How to Wrap a Fire Truck

Custom fire truck gets a fresh wrap and a new 3D mascot.

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A young businessman recently came to our studio and introduced himself as Brandon. He said he had just opened a new insurance business and was interested in wrapping a vehicle. Since he sold fire insurance he naturally wanted to wrap a fire truck!

We walked outside to look at the $300,000 fire engine that he had just purchased. We sat down and talked about how he wanted to use the truck to advertise his business.

Along with life, health and fire insurance he told me he offered about 150 other insurance products. Of course the name of his business and the usual contact information like his web site, office address and phone number would have to be on the wrap. He told me that his children loved riding in the truck, playing with the lights and horns and talking on the loud speaker. He said that the neighborhood kids and even their parents were having fun in the fire engine. And finally, he told me that his grandfather Arvel used to be the Fire Marshall of our city.

Building a 3D Fire Truck

At this point we had lots of information to work with, freedom to create and eager to see where this would lead. I like to get into new projects by becoming familiar with the vehicle. This is a custom-built truck so the first thing I did was take all of the important measurements and then began to build it from scratch in my 3D modeling software.

This engine is basically composed of square shapes, so I started constructing the truck from a simple box, then a cube and then began adding  the details from there. Working from reference photos and accurate measurements, I was able to quickly rough in the shape of the truck.

Completing the model design took about eight hours but I always enjoy this stage in the development because I really get to know the shapes that I will soon be wrapping with film. One thing I keep in mind is how I will actually use the rendering of the model in the final design and how big it will be on the final wrap. This helps me make decisions on how much detail to put into the model.

Design Decisions

For quite a few years I have suggested to customers to include “dot com” in their new logo if their website shares the name of their business. Most people will not mistake them for only being an online business. This approach first identifies the business and then gives the viewer the address of the web site. Most people have a smart phone and they can get on the site as soon as they see the logo. With such an attention-grabbing vehicle, many people will want to know more immediately and will visit the web site sitting beside him in traffic. Presenting the web address so prominently makes this easy for them.

I usually discourage customers from listing products and services on any wrap. If people are interested in listed details, they will get that information from the web site. At first, the thought of listing 150+ products on this wrap was not even a consideration. Throwing out predictable solutions is one of the first things we do with every design. So if eliminating lists is the predictable thing to do, keeping the list becomes the innovative possibility.

Transforming the extensive product list into a wallpaper-like background pattern had potential. From a distance it looks like a striped texture and up close it is loaded with information. Even if many of the complete words are covered, they still make a strong statement that he sells lots of different kinds of insurance. Brandon also wanted us to create an authentic looking fire department logo using his initials.

Memorable Mascot

So the business part of the strategy and design was coming along nicely, but it lacked personality. Insurance is a serious business, but a certain famous Gecko has shown us that a mascot with personality is important too. Everyone knows you have to be different to be noticed, but you have to very different to become unforgettable. So how could we create a memorable mascot that had personality to represent Brandon’s unique business?

After the 3D model of the fire engine was completed, it occurred to me that a Hot Wheels-like version of the fire truck could express the fun personality that he brings to his business. It only took a few key strokes to transform the accurate 3D model of the fire engine into the fun version. It is no more work than warping text in Illustrator or an image in Photoshop. And the results in 3D are just amazing!

When I got to this step it made sense to name the fun lil’ fire truck after Brandon’s grandfather Arvel. Placing “Arvel the Fire Truck” next to the typography completed the logo perfectly. And since the model is accurate on all sides, it was easy to place a rendering of the passenger side of Arvel on one side of the wrap and a driver’s side rendering on the other.

Challenging Conventions

Challenging common conventions is another thing we do with most of our wrap designs. We have all heard that wraps have only three to five seconds to get their message across to the viewer, so it’s always best to keep the designs simple.

Part of this thinking is correct. Wraps do need to communicate the most important information instantly. That’s easy, but many wraps are boring after those five seconds. We like to add something extra to a design that gives viewers a reason to take a second look.

Simple designs that are understood quickly are also forgotten quickly. We often add a level of detail that does not confuse the viewer or make the design busy from a distance. Then on second glance viewers are rewarded with details that really make an impression. Many people call this eye candy.

The wow factor that all us appreciate is in these details. From a distance this wrap communicates and close up it starts a conversation. Viewers are engaged and the owner has a great opportunity to talk about the story of his grandfather Arvel, spending time as a child at the fire house and if you ask, he may even talk with you about insurance.

* From the 2016 issue of WRAPS magazine.

Dale Dunnihoo

Dale Dunnihoo is the owner of Intelligent Design Studio in Mobile, Ala.

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