A look at the making of the first TV special based on an Olympic games mascot.
Izzy's Quest For Olympic Gold © 1993 ACOG.
Kids across the US and around the world love Izzy! At least that's what the people at the Atlanta Olympic Games would like you to believe. After all, Izzy is the much-publicized mascot of the Atlanta Games, whose persona has appeared on a whole range of merchandise; he also appears as the star of his own animated TV special, Izzy's Quest For Olympic Gold, something of a first for an Olympic mascot.
Izzy was unveiled as a "simple little mascot" during the closing ceremony of the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona. Officials of the Atlanta Games turned to children around the United States to help define the character who was only known up until then as "Whatizit." Their final choice was Izzy, after the judges considered such other names as Jimmy Nastics, Link D. World, and I. M. There. Now that Izzy was alive, another contest was held where children were called upon to write stories about Izzy as their new Olympic hero. The "Great Adventures of Izzy" writing campaign began in October 1993 and more 85,000 children wrote stories for Izzy, many of which will be displayed during the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia.
As part of the effort to market Izzy, the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Properties (ACOP) decided to star him in an animated television special. (ACOP is the marketing arm of The Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games.) ACOP finally selected Film Roman, the North Hollywood studio, known for such animated stars as Garfield and Bart Simpson, as the "official studio" for the 1996 Olympic Games--something of a first in both Olympic and animation history.
Carol Corwin, producer for Izzy's Quest For Olympic Gold, recalls that ACOP's selected Film Roman because, "they liked the fact that we were a modest company and [studio head] Phil Roman stays involved throughout the whole process. We were honored to be chosen. Everyone felt proud to be involved on the Izzy project because our quality standards matched ACOP's."
Phil Roman, Film Roman's President and CEO, commented that, "When ACOP first approached us, we didn't think Izzy was an animatable character. We needed to add spunk and energy. That required creating a full personality in addition to an appealing friendly look. It needed to be eye-catching and captivating not only to children, but adults need to be drawn to it as well".
However, any change to Izzy's design needed to be subtle, since the character had already been widely licensed and merchandise distributed. With the help of animators Guy Vasilovick and Roger Sciasson, the studio put together a 40 second pilot for ACOP which showed Izzy going through a range of animated movements. From playing tennis to throwing a javelin to gymnastics, trying to imbue Izzy with exuberance and energy; in so doing, they had him morph his body into different shapes to facilitate each activity. They also added a nose to Izzy's face and fixed up his teeth a bit. Roman explained that, "We came up with a look to give him more life, a personality and warmth. We needed to change the character to make him more workable for animation. Izzy needed more punch and I think we did a good job of it".
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.)
The idea of Izzy and his Torch World did come about from the many stories submitted by from children around the United States. Scriptwriter, Sindy McCay worked closely with Holly Rawlinson at ACOP to create a "back life" for Izzy, adding his family, friends and Tribunal Elders giving reality to the Torch World. Both Film Roman and ACOP wanted the special to be educational, yet entertaining for children. Carol Corwin explained; "While we were brainstorming, we decided to cut out some of Izzy's speeches because it got too boring. It was a tough balance between teaching about the Olympics and keeping it fun and exciting."
Izzy's Quest For Olympic Gold conveys to children the message that the Olympics are not some boring event that their parents watch on TV and effectively promotes the values of perseverance, determination, and integrity. While not filled with the cutting edge sensibilities of some of the films that embellished the 1984 Olympiad of Animation, the show is nevertheless an honest, if modest effort that hopefully will inspire future Olympics-related animated efforts.
Frankie Kowalski is Associate Editor of Animation World Magazine and is currently on ASIFA-Hollywood's Board of Directors.