FUNNY ANIMALS AND MORE
June 9, 2013 posted by Fred Patten

Olympics Mascot Animation – part 2

The 1988 Summer games were in Seoul, and the 1988 mascot(s) was a male & female pair of cartoon adolescent Amur tigers, Hodori and Hosuni (although Hosuni was usually ignored). Despite looking very friendly and animate-able, there was never any animation of them that I know of.

cobiThis brings us to 1992 and the Summer games in Barcelona. A major shift in the public attitude toward Olympic mascots had occurred by then; the public was complaining about the overcommercialization of the Olympic games through cute mascots designed to sell merchandise. As a result, Javier Mariscal, the designer of the 1992 Summer mascot (chosen by the COOB in a contest from six finalists during 1987), took care to make him, if not ugly, at least not cute. The 1992 mascot was Cobi, a “modernist”, stylized-to-the-point-of-abstract-art Pyrenees Sheepdog puppy drawn in the style of Catalan artist Pablo Picasso’s cubism; unveiled to the public on January 29, 1988. His name was a play on that of the Barcelona Olympics Organizing Committee (COOB in Spanish). “The name was chosen because it is simple and easy to pronounce in most languages.” Cobi was derided as ugly at first, but the people of not just Catalonia but all Spain came to love him. And despite being designed to be non-commercial, there was a ton of merchandising “Cobiana” Cobi souvenirs; so many that Cobi reportedly became “the most profitable mascot in the history of the Olympics”. (But an article in the Business section of Britain’s The Independent, May 2, 2013, says that the 1992 Barcelona merchandizing “only” brought in $17,200,000, and calls 1992 “arguably the last games of the non-commercial era”. “From 1996, no games would make less than two and a half times that amount.”)

The merchandizing included a TV cartoon program, The Cobi Troupe (in English, but also known by the Catalan translation Cobi e Sua Turma). The director was Olivia Borricon, and the producer was Spain’s big animation studio, BRB Internacional S.A. in Alcobendas, near Madrid, Spain. There were 26 episodes, aimed for young children, broadcast during 1992. Cobi starred with his girl friend Petra, who was even more stylized – without any arms, to represent the Paralympics. Other members of Cobi’s gang were Jordi, Olivia, Cachas, Rosi, and Bicho, all carefree youths, and their adversary was Doctor Normal, a gloomy adult. “The rights were bought by 24 television channels.” There were also six issues of a 48-page The Cobi Troupe comic book published during 1991-’92.

By 1996, the anti-merchandisers were out in full force, and they saw to it that the 1996 Summer games in Atlanta had a mascot that could not possibly be merchandized: the abstract bright blue Izzy, formally Whatizit, so-named for, “What is it?’ Hah! The 1996 Summer games’ merchandizing brought in $91,000,000, with Izzy stuff responsible for no small part of that — despite his being possibly the most reviled Olympics mascot of all time. Some criticisms were “a genetic experiment gone horribly wrong”, “the blue maggot”, and “the sperm in sneakers”. Matt Groening quipped that Izzy looked like “the bad marriage of the Pillsbury doughboy and the ugliest California Raisin.” Wikipedia says, “A popular joke that circulated in Atlanta around the end of the 1996 games stated that the blue line painted on Peachtree Road (which actually designated the route for the Olympic Marathon) was ‘Izzy’s [behind] being dragged out of town.’”

izzyReportedly the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Properties (ACOP) officials were swayed by the arguments of computer animators that, with the latest technology of 1996, they could create the most impressive CGI animations and morphing with an abstract brightly-colored blob. Apparently there were brief TV commercials in CGI, although I have not been able to find out any information about them. Izzy only achieved one bit of memorable animation, and that was traditional cartoon animation. The ACOP commissioned a half-hour TV special titled Izzy’s Quest for Olympic Gold, produced by Carol Corwin (no director credit is given) at the Film Roman studio in Hollywood, shown on TNT (naturally; Atlanta is Ted Turner’s home base) on August 12, 1995. Animation World Magazine, July 1996, had an extensive article about it. The plot synopsis from that article by Frankie Kowalski is, “The special, Izzy’s Quest For Olympic Gold, aired on Atlanta-based Turner Network Television (TNT) on August 12, 1995 as a two-part show, and has also been distributed internationally. It begins with Izzy, a mischievous teenager who lives in a whimsical world inside the Olympic Torch. In this land, the people–called Whatizits–are charged with the responsibility of keeping the spirit of the Olympic Games, and the Torch, shining bright. Never one to just go with the flow (that’s why I like him), Izzy causes an uproar when he wants to leave the Torch to be a part of the Olympic Games he had heard so much about. Izzy must prove himself worthy and learn important lessons about the purpose and history of the games by earning the five Olympic Rings–Perseverance, Integrity, Sportsmanship, Excellence and Brotherhood. (This meaning comes from a story session at Film Roman. In fact, the rings stand for the colors of the five continents participating in the Olympics.)” Izzy’s Quest For Olympic Gold was reportedly distributed internationally, but no source says where.

There was also a video game, Izzy’s Quest for the Olympic Rings. The TV special is not on YouTube, but 2’25” from the video game is. (If anyone knows where to find a copy of Izzy’s Quest for Olympic Gold today, please let me know.) Blogger Jason LeGault has said, “After the 1996 Olympics … There were many attempts to keep Izzy popular, including updating his look and promoting him with his own roller coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg. (The name Izzy is no longer displayed on the ride). But like most of the other Olympic mascots, once they’re used they’re not used again.”

sydney_ollieBy 2000, the anti-merchandising forces seemed to have given up. The 2000 Summer games in Sydney had three cute cartoon mascots, apparently designed for their merchandisability. Designed by Matt Hatton and Jozef Szekeres, they were Syd the duckbilled platypus, named for Sydney and representing water power and “the energy and vigour of Australia (and Australians)”; Ollie the kookaburra, named for the Olympics and representing the air power and the spirit of friendliness and generosity; and Millie the echidna, named for the new Millennium and Australia’s technological advancement and representing earth power.

wombatHah! again. The anti-merchandising forces only appeared to have given up. They reappeared with a particularly Aussie slant. Millie, with her distinctive echidna’s snout, was popularly renamed “Dickhead”. But the worst insult of all was that the three official mascots were upstaged by a parody. Sydney cartoonist Paul Newell created Fatso, the Fat-Arsed Wombat (at left) as a protest against the overcommercialization of the Olympics. Fatso was publicized on the popular sports/comedy TV program, The Dream With Roy and HG, with a life-sized plush doll with an oversized rump on Roy and HG’s desk. And Fatso was preferred over the official mascots by some of the Olympics athletes! When the Australian Olympic Committee tried to forbid any athletes from bringing unofficial mascots into the stadium, Fatso’s popularity was assured. The AOC wisely backed down. Subsequently there was a statue of Fatso at the Sydney Stadium (until it was stolen in 2010), and Fatso has appeared on an Australian postage stamp as a plushie being held by a member of the 2000 swimming team.

Despite all this, neither Syd, Ollie, Millie, or Fatso were ever animated. The 2000 Olympics were the first Summer Olympics since 1988 to do without any animation.

athosThe 2004 Summer games in Athens had many people’s (including mine) choice as the ugliest mascots of all time, Izzy notwithstanding. Phevos & Athena, brother (in blue tunic) & sister (in orange tunic), were based on a crude 7th century B.C. terracotta “daidala” doll used as both a children’s toy and as a fertility symbol. NBC’s Olympic host Bob Costas called them as looking like “a genetic experiment gone horribly, ghastly wrong.” The Athens Organizing Committee was apparently really only interested in promoting the 2004 Summer games as the followup to the original Olympics in the 6th-century B.C., and not interested in modern merchandising; those Summer games lost a lot of money. They were animated only in 30-second Greek TV promotions.

Well, yarst! I am out of space again. 2008 and 2012 will have to wait for next week.

22 Comments

  • Not merchandising an Olympic mascot almost seems like an oxymoron.

  • Whatzit was introduced to the world through a short CGI clip included as part of the closing ceremonies in Barcelona. Although quite good by 1992 standards, Whatzit’s (the name “Izzy” came later as part of a face-saving PR effort) debut was the ultimate bad first impression and was not well-received by the crowds who saw it on the big screens in Barcelona (nor by anybody else) and likely the source of the criticisms quoted by Fred.

    Since Olympic opening and closing ceremonies are among those programs that tend to be recorded for posterity, a clean, over-the-air VHS copy shouldn’t be hard to find, even after 21 years.

    • “Since Olympic opening and closing ceremonies are among those programs that tend to be recorded for posterity, a clean, over-the-air VHS copy shouldn’t be hard to find, even after 21 years.”

      Here you go!
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zovaC-GsGDo&t=5m58s

    • Thanks, Chris, in the name of completeness, though if that was what Izzy looked like at the time of his debut, I can certainly understand why he was not well-received.

    • Yeah, pretty off really, but those were the breaks!

  • 2 notes:
    - Pablo Picasso was not Catalan. He was born in Málaga (Andalucía, South of Spain) and lived in Barcelona in his youth.
    - BRB is not an animation studio. It is a production company that usually contracts animation studios outside Spain to produce its series. Spanish animators rarely have worked for BRB.

    • Most of BRB’s animation that I have seen has been produced by Nippon Animation in Tokyo. I have seen statements that BRB has gone to Taiwan for its animation since about the late 1980s when the Japanese studios became too expensive to work with. But I don’t know what studio actually produced “The Cobi Troupe”. I do not know if BRB never produces any animation; “The Cobi Troupe” is simple enough that it might be produced at the BRB studio.

    • “Most of BRB’s animation that I have seen has been produced by Nippon Animation in Tokyo. I have seen statements that BRB has gone to Taiwan for its animation since about the late 1980s when the Japanese studios became too expensive to work with. But I don’t know what studio actually produced “The Cobi Troupe”. I do not know if BRB never produces any animation; “The Cobi Troupe” is simple enough that it might be produced at the BRB studio.”

      I like to think that on later productions after 80′s, they might have done preliminary work including designs, storyboards and such done in Spain and the rest outsourced elsewhere (David the Gnome could’ve been handled this way but the credits are pretty vague as to not give you any animation credits otherwise). Here’s one show Telemundo use to show when they had a cartoon block on the weekends a decade ago…
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X-ulMzH7dKg

    • Or if “The Cobi Troupe” animation was outsourced, it might’ve been to another animation studio in Spain. What animation studios were there in Spain in 1992?

    • Although BRB always usually has farmed out the animation of its series to studios in the Far East, most episodes of “The Cobi Troupe” were actually animated by one studio in Barcelona. I can testify to that, as I inbetweened a few scenes on a couple of episodes of that series, and I know personally several animators who also worked on it.

    • Nice to know they kept that in the country.

  • Fred, where’s Vooshko?

    • Vooshko (Vučko; Li’l Wolf in Serbian) was the mascot of the 1984 Winter games in Sarajevo, Bosnia, Yugoslavia. I am concentrating on the Summer games mascots because I have not found enough animation of the Winter games mascots to fill a column. Here is the only animation of Vučko that I have found.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eEbL3i-AC80

    • At least someone else here wanted some Vucko love!

  • Izzy was designed by Film Roman’s Guy Vasilovitch.

    • I assume that somebody at Film Roman would have kept a file copy of “Izzy’s Quest for Olympic Gold”. Do you have any contacts there that you could ask?

    • I am slightly confused here. Was the Izzy that was shown at the close of the Barcelona games in 1992, and was so heavily criticized at the time, designed by Guy Vasilovitch, or did he redesign the character for the 1995 TV special by Film Roman? As Chris says about that 1995 half-hour TV special, “Whatever happened, it wasn’t memorable enough for someone to keep a VHS copy of it from the TNT airing to stick on YouTube”.

  • If I recall correctly, Izzy also featured in a game for the PC entitled simply ‘Izzy’s Adventure’. From what I can remember, this was more of a puzzler than a plat-former and involved some further cell animation.

    • I suppose Izzy would be considered the first Olympic mascot to get his own computer/video games in this case, unless Cobi or someone else before achieved that already. I don’t recall games ever coming out since with mascots so he’s probably the only one.

  • “The 1988 Summer games were in Seoul, and the 1988 mascot(s) was a male & female pair of cartoon adolescent Amur tigers, Hodori and Hosuni (although Hosuni was usually ignored). Despite looking very friendly and animate-able, there was never any animation of them that I know of.”

    Best I could find Fred was this. Apparently there was a TV series of sorts starting Hodori that aired on the Korean network MBC around 1987-88. The Korean title is “달려라 호돌이” which the best I can get from Google is “Ride Hodori”. At least something was done with Hodori in animation there.
    http://cue.imbc.com/Common/Publish.aspx?Idx=3009

    The series also got adapted into a series of hardcover comics of sorts that I wish I knew more about, but here’s one volume to check out scans to…
    http://www.kobay.co.kr/servlet/wsauction/item/itemView;jsessionid=NOEOJLEEMJEG?item.itemseq=1007LDGZDDA

    The Cobi Troupe did see an airing in Japan, but not the US (where simply noticing his presence in the on-screen captions during the games was enough of a chance I suppose)!
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJ79i4Vnrnc

    “Izzy’s Quest For Olympic Gold was reportedly distributed internationally, but no source says where.”

    Whatever happened, it wasn’t memorable enough for someone to keep a VHS copy of it from the TNT airing to stick on YouTube, and I barely remember it was on at all myself (not being big into watching that stuff by that point in my life). There’s the SNES game if anyone cares to look for it, but I doubt it being that great either!

    “But like most of the other Olympic mascots, once they’re used they’re not used again.”

    Ha-HAW!

    “Despite all this, neither Syd, Ollie, Millie, or Fatso were ever animated. The 2000 Olympics were the first Summer Olympics since 1988 to do without any animation.”

    Except for what I stated above but whatever, that didn’t leave Korea as much as their American-outsourced work at the time!

  • I thought Izzy was cool. But after seeing that clip of him at the Barcelona games, I can see why people didn’t like him.
    I also enjoyed that special when I was young.

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