Original artwork and whimsical doodles have been a daily feature of Google’s home page for more than 15 years.
The first doodle was introduced in 1998 when founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page left to attend the Burning Man music festival, and wanted to let Google users know they would be out of the office for a couple of days. Since that time, the doodle has evolved from primitive sketches and clip art to elaborate, informative and increasingly interactive images.
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The doodle has become such a mainstay on the homepage and part of the company’s identity, they now have a full-time staff of resident artists, or doodlers, who help create imagery seen by hundreds of millions of people on a daily basis. According to Google job postings, doodle candidates will have “the world’s best platform to showcase stylistic skills, as well as your sense of humor, love of all things historical and imaginative artistry.”
One of those digital artists is Jennifer Hom, who was a senior at the Rhode Island School of Design when she was recruited by the Google Doodle team back in 2009. Hom actually created the Hedy Lamarr doodle that was featured earlier this week, on what would have been her 101st birthday. Lamarr died in January 2000.
“I never knew doodling was a real job,” she told CNBC in a recent interview. But I remember going to meet with the company during RISD’s portfolio review day, showed them some characters, and observational drawings, and just like that, I was hired and moved to California!”
Hom currently works out of Google’s Mountain View, California, headquarters, in a quiet, glass-enclosed section where creative minds can roam free. Hom said that Google’s artists get their fodder from a variety of sources, while the company allows them free rein.
“We listen to music watch You Tube videos, do research and, of course, sketch out ideas,” Hom said. “There are no hard and fast rules, except we must attend meetings, and get the work done.”
Over the years, the art on the search giant’s landing page has featured an eclectic variety of subjects. On June 11, 2001, for instance, Google users could virtually strum guitar strings and compose songs on a logo inspired by the guitar developed by legendary musician Les Paul. To celebrate Pac-Man’s 30th anniversary, Google’s turned its logo into a playable version of the iconic arcade game, complete with the distinctive sounds and gobbling dots.
So where does Hom draw inspiration from?
“All the doodlers get assigned certain days. But we also have pet projects, ideas we feel strongly about that we’ve wanted to animate,” Hom said, describing how she approached the Lamarr project with enthusiasm.
“This woman was a trailblazer almost a super hero character, actress by day, inventor by evening. She busted all female stereotypes out of the water, and created early prototypes for Wi-Fi, bluetooth satellite and GPS technology.”
Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kieser in Austria at the dawn of World War I, Lamarr later migrated to Hollywood, and worked under contract at MGM studios from the 1930s to 1940s. Few people realize that the Hollywood beauty also had a knack for technology.
“Lamarr tinkered with all sorts of technology gadgets in her spare time. She improved the traffic light, reinvented the tissue box, created a tablet that was an early version of Alka-Seltzer,” Hom said. Anything to keep her mind active.”
Anxious to help the Allied efforts during World War II, Lamarr also co-developed a “frequency hopping,” system later used on submarines to block help block radio-controlled torpedoes.
“Believe it or not, Lamarr did it all for free, she was never paid a dime. She just wanted to use her knowledge and help make the world safer,” said Hom. “So of course I thrilled when Google [approved] a Google homepage about her.”
Hom spent three and a half months devouring everything she could about Lamarr’s life.
“Movies, audio books, documentaries, you name it,” she said. “I then proceeded to sketch early drafts on a yellow notebook, create storyboards, then eventually transferring my ideas onto Adobe photoshop and meet with our team to fine-tune things from draft to reality.”
The process includes color schemes, typography, forms, sizing and the timing of the animation. One hurdle all doodlers must overcome very early in the process is getting their ideas past Google’s legal team. That is no easy task, as it involves navigating usage of third party content, intellectual property artwork, and estates.
“There’s nothing more heartbreaking than having an idea shot down when we couldn’t clear rights,” said Hom.
Music also plays important role in the creation of Google doodles. In this case, composer Adam Ever-Hadani, a silicon valley engineer and musician who frequently works with the Doodle team, was drafted to create something appropriate and memorable.
Meanwhile, all Google doodles are unsigned. A spokesperson explained the reason for the anonymity. “It’s not about the artists. It is about the artwork. Signatures on the homepage distract from the event, or person Google is celebrating,” the spokesperson said. “But we do post the artist name on a separate blog post devoted to doodles.”
For her part, Hom was still grateful for the opportunity to interpret an acting icon.
“Lamarr was a complex, fascinating individual,” said Hom. “She battled the Nazis in her own way. She was a true role model who fought stereotypes. I hope this doodle maybe inspires others to dream big and not be afraid to try different things.”