Leo Obstbaum | 1969-2009

Graphic Designer, VANOC Director of Design

"The only thing that matters in life is if you do or don't do things with your heart"

I was born in Argentina, and moved to Barcelona at the age of four. I have been interested in the world of visual art since childhood. I studied Integrated Communications at Icomi school specializing in Corporate Identity. I moved to Vancouver in December 2005 because I fell in love with the city when I first went there on my honeymoon with my Canadian wife. On the Vancouver 2010 website I came across the job posting for the position of design director. I made a resume for the first time in my life, and sent it to the Organizing Committee. Two months later, a lifelong dream came true when I got the job. Like so many designers, I was very interested in the Games as a design platform. Although I’m not a person that plays a lot of sport, I have always been inspired by athletes, not necessarily the stars, but athletes in general. Seeing people that struggle every day for a dream, waking up early in the morning and training, while the rest of us sleep, and never giving up on their pursuit of excellence and perfection…it inspires me. I wanted to be part of this and create an environment that can help them to achieve their goals and at the same time inspire others, in different fields.

The design process for the graphic identity and pictograms that will come to life as the Look of the Games started in March 2006. We travelled around the city as “tourists”, and spent many hours in libraries, galleries, stores, and any other place that might provide us with ideas and inspiration. We wanted to find what it was that most unique about Vancouver, Whistler and Canada, not just at a macro level, but also at a micro level. We searched for everything that was uniquely Canadian.
After our field trips, and particularly one on Vancouver’s North Shore, we found the answer. We were looking for words and images that would help us define the concept, and the word was transformation. As usual, the weather was constantly changing – transforming the landscape and light and atmosphere in a way that was very dramatic and full of energy. Canada is a country that’s in constant transformation. The country’s culture is always evolving because of the combination and fusion of cultures. Vancouver is a city that blends with nature; it is surrounded and shaped by the sea, rivers and mountains - they are all one. And transformation is a concept that has been central to the art and stories of the local Indigenous people for thousands of years.

So we arrived back at the studio, and we started to create mood boards, to define what we were seeing in terms of words and images. We shared ideas, debated them, merged them, and kept playing until the final concept came to life. After this, we worked at defining a style, looking at trends and emerging styles, and trying to figure out how we could create something new and relevant…something unique to the West Coast and Canada. It had to be something that told the story of this time and place. Once the visual style was defined, we started to create designs. We knew what we wanted to say, but didn’t know exactly how we would do this. We tried everything that could be tried and more… and the conclusion was that Canada is not about one voice; it is about multiple voices that are unique but combine together to make something even more beautiful. So we worked a lot around the idea of fusion, combining contrasting elements like a graffiti wall with something natural, or combining the world’s western and eastern cultures. We eventually created all the illustrations, textures, patterns and elements that make up the graphic identity.

We hope to inspire people not only about sport, but also about Canada’s culture and environment. If you have any opportunity to work for an Olympic and Paralympic Organizing Committee, don’t think twice. It will change your life.


Editor's notice: Leo Obstbaum did not live to see "his" games. He passed away unexpectedly on August 21st, 2009, two month before his 40th birthday.