brand equity.

 

As an agency, we love coming up with new ways to represent the Dweller. At our tenth anniversary party, we commissioned a delicious Dweller-shaped cake. We even explored creating a giant “Bat Signal” version, but apparently there are rules against such things.

 

Behind the scenes, the Dweller also plays an important role in our creative team’s R&D process. From old-school stop-motion to next-gen AR, the Dweller serves as a great guinea pig for testing new technologies and animation techniques.

 

As modern storytellers, we believe in the power of iconic characters. And like the Dweller, we continue to evolve as an agency to deliver engaging and delightful content to audiences around the world.