Animation returned with a vengeance to the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. The BOCOG (Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games of the XXIX Olympiad) had the National Society of Chinese Classic Literature Studies select a mascot. The NSCCLS entrusted the task to Han Meilin, a prominent Chinese artist. He designed five ultra-cute anthropomorphized mascots, collectively known as the Fuwa good-luck dolls: Beibei the fish, representing water, prosperity, and the continent Europe (blue, female); Jingjing the panda, representing forests, happiness, and Africa (black, male); Huanhuan the fire spirit, representing the Olympic spirit and America (red, male); Yingying the Tibetan antelope, representing earth, good health, and Asia (yellow, male); and Nini the swallow, representing the sky/metal, good luck, and Oceania (green, female). Among the many international presentations, a Beijing Olympic Float featuring the five Fuwa at the 2008 Pasadena, California Rose Parade won the Theme Trophy for excellence in presentation of the Parade’s theme, which was “Passport to the World’s Celebrations”.
Beijing’s mascot animation seemed to be more for informational and promotional purposes than for merchandising. 福娃奥运漫游记/Fúwá Àoyùn Mànyóujì (The Olympic Adventures of Fuwa), an animated program of 100 11-minute episodes. The series was produced by the China Beijing TV Station/BTV and Kaku TV (a cartoon channel). It was shown on BTV in Beijing, on 100 other TV stations throughout China, on China’s nationwide railroad videos, and on Beijing’s public transportation system. Prior to being broadcast, Kaku TV presented copies to foreign embassies and major cities. Kaku TV later released a multilingual DVD in Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), English, French, Japanese, and Korean. The Olympic Adventures of Fuwa beat nearly 120 other competitors from 28 countries to win the Best Production award at the 2007 Asian Animation Comics Contest in Guiyang, China in September 7-10, 2007. No production information is given other than that “creators from mainland China and Hong Kong collaborated to produce the series”. The 100 episodes aired from August 8, 2007 to the “opening of the games”, which was on August 8, 2008.
The cartoon’s story began on the first episode’s broadcast date, August 8, 2007. It featured an 8-year Beijing boy, Da You, getting the five Fuwa dolls as a birthday gift from his parents. The dolls come to life, and they and Da You have adventures that are learning experiences in Chinese history and culture, the history of the Olympic games, and the preparations in Beijing from August 2007 to the Olympic games in August 2008.
The Olympic Adventures of Fuwa was seen throughout China, but the 2008 Summer Olympics animation seen most often in the West was probably a 2-minute TV cartoon shown by BBC Sport. At this time musician David Albarn and graphic artist Jamie Hewlett (of Tank Girl fame) were developing a stage adaptation of the 16th-century Chinese novel Journey to the West, titled Monkey: Journey to the West. The BBC commissioned Hewlett and Albarn to create a 2-minute cartoon, titleless but officially named Journey to the East, showing the traditional Chinese folk tale cast of Monkey, Pigsy, and Sandy hurrying to Beijing for the 2012 Summer games. The short film was shown frequently on BBC Sport to advertise the BBC’s coming coverage of the 2012 Summer Olympics, and as the title sequence for its coverage of the games from August 8 to 24; and it has been shown often since on YouTube and other Internet sites.
The 2012 Summer games in London returned to “impossible to commercialize” mascots, not that anyone expected the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) to not merchandize them. The two futuristic mascots were named Wenlock and Mandeville, after two English towns that held Olympic-type sporting events before the modern Olympics and Paralympics were established. They were the first Olympic mascots to have their own website.
The LOCOG turned the designing of its mascots over to Iris Worldwide, a London creative agency, which created a team led by Grant Hunter to do the job. Hunter designed two “dynamic, forward-looking” mascots to represent the Olympics and the Paralympics. The characters were then given to popular children’s book author Michael Morpurgo, who was Children’s Laureate from 2003 to 2005, to write a story around them. Morpurgo wrote Adventures on a Rainbow especially as an outline for a series of animated short films, establishing them as drops of steel from the final support girder for the new Olympic Stadium.
Hunter and Morpurgo both claimed that Wenlock and Mandeville were extremely popular with young children. The LOCOG’s chairman, Lord Coe, also said, “We’ve created our mascots for children. They will connect young people with sport and tell the story of our proud Olympic and Paralympic history.” They were not popular with adults, though. Critics immediately described them as looking like the offspring of a “drunken one-night stand between a Teletubby and a Dalek”, and “Izzy’s revenge”. Comparisons were made with Kang and Kodos, the two green aliens out to conquer Earth in the “Treehouse of Horror” episodes of the satirical TV program The Simpsons. Fun was made of each’s gigantic single eye, meant to symbolize modern man’s all-seeing cameras on cel phones everywhere; and the taxi lights on their foreheads. “Both Wenlock and Mandeville share yellow lights on their foreheads, which act as homages to the famous yellow London taxis.” There have been dozens of photo-edited parodies.
The New York Times said in a story on March 27, 2012, “Wenlock and Mandeville, which purportedly represent drops of steel from a girder of Olympic Stadium, entered the modern-day wilds of photo-editing software and a flourishing culture of online snark. They have been turned into Queen Victoria. They emerge from the eyes of Gordon Brown, the former prime minister of Britain. They are drooping objects in a Salvador Dalí painting. Sometimes they’re plaid, sometimes they’re striped. Often, they are not appropriate for a family newspaper. … The sports blog Deadspin invited readers to submit parodies of Wenlock and Mandeville. Among the entries: a mascot as Gene Kelly from ‘Singin’ in the Rain’, the two mascots strolling across the street alongside the Beatles in their album cover for ‘Abbey Road’ and the mascots helping soldiers raise the American flag at Iwo Jima.”
More importantly, the public ignored Wenlock and Mandeville merchandise. Mail Online reported, “Based upon blobs of steel and featuring a single eye each, less-than-cuddly mascots Wenlock and Mandeville were designed to symbolise the 2012 Games with their Olympic Ring-inspired friendship bracelets, and featured a nod to the capital in the form of London ‘taxi lights’ on their heads. But the public failed to warm to the strange figures and a whole host of unsold Wenlock and Mandeville branded souvenirs and collectibles are now gathering dust on toyshop shelves. Hornby has knocked £96 off the price of a 12-pack of London 2012 die-cast Wenlock or Mandeville figurines, which are now on sale for £23.88, while many single figurines – originally priced £9.99 – are now selling for £2.99.”
But Wenlock & Mandeville’s animation was designed for children. It was directed by Mario Cavalli and produced at the London offices of Crystal CG International, a multinational CGI provider headquartered in Beijing, which had produced the CGI films shown at the 2008 Summer Olympics. Crystal CG International developed Michael Morpurgo’s story into four short films designed to be shown on the LOCOG’s website, on Vimeo and YouTube, and in Odeon cinemas throughout Britain (373 screens) during Odeon Kids Club screenings during the month of release. The four films were:
Out of a Rainbow. May 2010. 4:17
Adventures on a Rainbow. March 2011. 4:54
Rainbow Rescue. November 2011. 5:00
Rainbow to the Games. May 2012. 16:47
Crystal CG International said in a press release just after the release of the first film: “Mario Cavalli recently completed direction of the Michael Morpurgo scripted Out Of A Rainbow, launching the London 2012 mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville. The mascots were developed and designed by Iris London over the preceding 18 months, with animation on the 3 min 45 sec film completed within a breakneck 10 week schedule, from design and storyboard to completion and launch on May 19th. Cavalli designed the non-mascot characters, working with Teddy Hall on maquettes and Pete Western on storyboard. Production design and backgrounds by Neil Ross, animation by Crystal CG. Editing by Richard Graham. Original score and orchestration by Tommy Hewitt Jones. Voice over read by Simon Russell Beale. The film was produced by Barnaby Spurrier. Within 48 hours of launch, the movie on the official LOCOG mascots’ site had already clocked up 750,000 unique hits, while the same video on YouTube was the ‘most watched’ in the last 24 hours.”
The running story, developed largely through pantomime against a full orchestral background score, was that the old steelworker George retires after completing construction of the final support girder for the new Olympic Stadium. He takes two spilled drops of steel as souvenirs. He bicycles home to his wife and two twin grandchildren about 10 years old. During the night, he gets the idea of turning the steel drops into futuristic action figures for the children. The futuristic figures magically come to life and soar off on rainbows to begin setting up the 2012 games. In the subsequent films, the twins help Wenlock and Mandeville round up the athletes (CGI depictions of the known contestants), keeping in touch with the mascots on their rainbows via their cel phones. When a terrible storm destroys the twins’ school library, Wenlock and Mandeville call on the athletes (more CGI depictions of the British Olympics Team members) to help restore it. Wenlock and Mandeville are accidentally locked in a huge cargo container being shipped to Rio de Janeiro, on the eve of the games. The twins, with the help of a young adult bicyclist friend, rescue them in time to get to the games.
That brings us up to date. The 2016 Summer games will be held in (where else?) Rio de Janeiro. The Rio 2016 Organising Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games has announced that there will be two mascots, and they will be unveiled during the second half of 2014. Stay tuned to see if they will be animated.