Fred Gelli on branding the Rio Olympics and planning the Paralympics Opening Ceremony

Speaking at Design Indaba today, Fred Gelli, creative director of Brazilan design consultancy Tátil, spoke about the process of designing the identity for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio and his role in planning the Paralympics opening ceremony.

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In total 139 advertising and design agencies signed up to pitch for the Olympics branding. Eighty-seven were asked to submit concepts, which the committee then narrowed down to 25, eight and finally two ideas, before Tátil was told it had won the project in September 2009. “I thought it was impossible, there were so many people [competing],” said Gelli.

With the project to be kept top secret, Gelli said the creative team worked from a room with secure thumb-print access and no internet connection for several months. The logo (above left) was unveiled in 2011 and features a design which draws on the shape of Rio’s mountains and landmarks – colours reflect the region’s forests, the ocean and the ‘warmth’ of Rio and its residents, while pictograms (created for each sport in the Olympics and Paralympics, see below) are inspired by both the shape of the logo and Dalton Maag’s custom script typeface. (Patrick Burgoyne’s in-depth look at the logo is here).

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Rio landmark Pão de Açúcar, or Sugarloaf Mountain, the shape of which is mapped by the logo

While the logo was met with some criticism from the design community – it was viewed by many as a safe and fairly uninspiring choice, particularly after London’s controversial but more experimental 2012 symbol – Gelli said it has been well received by people in Brazil. “People in general really loved the logo,” he said, adding that they “started to see things in it that we didn’t [one man described it to him as a hug between politicians, businesses and residents to change the city] … and that made us really happy.”

His talk offered an insight into the many challenges of designing an identity for the Olympics: “It’s the most complex visual identity in the world – you have to dress the whole city,” he said. Over 100 people worked on the branding, with teams from Tatil’s Rio and Sao Paulo offices meeting weekly to go through sketches and ideas.

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With an extensive brief – criteria stated the logo must look happy, innovative, warm, welcoming and reflective of “the Carioca way of life”, among other things – Gelli said the team created more than 50 logos before developing the final design. They also consulted with staff from across the business, including Tatil’s receptionist, to gauge opinions of the logo throughout the process. “We invited a lot of people to give their opinion … because we’re designing a logo for everybody, not only designers,” he added.

Conceived as a 3D sculpture, Gelli said the design will be used to create a range of small and large-scale objects, from sculptures in the city to merchandise and jewellery (he also showed off some commemorative coins). “The brand is made to be experienced,” he added.

This handout photo released by the Brazilian Olympic Committee shows the recently unveiled logo to be used for the 2016 Rio Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on January 2, 2011. AFP PHOTO/COB/ISMAR INGBER ------------------ RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE ------------ (Photo credit should read ISMAR INGBER/AFP/Getty Images)
ISMAR INGBER/AFP/Getty Images)

After working on the Olympics, Tatil was also commissioned to create the identity for this year’s Paralympics. The logo was again conceived as a 3D sculpture, this time referencing the heart and infinity symbol. “The [organising] committee felt the Paralympic brand should be connected to the main brand, and have the same strength,” he said.

The heart was unveiled with a sculpture fitted with sensors, which emitted a pulse like a heartbeat when touched, and Gelli says it aims to convey both the spirit of motion, and the infinite energy of Paralympic athletes who push themselves to the limit. Like the Olympics logo before it, designing the symbol took a long time, said Gelli, with the team consulting with several athletes, watching various Paralympic sports and making over 150 sketches before devising the final design.

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Speaking to CR, Gelli admitted that designing for the Olympics was a lot of pressure – “it’s something that it’s my first time doing, it’s something great, something very big, and there’s a lot of people involved…. But it’s very exciting, and a very special opportunity,” he added.

He has also been co-planning the Paralympics opening ceremony with writer and journalist Marcelo Rubens Paiva and artist Vik Muniz. “They offered me two options [to work on the Olympics or Paralympics ceremony] and I chose the Paralympics, partly because the pressure will be lower but also because the freedom is much more – we don’t have to tell the story of Brazil,” he said. Instead, the team is working on a show that will look at disability in a new way, said Gelli, and will involve both Paralympic athletes and disabled performers from around the world.

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“It’s amazing, especially because you’re working with some of the best people in Brazil – in dance, in production – and we’re together in this big group trying to do something very special,” he added. “But I’m very nervous. It’s live, so you don’t have a second chance, and we cant really rehearse, because it’s impossible to reproduce everything, and you can’t rehearse in the real space [the Maracanã stadium], so you need to simulate things and practise what you can. My assistant now is with an American dancer who will be performing, and they’re talking about [what prosthetic limbs she and her fellow dancers will be wearing] – so there’s details like that, and then big things like building a tactile screen of 30 metres, that has to be assembled in just two minutes. It’s a lot to think about,” he continues.

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Images showing the Rio Olympics pictograms

With 40,000 people watching the ceremony in Rio, and billions more watching at home on TV, Gelli said it was also important to think about scale – “how we can establish the balance between the [close-up] details, how you combine these different scales … all the time it’s changing,” he said. With this in mind, Gelli said there will be a mix of large and small-scale props as well as larger projections and a vast screen.

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Image showing the Rio Paralympics pictograms

Working on the production design is a complex process, he said, with the team having to create hundreds of prototypes of different props and parts. “We have a model of the Maracanã [measuring] eight metres, so we’re trying to simulate some of the production there. We have small props scaled many times smaller, so we can try some combinations and relations between the size of things, and we can get the projection team to make some small mock-ups,” he explained. “We’ve also been doing workshops with the dancers, and with the technical teams just to try out ideas. We have a small lab to create lots of small prototypes before we work on bigger ones – otherwise, you could waste a lot of money and time. So there’s a lot of people involved,” he added.

For Gelli, designing both the branding and the opening ceremony has been an intense and daunting – but also hugely rewarding – experience.

Fred Gelli was speaking at Design Indaba in Cape Town. See designindaba.com for details.

  • Fastdrum

    so ugly and expected…

  • DC

    Is there a connection between Rio & Phallic Symbolism? – Bit of a “Phallacy” to me…

  • Dave van Hoorn

    I love it, except for the one in 2016, which feels a bit too straight.

  • Todd

    love the logo a lot. having been to rio i feel it really captures the vibrance of their culture through both its colour and motion.

  • james

    Made using an Olympic Logo generator?