photoshop creative

Behind Google Doodles

Posted in:
Interviews, by Mark White
August 18, 2017

Meet a digital artist tasked with redesigning one of the most recognisable logos on the internet, and discover how Sophie Diao uses Photoshop to bring international events to life

If Sophie Diao’s work looks familiar, you’re one of the few billion who have seen it.

Sophie started created artwork for Google’s occasional Doodles in 2012, celebrating events from Mothers’ Day to the coldest temperature ever recorded in North America. Last year she was given the task of creating the company’s iconic Earth Day Doodles, and produced five beautiful illustrations highlighting our effect on the planet.

What inspires artwork like that, and is it overwhelming to have your artwork shown on the internet’s biggest site? We caught up with Sophie to ask her about her experience.

How did Google first approach you to create artwork?

I actually approached them! Back in 2012 when I was a third-year student at CalArts, I saw a Charles Dickens Doodle that really piqued my interest. I looked up the artist, really loved his work, and ended up emailing him for portfolio advice. He showed my work to the team and they thought I might be a good fit for an intern position. My work over that summer was a mix of creating animated assets for the 2012 London Olympics, some static Doodles for the same series, and Independence Day Doodles for Latin America. After my internship ended, I was offered the opportunity to come back as a full-time employee post-graduation. I took it!

Google processes 3.5 billion searches a day. Is it overwhelming that so many see your work?

Honestly, it’s such a huge number that it’s really hard for me to process. So to avoid that, I just focus on the feedback from my immediate team, friends, family and the strangers who will reach out on the internet when they like a Doodle. Making a personal connection with people through my work makes me the happiest; I do get emails and comments from people saying: “You did this one, right?” or “I thought that Doodle might have been you!” I’m glad to have the opportunity to let my personal voice out in my day job.

How do you even start when you create a Doodle?

It changes with each one. Sometimes a topic warrants a fully fleshed-out, lush illustration, and sometimes a simple portrait or letter replacement is enough. In the case of the former, I try to find the subtlest possible way to incorporate the logo – it’s a personal challenge. This usually means I’ll think about the logo and composition concurrently, adjusting elements so nothing either sticks out or disappears too much. Focusing on the composition first makes it harder to include the logo elegantly, but wrapping a composition around the logo can look stilted as well. Balance is key.

Does a lot of research go into it?

Each Doodle requires a lot of research. When we celebrate people, we try to look at their whole life and see which legacies stand out. Places tend to be more straightforward, so we mostly gather reference images. Events are commonly celebrated every year, so it’s a challenge to come up with something new, especially if there’s a lot of specific tradition involved. We work with Google employees around the world to consult with us when we’re making something for a foreign locale.

Google has celebrated Earth Day in Doodle form since 2001. What influenced your Doodles?

I didn’t look at previous Earth Day Doodles too much when I started thinking about these. I was travelling in China when I got the assignment, and had some time to think about what I wanted to do while in Beijing. Probably due to the air quality in China, I really wanted to make something that would get people thinking about the environment and humanity’s impact on it. Last year for Earth Day, we made an interactive quiz for which I drew the animal results, which was a more light-hearted take. This time I wanted to inspire more awe and contemplation.

How does Photoshop help with your creative process?

I have a bunch of custom brushes made by friends and colleagues that I’ve collected over the years. I use Kyle Webster’s set of Photoshop brushes from time to time as well. When animating in Photoshop, I use the AnimDessin plug-in – it makes working with the timeline a lot easier! I also love adjustment layers and layer styles, because they let me quickly test out a different colour palette or type of lighting.

What advice would you give for portraying an event in a picture?

Don’t get overwhelmed – it’s tempting to try to fit every single piece of trivia in there, but as an audience member, it’s hard to digest all that information. Focus on clarity and the essence of what the subject is about. Remember that no amount of information will stick unless there’s an emotional connection.

  • Karen Camilovic

    Great ideas, information and advise!