What better way to spend my Sunday evening? And with my usual good timing, as Channel 4 was thirty-three years and six days old. In honesty, I’d been wanting to recreate one of the classic C4 idents for a very long time, but only last night did I actually take to Cinema and have a proper go. It’s a bit cumbersome at the moment, but I’m still in the process of tweaking.
These idents mean much to me, not just because they heralded the likes of Countdown and The Crystal Maze. I have vivid memories of being absolutely fascinated by them when I was a child; the colours, the pomp, the grace as it formed on the screen… along with the now rather corny Blockbusters title sequence on ITV, it just left me awed and made me want to do stuff like it.
Channel 4 launched to much excitement on 2 November 1982, taking the monopoly of commercial telly away from ITV and indeed, it was devised to provide a genuine alternative to they and the BBC… to show challenging programmes of ambition and diversity that others would be afraid of showing. To be risky. I guess that’s why they began, after a brief preview, with Countdown.
C4 do not make any of their own programmes – all come from external production companies. This is the rationale behind the iconic logo.
Isn’t that incredible? Imagine that bursting onto your television in 1982! Certainly, it trumped its stablemates in the presentation department (and indeed it has carried that accolade for most, if not all of its life so far). It was a time when you had no hope of hopping onto a computer and making a shoddy mock of your own, as I did yesterday. The series of idents were developed by Lambie-Nairn, taking several months and requiring relocation to America for rendering as nowhere in the UK had hardware capable of pulling such sophisticated graphics off. They aged so well that they were still being used in 1996 – though with different musical accompaniment – arguably, they could have continued a way beyond that. The idents introduced in 2004 were clearly referencing the originals, taking the concept on board and delivering it in a fun and contemporary way:
This September, fresh presentation launched and because they’re still ultra-cool and risky, they appear to have completely broken the blocks altogether in these (certainly quirky!) short films – the logo never appears fully-formed.
One could suggest the fragmentation is indicative of the channel’s health – it’s certainly not as edgy as it once was, even discounting the fact that there are hundreds of channels designed to emulate its initial remit. It relies too much on certain programmes that could hardly be classed as ambitious, meaning its genuinely decent offerings get overlooked. Others, however, might just attribute these to the immense strength of the logo and the blocks themselves… and they’d be right. They’re growing on me with each encounter, but I will always pine for the ceremony and simplicity of the original package.
In 2011, while at university, I worked on a project whereby I revived the classic idents in a novel way, centred on the following year’s thirtieth birthday for the channel. With it sharing the anniversary with the ZX Spectrum, I sought to combine the two, partly because I had no knowledge of 3D animation at the time, but also to address that notion that nobody could build anything like these in their bedroom.
I quickly learnt that it was indeed true. Rarely in my time creating art or graphics have I been close to pulling every hair from my head in frustration, but this was definitely one of them. A single frame took an age and, not being much of a coder, let alone one from the 80s, I didn’t have a deadline friendly enough to try and animate anything. The finished ‘tape’ proved a bit of a disappointment, but I guess it was an interesting exercise that not everyone my age has been privy to.
I might work on these graphics some more, just to warn you. After all, who doesn’t love playing with blocks?