19 September 2021

Canberra-designed 'SkyCockatoo' travels the world but not as you might think

| James Coleman
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As an Instagram photo filter, the cockatoo design can be superimposed onto any backdrop. Photo: Eggpicnic.

Forget the Skywhale; there’s a new hot air balloon in town. ‘SkyCockatoo’ is currently touring the skies of Canberra and beyond, albeit in a slightly different way.

The cheery cockatoo head is a photo filter available on the social media platform Instagram. Users point their phone camera at any scene and the cockatoo balloon is superimposed onto it, including its own shadow.

So no, it might not exist in the real world, but the makers of the filter are being inundated with demands to make ‘SkyCockatoo’ a reality.

“We really weren’t anticipating any of this, for balloons to pour in from all over the world and for people to start calling him SkyCockatoo,” Camila De Gregoria says. “We also didn’t anticipate that a considerable number of people would question whether the balloon was real and when they realised it wasn’t, they quickly demanded that it happen.”

The design is based on a unique style of wildlife art from Eggpicnic, a design studio that set up shop in Kingston earlier this year with the broader goal of helping out Australia’s native fauna.

Camila is co-founder along with her partner in business and life, Christopher Macaluso. She describes herself as having always been in absolute awe of the natural world and wanting to know everything about it.

Sulphur-crested Cockatoo design

The Sulphur-crested Cockatoo is one of many native bird designs by Camila and Chris. Photo: Eggpicnic.

The two met in Milan in Italy 10 years ago while she was passing through and he was undertaking a master’s degree in product design. That’s when the plans for Eggpicnic hatched, starting with the name.

When the friends she was staying with moved away, they left Camila with all their perishable belongings, including tens of egg cartons.

Camila turned up Christopher’s doorstep shortly afterwards, and not wanting the eggs to go to waste, they set about the task of boiling them, scrambling them, poaching them, and one day, taking them to a picnic at Parco Sempione, the large city park in Milan.

They then decided to work together and merge their love for graphic design and the natural world.

A stint in Camila’s hometown in Chile working with local artists opened their eyes to how design “could change people’s behaviour and ways of thinking, and get people talking about the things that matter”.

It was onto Sydney a few years later, where – almost as soon as Camila had arrived – a brazen Sulphur-crested Cockatoo greeted her on the balcony.

“I called Chris, who was raised in Sydney, and told him what had happened, and to my surprise, there was just silence on the other side of the phone. ‘OK … and?’ he said.”

“His reply clearly signalled this was an everyday occurrence in Australia, but I couldn’t get over my excitement,” Camila says. “I started drawing them and reading about Australian birdlife.”

The more she and Chris learnt about the state of the environment in Australia, the more concerned they grew. They knew that there were stories they had to tell.

“Creating characters that tread a fine line between art and design, we aim to capture the beauty of the natural world with the hope of inspiring others to protect it,” the Eggpicnic website reads.

The bird portraits cover canvasses, walls, buildings, and street furniture across Sydney and beyond, with profits going towards conservation programs and scientific research.

Lockdown prompted the pair to explore other ways of reaching the public. They hit on the relatively new phenomenon of filters and ‘Augmented Reality’.

Living on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin since May this year, Camila and Chris are no strangers to hot-air balloons soaring overhead. This prompted the idea of turning one of their bird designs into a virtual hot-air balloon, “one that anyone could fly, any time of the year and no matter where people were”.

As for the choice of bird, that was easy for Camila.

“Through our cockatoo balloon, we wanted to recreate the feeling of awe of my first encounter with an Australian bird, to share that deep sense of wonder that emerged through that.”

The link to the ‘SkyCockatoo’ photo filter can be found on Instagram.

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