The real sticker artists behind Allo, Google's underrated messaging app

Ever wonder who the artists are behind the digital stickers you use in your favorite chat app? I certainly have, especially after I started using Allo. The app's included Google-commissioned sticker packs are not only unique, they were designed by prominent and prolific artists, including Gemma Correll, GIF animator Cecile Dormeau, and BuzzFeed.

I managed to sneak some talk-time with two of Allo's artists, Mauro Gatti and Marylou Faure. Gatti's sticker packs include Funder the Sea, a collaboration with Stefano Meazza, while Faure's include the vibrantly colored 90s Baby and Worst Day Ever sticker packs. I talked to both about how they each became artists, what their respective processes in designing, and what it was like to design for a messaging app.

You're an artist. Tell us a bit about yourself. How did you get started doing the kind of design you do now?

Gatti: I was born and raised in Italy — my obsession for pizza comes from there! Now, I live in Los Angeles, where I work as VP of Content and Programming for JibJab (the funniest company in the world) and as an illustrator on a wide range of projects. One of my dearest projects is Mojimade, a small shop focused on creating the best static and animated stickers for brands, startups, and agencies.

Gatti's characters with Meazza.

My passion for illustration goes a long way back. I've always considered myself a person who loves telling stories through pictures, stories that make people laugh. Turning my passion into a career (and a pay check) has been an incredible adventure made of failures and achievements, endless nights of work (and cold pizza), curiosity, friends that inspire me, and dogs — lots of dogs.

Style wise, I've always cared more about the message than the style and I found my inspiration in the art of amazing artists like Ed Emberley, Ryohei Yanagihara, and Raymond Savignac.

Faure: It was a bit of a discovery journey to be honest, I worked on a lot of different illustration styles until I found one that I felt really suited me and that I was happy to take on forward. I did a project called 'The Ultimate Summer' that was really a turning point for me, that's when I realized I was having a lot of fun working with this vibrant, bubbly, quirky style!

Does your design method typically include digital cartooning and animation? What software do you typically use?

Gatti: Ninety-nine percent of my work is digital. Sketching, illustrating, and animating are all done on a pen display. I'm not a great animator, so for projects like the Allo sticker set I collaborated with one of the greatest animators that I know, Stefano Meazza.

The software I use is part of the Adobe Creative Suite: Illustrator, Photoshop, and After Effects.

Faure: I will always create the digital artwork on Photoshop or Illustrator, and if I'm animating anything, it will mainly be done on After Effects.

Did designing stickers for Allo feel like an extension of your craft, or just a fun side project?

Gatti's characters.

Gatti: Designing the sticker set for Allo was right up my alley. All the right ingredients were there: mobile content, character design, animation, and lots of fun. Working for brand the size of Google is always challenging and stimulating because their standards are very high and you have to give your best. The roster of artists involved in the project was packed with people I admire and respect.

Faure: It was nice working on a sticker set (especially for Google!) because there was a challenge of making the illustrations work on a small format. But it was a bit different from the projects I usually work on; I had to make [the sticker set] not too simple so that it would be boring, but also not too complex that you wouldn't be able to understand [the context].

Let's talk about your characters. Where did you derive inspiration? And are they related to your other character art?

Gatti: I always liked the juxtaposition of a cute little character with a big clumsy one, and these two guys were just perfect together.

Faure: I'm very much inspired by people I see in my everyday life. I will often see something about their outfit or their attitude that I'll find inspiring and portray through my characters.

Was there a theme you adhered to?

90's Baby by Faure.

Gatti: The theme assigned was "best friends." I sent ten different ideas — including a squirrel/acorn and a lumberjack/sasquatch [variation] — inspired by things around me, like pop culture, or sketches from my sketchpad. In the end, they picked the Starfish and Octopus.

Faure: I had a theme for both of my sticker sets — Another one just came out called "90s baby".

The first theme was "negative comment" and I had to come up with phrases and visuals that would follow that theme.

How long does it take to design the stickers used in a chat app? For instance, do you go through the same iterative process an animator would, like with a storyboard?

Gatti: The process is pretty linear. I start sketching the characters in different poses, focusing on the few best actions that really underline the synergy between the two characters. Once the client approves this first step, I start working on the colored version of the characters and a sketch for each of the stickers. When all the sketches are approved, it's time to work on line test animations so the client can see a quick preview of the stickers in action.

Faure's Worst Day Ever.

The final phase is animating the finalized illustrations and export all the stickers. I've designed sticker sets in as quickly as five days. Some have taken as long as three months. It really depends on who the client is, the approval time in between each phase, or how detailed the illustrations and animations are.

Faure: There is a first phase of sketches that needs approval. Once that's done, there will usually be a few rounds of feedback once we get to the color versions. The feedback is mainly about changing the color palette, removing or adding elements to make an expression more obvious, things like that.

Were you aware what Allo was when you were designing the stickers?

Gatti: No, I knew it was a new Google product, but we were working on the sticker set while Allo was in the making.

Faure: I was told that I was creating a set for a new messaging product from Google, but didn't know the name or anything more specific about it.

Do you use Allo?

Gatti: Yes, absolutely! I love all their stickers and to chat with Google Assistant!

Faure: I do, actually. Especially with my family and boyfriend.

Faure's characters.

Florence Ion

Florence Ion was formerly an editor and columnist at Android Central. She writes about Android-powered devices of all types and explores their usefulness in her everyday life. You can follow her on Twitter or watch her Tuesday nights on All About Android.