Thursday, 28 January 2016

A Great Swiss icon you may not know!

The resting place of Pingu's creator at Russikon Cemetery
Who doesn't know Pingu? But did you know he was Swiss?

Since I found out that Pingu was created down the road in Russikon, I can't shake the feeling that the fact Pingu was born here seems to have been forgotten as the creator sold off all rights to a foreign company just before he died. The only reminder of Pingu's heritage is a little gravestone in the cemetery at Russikon. His studio has been acquired as a residence and there is nothing there to mark the creation of probably the best known penguin in the world.

German born Otmar Gutmann, who died in 1993, first created Pingu at his studio in Russikon, where he brought the pint size penguin to life by creating a different figure for each individual movement sequence, with each scene constructed separately. At the time, the production studio looked as if littered with numerous tiny dolls strewn about haphazardly but the individual elements were gradually pieced together to produce a natural looking scene. Gutmann immersed himself completely in the world of Pingu and as his creation took off, he had to take on a small team to help out.

Pingu was first presented at the Berlin Film Festival in 1987 and soon became a worldwide phenomenon with the simplest of plot lines and an indecipherable language consisting of squeaks and grunts rather than words, which on the DVD and video cases was sometimes dubbed 'Penguinese'. However, owing to the simple plots and descriptive body language, viewers need no dialogue to see what is going on. The family and home focused stories appeal as much to adults as to children.

Gutmann's studio is now a regular Russikon apartment
The first Pingu series was aired on Swiss DRS TV station and soon experienced extraordinary success, eventually being shown on at least 100 different television stations throughout the world. Pingu also went on to win many prizes including the Kleiner Baer at the Berlin Film Festival (1987), the Japanese Maeda award (1991) and the French Prix Jeunesse (1991) To this day, Pingu maintains a cult following and enjoys regular reruns on Cbeebies in the UK. It originally aired on the BBC between 1995 and 2005.

Unfortunately, as far as I can make out Otmar sold all rights to Pingu to a foreign buyer and it seems he didn't make much money from this transaction as I traced the humble life of his wife after his death until she too passed away. It seems very sad.

But you can visit the grave in Russikon and the Gemeinde secretary informs me it is a lovely little visit if you are passing by.

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