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London Olympic group unveils futuristic mascots

By Melissa Gray, CNN
  • Twin figures inspired by steel used to build Olympic Stadium
  • Their names, Wenlock and Mandeville, evoke Britain's sporting history
  • Mascots unveiled in short film aimed at children

London, England (CNN) -- Two metallic, one-eyed creatures whizzed into the London 2012 Games on Wednesday, when organizers unveiled them as their new Olympic and Paralympic mascots.

The twin figures are futuristic, androgynous, aerodynamic and inspired by the steel used to build London's Olympic Stadium, organizers said. They mark a break from previous Olympics that have featured animals or traditional characters for mascots.

Sebastian Coe, chairman of the London Organizing Committee for the Olympic Games, said designers spoke to about 40 groups of children of all ages in researching designs, Coe said.

"We spoke a lot to kids, and the one thing that they told us was, they weren't attracted to human; they weren't attracted to animal -- they didn't want a furry animal -- but they just wanted a good story," Coe said.

Each mascot has one giant eye, meant to be a camera lens, and no other facial features. On its forehead is an orange light designed to resemble the traditional lights atop London taxicabs, one of the only parts of the mascot to hint at the Olympic host city.

Their names evoke the role Britain has played in Olympic and Paralympic history.

Wenlock, in silver with orange stripes, is named for the Shropshire town of Much Wenlock, where the idea for the modern Games was born. Pierre de Coubertin was visiting the town in 1890 when he saw the town's games and was inspired to found the modern Olympic movement.

Silver and blue Mandeville gets its name from the southern English town of Stoke Mandeville, where the Paralympic movement was founded in the 1940s.

"Yes, they look futuristic, but when you've got the traditional, heritage side with the Mandeville and Wenlock naming convention, there are a number of features which it really picks up on," said Grant Hunter, London creative director at the Iris marketing agency, which beat hundreds of other bidders to come up with the design.

He said the mascots can be adapted to fit any sport or theme. Their shiny, reflective surface is also symbolic, Hunter said, because they can reflect whatever people choose to make them.

Hunter said it took about two years to develop the mascots, Hunter said.

As a result of the bidding process, the London Organizing Committee paid only a "few thousand" pounds (dollars) to come up with the design, organizers said.

"We've created our mascots for children," Coe said. "They will connect young people with sport and tell the story of our proud Olympic and Paralympic history."

The committee still draws criticism for the logo it chose for the 2012 Games: a jagged design in bright colors that some have compared to graffiti or even a broken swastika.

Coe, who has stood by the logo, also defended the mascots' design, saying, "I hope that everyone's talking about this in the way they're talking about the logo."

The committee unveiled the mascots Wednesday in a short animated film, aimed at children, that tells the story of Mandeville and Wenlock. The story was written by children's author Michael Morpurgo, a former children's laureate.

The film shows the figures starting out as two molten drops of steel at the plant that made the girders for the stadium.

A worker at the plant brings home the steel blobs and refashions them into figurines for his grandchildren. Placed on the windowsill, the figures are brought to life by a rainbow with the Olympic colors and begin to play different sports in front of the children.

The film ends as the figures leave on separate journeys across Britain.

Products featuring the mascots are expected to go on sale in March 2012, a few months before the Games, organizers said. Until then, they will be active online, using Twitter, Facebook and the London Organizing Committee's website to interact with children, organizers said.

The film was previewed to 100 students at St. Paul's Whitechapel Church of England Primary School in east London, where students Wednesday asked to see the film twice.

"They look really cool, and I think they're going to inspire kids to become athletes," said Rumman Ahmed, 11.

"They make me think about how brilliant it will be to watch (the Games)," said Abigail Appiah, 10.

Susannah Palk contributed to this report