Co.Design

Gorilla Marketing: A Hypercolor Ape Reveals Hidden Meanings When Touched

Two designers sprayed a life-size gorilla sculpture with black heat-sensitive paint: As the sun’s heat warmed it (or little kids touched it), it would turn white, revealing hand-drawn type.

For the 175th anniversary of the Bristol Zoo, 60 artists were commissioned to create life-size gorilla sculptures that were installed around the English city this past summer. For one of them, the Bristol-based design studio 375 came up with a concept that referenced how butchers sometimes display the different cuts of meat available on cows or pigs. But instead of “brisket,” “sirloin,” and “chuck” labels, 375 creative director Harvey Whiteside asked local designer Tom Lane to draw hand-lettered facts about the illegal bushmeat trade.


But with only two days to complete the task, Lane asked his friend Ged Palmer, who specializes in lettering and graffiti, to help him create the custom typography. In the video above, the two of them draw all the lettering by hand. But what it doesn’t show is that, once the artwork was complete, they sprayed the entire sculpture with a black, temperature-sensitive paint based on liquid crystals. During the day, as the heat of the sun warmed the paint (or if it rained), the artwork would be revealed. As temperatures cooled, the sculpture would revert back to its natural black form. It would also react to touch, like a Hypercolor T-shirt, revealing the lettering underneath when human heat was applied.

But the paint was limited by the type of marker pens that Lane and Palmer used to draw the lettering. “Some, in the limited testing we had, reacted very badly with the heat-sensitive paint and the final finish was very patchy,” Lane tells Co.Design. “It seemed the cheaper the marker pen, the better the result.”

At the end of the summer, all 60 sculptures were auctioned off and raised more than £427,000 for gorilla conservation work. (Lane and Palmer’s entry, entitled "Going Gone Gorilla," went for 5,000.) See more information about the Wow! Gorillas project here.

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