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Questions to ask when ordering a mascot costume

An organization makes a significant investment when purchasing a mascot costume. However if the person in charge of ordering doesn’t know what to ask they may end up with a sub par costume.

When ordering a mascot costume, make sure to ask your sales representative the following questions:

  1. Have you ever been a mascot performer?
    • If they say “no” then you should take this into consideration. If they have never been a mascot performer then how will they know what’s best for your mascot performer? Will they be able to effectively convey to the production staff what works and doesn’t work? Do they even have a role in the design/production process? We’ve heard performers say of some company’s creations “It’s like they’ve never even worn a mascot costume.” Often times you have seamstresses or people with a fashion/clothing background producing and designing the suits.
    • If they say “yes” ask “How long ago?” Some companies do have former mascots on staff. However, some of them haven’t been working performers in years. They may be advocating outdated methods.
    • If they say “yes” ask “For who?” A corporate, theme park, or minor league mascot has a different experience and knowledge than a full time professional sports mascot performer.
      • At AMAZING!! Mascots our costumes are designed by veteran mascot performer Kelly Frank. She spent 5 seasons with the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball, three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning of the NHL, and has also been a mascot for Arena Football, Major League Soccer, the WNBA, minor league baseball, minor league hockey, NCAA Basketball, Division 1 NCAA Football, in addition to being a parade performer at Walt Disney World and a seasonal character for Universal Studios Florida. She is still an active mascot performer. She tests out every costume and makes sure they have the most vision, ventilation, and mobility that is allowed with the design.
  2. Is there a charge for artwork?
    • Most companies offer a free design service. Others do not. If there is a fee ask what it includes (how many revisions are allowed, will it be in color or black and white). Also ask if the design fee will be applied to the purchase price of the costume.
      • AMAZING!! Mascots offers a free design service. We provide a basic black and white pencil sketch to begin the process, and do revisions to the black and white sketch. Once it is approved we provide a color version of the character. We retain the rights to our concept art.
      • Pencil sketch

        Pencil sketch

        Color concept

        Color concept

  3. Will we own the rights to the character?
    • Many companies include the rights to the character with the purchase of the costume. Make sure to get this in writing and have your legal department look over the agreement.
    • Other companies charge for the rights to characters. This can range from a few hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. The rights to the Phillie Phanatic were notoriously purchased for $250,000 five years after his debut after the team mistakenly passed on purchasing the rights for $1,200 when they first ordered the costumes.
      • AMAZING!! Mascots charges between $175-$2,000 for the rights to our original mascot designs. The fee is based off the type of organization (corporate, college/university, high school, minor league, major league). You can avoid this fee by coming to the process with an existing character.
  4. What material is the head made out of?
    • If they say “Fiberglass” you do not want this head. These heads are very heavy and prone to cracking. This is an outdated method of producing costume heads.
    • If they say “Paper Machie” you do not want this head. Water breaks down paper, and a performer’s sweat can damage the head. Additionally this type of head cannot be washed properly. It is an old and outdated method of producing mascot heads suited for hobbyists and cosplay, but not professionally made mascot costumes.
    • If they say “ABS Vacuformed plastic” this isn’t a bad option, but it comes with some negatives. Plastic heads are far heavier than foam heads (some weighing as much as 15 pounds!). The hard nature of the head can be a hazard. Our mascot designer gave two different people black eyes while wearing two different ABS plastic heads. From a performance standpoint they are limiting (can’t face plant into a wall/hockey glass/floor, can’t “kiss” fans, etc.). The seam where the two formed pieced are glued together is often a weak point that comes apart over time. Additionally helmets are often screwed into place. This creates a pressure point and causes  weakness in the head’s wall over time. Plastic heads are more difficult to repair than foam heads. This style of head is best for corporate or theme park characters. Often an organization will need multiples of these costumes, and vacu forming is a less expensive option. Also they are an exact duplicate every time. Since corporate and theme park characters aren’t as active, they don’t mind the lack of mobility.
    • If they say “upholstery foam” this is not ideal. Upholstery foam is “open celled foam” meaning it is porous and can retain sweat and moisture like a sponge. This can lead to the growth of bacteria or mold. It loses it’s shape over time and eventually (7+ years) will rot and crumble apart.
    • If they say “Ethafoam” this is a good option. Ethafoam is a rigid closed cell foam that can be carved for details. We have encountered issues with helmets detaching from ethafoam heads. Also if it is carved there may be an issue with creating exact duplicates as carving leads room for error.  We have found that most companies that use ethafoam  use metal mesh in the mouths to keep them open. This is a terrible idea. Over time the metal rusts due to the performer’s exhalations. The metal can also come detached from the face and expose jagged edges, like we found in this costume head. If you chose a producer who uses ethafoam make sure that they don’t use metal mesh in the mouth.
      • AMAZING!! Mascots uses microcell foam. This is a lightweight closed cell foam. It maintains it’s shape over time. Because it is closed cell it does not absorb sweat and does not break down over time. For some features we use open celled “filter foam.” We use this for cheeks, noses/beaks, and eyebrows. We only use it in places that will not come in contact with sweat. Occasionally we produce duplicates of existing costumes using filter foam. This is not our preferred method (filter foam does absorb sweat and will break down over time) but do it upon client request.
      • Micorcell foam

        Microcell foam

        Filter Foam

        Filter Foam

  5. How much do your heads normally weigh?
    • If they say “we don’t know” this means that they are not a company that takes the weight of the head (and the comfort/safety of the performer) into consideration when designing and building a mascot head. This is a red flag.
    • If they say “5-15 pounds” this is pretty heavy and is likely made of plastic or fiberglass. Heavy heads can lead to performer injury.
      • Our heads are designed to be around 2-3 pounds with our “heaviest” heads weighing in at 4.5 pounds. Considering that the helmet weighs 1/2-1 pounds, that’s pretty light!
  6. Is there a helmet inside the mascot head?
    • If they say “no” this is not ideal. A mascot head requires a helmet to respond best to the performer’s movements. A head that rests on the shoulder, uses under arm straps, or clips into place is uncomfortable for the performer to wear and severely limits movement. Instead of being a lively animated character the mascot often comes off as a stiff, Frankenstein moving “guy in a costume.”
    • If they say “yes” ask what type. Baseball helmets offer a nice cushiony but tight fit. But the inner foam can absorb sweat and break down over use. Construction helmets are used, but don’t offer a great chin strap system.
      • We use lightweight street hockey helmets. We have found these to offer the best fit at the lightest weight. However we encourage your performer to find a helmet that fits them and that they like best and send it to us to install in the head. 
  7. Where is the vision in the head?
    • If they say “eyes” ask how much of the eye is see through. Some companies only make the black/iris of the eye see through. For best eye vision make sure that all of the area is see though.
    • See through eyes

      See through eyes

    • If they say “mouth” tell them to make sure it has as much peripheral vision as possible. This will be limited by the design. Also a lower jaw will limit the vision. You want as much vision as possible and may have to compromise on the look of the design to achieve this.
    • Wide open mouth

      Wide open mouth

    • If they say “neck” ask if it’s a sewn in screen or if it’s athletic mesh. A sewn in screen can be pretty obvious in a character and show up as a darker circle. Athletic mesh that has yarn crocheted into it hides it a little bit better. This method is best used in characters with longer fur. Vision through the neck takes some getting used to and can be less sanitary if you have multiple performers.
    • Neck vision

      Neck vision

      • We use all three vision options. The option chosen depends on the final design.
  8. Does the head have any vents?
    • If they say “no” this means they are a company that does not take the performer’s comfort into consideration.
      • We put a vent at the top of the mascot head. Hot air rises so we find it is the best place to put it. We sometimes put additional vents by the character’s ears.
  9. Do you put a fan in the head?
    • If they say “yes” that’s nice. Ask if it pulls air inside the costume or sucks stale air out. Fans work best in low impact corporate characters that stand around in one place.
      • We DO NOT put fans in mascot heads. Our experience with fans is that they ALWAYS break. The wires become disconnected and the battery terminals rust over time. They create noise which hinders the performer’s safety. We have also seen a fan become detached while on and cut the performers head. If you insist we will install one for an additional fee.
      • Broken, as usual

        Broken, as usual

  10. Is the neck attached to the head?
    • If they say yes, ask if it can be removed. Necks soak up a lot of sweat. It’s best if they can be detached from the head and washed.
      • We build our necks to the client’s specification but strive to make them detachable. Some designs do not allow for detachable necks. We also offer costumes with the neck built into the body (tucks into the head) or with necks that are attached to lycra hoodies. Hoodie necks allow the bottom of the mascot head to remain open creating maximum airflow.
  11. Is the costume body lined?
    • If they say “no” this is not ideal. The fur can be pulled out from behind. The friction caused by wearing an unlined suit will accelerate this. However unlined suits are slightly lighter.’
    • If they say “yes” ask what it’s lined with. Some lining just adds unnecessary weight/heat to the costume. We’ve seen suits lined with thick cotton fabric and even quilt padding!
      • We use lightweight athletic mesh to line our costumes.  We find that this adds to the life of the fur body while adding a minimal amount of weight.
      • Lined mascot body

        Lined mascot body

  12. Can the hands detach from the costume?
    • If they say “no” this is not ideal. Hands are the highest wear part of the costume. They get dirty and worn out faster than the rest of the suit. Buying a new pair of hands/gloves is less expensive than having to send your entire mascot body back to have the old hands removed and new hands attached.
      • Our hands are connected with velcro and snaps. We make our hands detachable so they are easy to wash and less expensive to replace. We make them connect with snaps and velcro so they are less likely to get misplaced.
  13. Can the feet detach from the costume?
    • See above entry for hands.
  14. What is the average lifespan of the different fur options?
    • If they say “what??” then they have not been testing fur for it’s durability and are likely using whatever fur they see fit, or is cheapest.
      • We can let you know the expected lifespan of your fur options. We have been observing and testing fur for years. We make note of the different fibers, thicknesses, and asses their lasting powers. Basic shag fur, for example, has a short lifespan and needs to be replaced more frequently. We prefer to use deluxe long pile fur and plush fur options.
  15. Is the costume machine washable?
    • If they say “no” do you really want this costume? A costume that needs to be hand cleaned, or taken to a specialty cleaner will take up a lot of time and resources. As a result the costume often ends up going unwashed and gets smelly fast. Also dry cleaning just sprays a layer of chemicals on the costume and is not an effective cleaning method.
      • Our costumes are machine washable. However you must use a machine without an agitator. An agitator can/will tear the costume. Our heads are washable by hand.
  16. Do the feet/sneakers have internal straps so the performer can secure their own shoes inside?
    • If they say “no” this is not ideal. Feet that are worn as “slipper” do not offer optimal arch support or responsiveness.
      • Our feet are built with straps to secure the performer’s own shoes inside. We find that this allows for the best mobility and foot support. Our feet are also built to be lightweight and durable. We can even make the cover detach from the base for easy washing.
      • Shoe strap system

        Shoe strap system

  17. How do you make your mascot bellies?
    • If they say “foam sandwiched between mesh” this works, but we have found it to make the costumes unnecessarily hot.
      • Our bellies are made out of athletic mesh and five to eight 1/4 inch pvc tubes. We do not use foam to pad out bellies as we find that it makes the costume much hotter and does not add to the character’s over all shape.
      • Get in my belly

        Get in my belly

  18. Do you offer any annual maintenance with the costume purchase?
    • Most companies do not offer annual maintenance with your purchase, and some charge up to $400 for a cleaning!
      • We offer a free annual cleaning with minor repairs for the life of the costume! You just pay shipping to and from the studio. We deep clean the costume and fix any tears we see. If we assess that the costume needs advanced repairs (zipper replacement, knees patches, hands replaced, etc.) we will give you a written estimate and will only make repairs if approved. We find this service valuable to keep our characters looking their best. We want you to have an AMAZING!! Mascot for years!

If you can think of any questions we didn’t answer here, or would like more information on ordering a mascot costume, please feel free to contact us using the form below:

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How to Design a Mascot

McDonalds+Edit

This week the corporate mascot world was startled by the introduction of McDonald’s new mascot, “Happy.” The public was not humming Pharrel as they embraced the new icon. Rather they bashed it in standard social media terms as “nightmare fuel” and dubbing it “the happy meal that will eat your soul.” This is on the heels of revamping Ronald McDonald’s look to be hipper. With numerous characters with decades of brand equity, “Happy” doesn’t seem to make much sense. It can be assumed that the company thought “it worked in France!”

In the same week Chicago based Ferrara Candy company decided to revamp their iconic Lemonhead character and let him “grow up” into a blue eyed 22 year old who loves taking selfies. The giant blue BLINKING eyes, human body, and human tuft of hair give it a truly terrifying look. The team behind the Twitter account seems to acknowledge this and invoke a @TacoBell and @Skittles type of voice, so Lemon Chucky, I mean Head, might actually work as an ad campaign (just not as a costume!)

On one hand you can argue that the mascots are a success due to their social media/viral status. However I don’t think these were intended to be short term stunts but rather long term brand investments.

Here’s my advice when it comes to designing a mascot: HIRE A MASCOT DESIGN COMPANY!!!   I’m positive both of these characters were imaged by an ad agency/marketing firm complete with dozens of focus groups, meetings, meetings about meetings, and power point presentations. I own a mascot company, I make mascots. I would not be able to create and execute a complete advertising campaign (complete with media buys) for your company, so why would you expect an ad agency to know what works best for mascot design? An ad agency has various talented people but a graphic designer is no substitute for an experienced mascot design firm.  No agency has a “mascot engineer” who knows the best materials to use or what will/won’t translate from a drawing to a costume. A mascot company will also have a vast knowledge of past and present mascot designs and what did/didn’t work about them and help minimize the risk involved in launching a new character.

We recently produced a mascot costume that was designed by a very talented branding firm. They create great logos, however when we looked at their mascot design, we knew it would not work as drawn, and knew that some features would draw criticism. We took their artwork and merged it with our own to produce a unique performer friendly costume. While other new mascots who were introduced at the time got slammed, ours was the only one to receive positive feedback. It’s because WE KNOW MASCOTS.

A major university was in the process of reintroducing a mascot after several years and called for my feedback. I looked over their proposed designs, looked into their history, read what the student body was saying online, and said only one of the designs even had a chance of getting approved. It was the one closest to their former mascot that was axed for political correctness. I never heard back from them, but awhile later read that they had scrapped the entire idea of a new mascot and are going mascot less. They spent over $50,000 in research to come up with a conclusion I made in 30 minutes.

When we  begin the mascot design process I start off by talking to the team/company and finding what their needs are. How will the mascot be used (sports games, school shows, trade shows, outdoors/indoors, etc.)? What is more important for this character brand recognition or mobility/fun? Who will be wearing the costume? I then take any logos or artwork they have an come up with several pencil sketches of possibilities. The client gives feedback and I make the changes. Once the pencil sketch is approved I then create a color proof that we build the costume off of.

custom mascot costumecolor copy

So the next time you’re looking to introduce a new mascot, save yourself the inevitable “Poochie” references when you present a focus group created mascot and hire an experienced mascot design firm (Like AMAZING!! Mascots.)

In my next post I will elaborate on “How To Order a Mascot Costume” to educate potential mascot buyers what to look for and what to avoid.

 

Stay fuzzy my friends~ Kelly

How to be a baseball mascot part 1, pregame

allstar2008

Modern sports mascots as we known them today started in baseball back in 1974 when a college student working as a radio station chicken mascot performed at a San Diego Padres game.  The Famous Chicken, as he’d soon be known, performed for the station for 5 years before breaking free and holding his “Grand Hatching” in 1979. His popularity inspired other teams to get characters of their own and the mascot industry was born. Characters such as the Phillie Phanatic (1978), Fredbird/Cardinals (1979) and Orioles Bird (1979) have stood the test of time while others (Dandy/Yankees 1980, Ribbie & Rhoobarb/White Sox 81-88) faded away.

Baseball is the perfect venue for a mascot. The pace of the game, with its’ inning breaks and pitching changes, create multiple opportunities for a mascot to strut his/her stuff.

Here are suggestions on how to perform as a mascot at a baseball game, based on my 13+ years of performing at ballparks:

Pregame

This is a great time to mingle, greet fans, and with players. It is one of your best opportunities for spontaneous  crowd and player interactions. Greeting fans at “gates open” is a fun way to welcome customers into your park. If you schedule it as a photo session it is possible to get sponsors involved.pigsegway

After greeting people at the gates, head to the field about 15-30 minutes prior to game time. Use this time to stretch with the home team, harass the opposing team as they warm up, and cruise around on an ATV or other mascot vehicle.

Interacting with opposing players is a delicate dance. While the majority of ballplayers are welcoming, some are not. I suggest starting your antics at a distance, judging the player’s reaction, and gradually moving in. If a player tells you to go away, leave. Try and find someone else. Just because you’re a mascot raymond stretchesdoesn’t mean you need to be a jerk. Over time you may even develop a relationship with certain players or entire teams. I spent years goofing around with the Orioles and knew they could be counted on to have fun, leading to some memorable interactions such as this video <click here>. I also cultivated a relationship with Angel Berroa which lead to this funny moment <click here> while working a game in Kansas City. The master of pregame antics is the Phillie Phantic.  He has tried to arrest a Mets player, grown impatient with umpires, and just been a general goof. The Pirate Parrot also has great pregame antics.

Playing with umpires is much like working with the players, except they actually have the authority to eject you from a game. Umps are under a lot of stress and are subject to the verbal beatings of the crowd. In the majors I pretty much left them alone, except to occasionally salute them or wedge my way into their pregame conversation when the lineup cards are delivered. In the minors they were more game to play. Try and introduce yourself to the umpire crew before the game. By letting them see the person in the suit they’re more inclined to play with you.

On big games, you can use this time to pump up the crowd. During the 2008 MLB playoffs I would ride out to center field with my drum and some signs. I would rev the engine to get the crowds’ attention. Then I would bang on the drum to get them pumped up. I then set the signs on the ground so they could see what they said. One read “Tampa” the other “Bay.” I would gesture that left field was Tampa, right field was “Bay” and then do a 1-2-3 count and start the cheer side by side. After that cheer I’d pick up the drum and do a series of 3 beats leading the entire crowd in a “Let’s go Rays!” chant.

Generally pregame schtick goes on until either player introductions or the anthem. If they introduce the opposing team its a great time to head over to the opposing side and be unimpressed with their lineup. I would often give sarcastic claps, yawn, or just fall asleep on the field. When they announced the pitcher I would pantomime throwing a pitch and batter getting a home run.  After the low energy of the opposing team, it’s a good idea run over to the home team side and react as they introduce your players. You can flex your muscles, beat your chest, act like you knocked it out of the park, etc. You can even develop a certain move for each player.

Once it’s time for the anthem, it’s time to chill out. Do not be disrespectful. It’s best to just stand still, remove your hat (if possible), and listen to the anthem. The anthem singer is excited for their moment, let them have it. Once he/she is done, feel free to give them a hug, bow down to them, kiss their feet, or act as their escort off the field.

Next up is usually a ceremonial first pitch. Again be respectful of someone elseplay ball how to be a mascot moment. A mascot can either act as a catcher or umpire. After that it’s usually the “play ball” kid. This is a young fan or fans that gets to “say those magic words” to start the game. I would just stand near them and high five or hug them once they were complete.

And now it’s game time! And after all of that, it’s usually time to take a break and get ready for 9 innings of baseball!

To be continued…..

Stay Fuzzy my friends~ Kelly