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Monthly Archives: February 2016

AF-kane-01About fifteen or sixteen years ago, I got pretty heavily into the circus of the WWF. My father was, my brother was, my best friend was, so it seemed the natural progression from whatever else I was into at the time (genuinely can’t remember).

Being under the age of ten, this meant a steady swarm of WWF merchandise was to follow. Videos, PlayStation games, CDs, masks… the usual stuff. But the stream that drained the pocket of my mother and I the most, was that of the action figures. They came in at around seven pounds a pop, and I must have bought about seventy of the things. There were so many different types. Ones that talked. Ones that performed their own moves. There was even one series called I believe ‘Maximum Sweat’, which did what it said on the tin. I think that came just before I broke in, though, so I didn’t have those.

I can remember being so excited to get my first ones, and the boxes teased you by showing you all the others you just had to buy. Looking back, I’m not really sure why I wanted them so badly – I would easily tire of them and scarcely touch them again, rendering them even more a waste of money than anybody commented at the time. Curiously enough, my brother says similar about his over-expansive collection of Batman toys; the only recollection I have of him playing with those is with me on a couple of Saturday mornings. I daresay he spent far less on those, though! I guess it’s just the boy and his toys.

Inexplicably, I found myself becoming bored of WWF (by then WWE) when I noticed I was paying more attention to those tight trunks than I was the ‘story’ being told. This being said, these chaps were still turning up for years after at Christmas and birthdays. The last one I ever got, for my fourteenth birthday, André the Giant, stands on my bookshelf waving at me… well, I would say every morning, but these days it’s rarely morning when I get up. André’s comrades are hidden under my bed in a crate. I’ve thought about it many times, but I’ve never been able to get rid of them.

There was one figure I remember searching high and low for, and never finding: Kane. He was a masked, seven-foot beast and the storyline brother to The Undertaker. I was largely indifferent toward the character, but he was a big star and it seemed that I owned the figure of virtually every other wrestler ever to compete; this was for the sake of completion. After waxing nostalgic on these bad boys, some doodling spiralled into this – essentially making my own Kane… in Photoshop, of course. This is a relatively new model but is based on his 2000 look, so precisely my era. I painted rather than sketched in my usual fashion, to try and give a smoother, more plasticky finish, then broke the figure up into its joints. It was sweet to have a pose-able Kane at long last; below are some of the results.

Kiddy me is smiling. I might do some more of these using my own collection, we’ll see.

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pancakes-0Another (quickish – just under an hour) experiment with Corel’s pastels, with some follow-up Photoshop tweaks. Pancakes! To be honest, I only knew it was Shrove Tuesday when Nick Hewer told me in opening today’s Countdown. I’ll have to get some ingredients and have a good toss some other day of the week… I look forward to that.

ejectorseat0021The wild ride in store for this edition is another at the scary end of the park, and surely one of the most ominous of all – Ejection Seat, Slingshot, reverse bungee, whatever you want to call it, it’s evil. Or at least it looks evil to me… I’ve never been on it, don’t be ridiculous.

We had one called Ejector Seat that appeared at the Pleasure Beach in the late 90s – it wasn’t this colourful, mind… in fact it looked old from the get-go and I’m sure had never even seen a lick of paint – but they’ve been around since the mid 70s. It’s an intimate ride, with only two seats in a rather modest gondola. This is attached to two giant arms by elastic cord. When the riders are in place, the gondola is raised by a crane into position, and there’s terrible suspense as the elastic cord strengthens down from the top. Then, the operator would typically yell “HEADS BACK!!!” as if your life depended on it – it probably did, to be fair – and seconds later, you are released and off you go, ejected at horrifying speed into space, and essentially flung around freely until the cords relax and you are lowered back down, very much a changed person. Much like the bungee jumping it tried to compete with, it was not without dangers; I’m sure I heard that passengers had to sign a contract beforehand, saying they know of the risks involved.

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The main reason for picking this ride was to experiment with some more of Cinema 4D’s dynamics – I searched for tutorials on actual slingshots as I thought I could then transplant it into the ride. This led me to the Cloth tool, which, it turns out, is excellent! So very simple to achieve results with. The ‘Cloth Belt’ tool is another wonder, and did exactly what I wanted; it allows an object to hold onto a point of a Cloth object, essentially letting it hang. It’d be good for clothes on a washing line…

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…or indeed good for our ride. There was a lot of fumbling around with various forces and air resistance and flexibility and too many to name, but it was exciting to see it gradually come together. I made two cords, one for each side – they are ‘belted’ onto the top of the tower and a notch of the gondola. By just moving the gondola around, the cords react dynamically in real-time, which is most enjoyable!

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Stills don’t do the dynamics justice, so I rendered a quick video of it bouncing around:

Not the most artistically beautiful of my fairground beasts to date, but surely the most valuable exercise, delving beyond the modelling and starting to look at some of the enviable powers afforded to this program. More soon.

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…Blobby Blobby Blobby! I don’t know whether to apologise to those outside the UK for introducing you to Mr. Blobby, or to those inside the UK for reintroducing you to Mr. Blobby. Perhaps both would be wise.

Mr. Blobby was a fixture of Saturday night TV in the 90s, the sidekick to Noel Edmonds on the hugely popular Noel’s House Party. He was created as part of the ‘Gotcha’ segment – an elaborate prank played on various celebrities, captured for our amusement – but apparently became so popular with the audience that he not only earned his spot on the program as a recurring character, but also spilled out into other avenues.

Like the 1993 Christmas Number One. Yes, that song.

Wikipedia says there was a follow-up in 1995, Christmas in Blobbyland, which bombed in comparison. I genuinely had no idea.

I shouldn’t really criticise the character, though, for I loved Blobby at the time, and seemed to fall for a lot of the merchandise. I had Blobby toys and always used to get cans of Blobby pink lemonade from Woolworths (that’s going back, too). For my second birthday, which would have been just a month after that wonderful song topped the chart, I had a Blobby birthday cake – it was quite a marvel, and it’s lucky I wasn’t older as I probably wouldn’t have let it be eaten otherwise.

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Don’t I look impressed?

Blobby’s repertoire of waddling about and saying nothing but “Blobby Blobby Blobby!” did, surprisingly, get stale after a while – eventually the character faded away, much like House Party itself. By the end, the only real enduring feature for me was the Gotcha. The one they played on Richard Whiteley was and remains excellent; on a scale of its own, they rigged and recorded a whole brilliantly nightmarish episode of Countdown with the most troublesome (and flatulent) contestants ever. Astonishingly, only a few minutes ever made it to air, but the uncut recording session is on YouTube. Highly recommended.

How hilarious it is to see Whiteley trying so hard (and failing) to keep patient and salvage the programme right to the end. Mr Blobby didn’t feature – that might have given the game away, even to Richard. But, while most younger than me will likely have very little idea of what on earth this thing is, Blobby continues to crop up here and there, and, for all the foibles I can now observe, the memories of coming together as a family to watch Noel’s House Party on a Saturday evening are, collectively, very fond ones.

j-brollyToday is Time to Talk Day, on which we are encouraged to have conversations about mental health, and in particular extend our hand to those suffering from mental health problems, to remind them that they are not alone, they are not weak, and that they do matter.

I silently endured depression and anxiety for four years, beginning at sixteen, shortly before my GCSEs. They were failed for definite, I would tell myself, and I would abuse myself with visions of success that were now apparently out of reach. That, in itself, probably wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. But it spiralled, so massively. When alone, I would cry floods of tears without really knowing why. I would fantasise about my own death, have visions of my funeral, and see so assuredly that the place would be brighter without me in it, so why not hurry that along? It was toxic – toxic in that the darkest thoughts felt good. I kept pushing myself to go to the doctor several times over that period, but each time my mind managed to convince me not to go. I don’t doubt that this prevention was a form of self-harm in itself – beside the sheer embarrassment, I didn’t ever think I deserved to be listened to. It really didn’t help that every time I tried to talk to them, my parents said I was just being silly – there was obviously nothing wrong with me. I was just lazy, grumpy, just a typical teenager. It took a breakdown for them and indeed anybody to realise that something actually was wrong.

Trust me, that is not how you want it to go. As inadequate a warning as that probably is, you really don’t have to let it go that far. The time after that was the lowest I’ve ever been; I gave up my degree months from completion, riddling me with failure; I stopped working, and spent most of Christmas hiding in the dark, under a duvet (never asleep, though), when I wasn’t running away from telephone calls, or locking myself in the bathroom to get out of speaking to the nurse so concerned he turned up unannounced. I felt as though I’d lost all sense of communication, which lead to me becoming disconnected from my family – supportive though they continued to be – and losing virtually all of my friends. In 2013, at my lowest, I did leave the house with a view to never returning, though, thank heavens, something pulled me away from that mindset on the day.

It seemed that, since then, I actually found myself seeking the ears of others more than I had done. I’m not sure exactly what it was that clicked; perhaps a revelation that I didn’t want to die after all? As I’ve said before, it’s all about finding the lights in the dark. People who are not necessarily doctors or professionals, but those that listen, even if they haven’t a clue how to respond. It is the absolute hardest thing I’ve done, ever. But the mere release is huge. Indeed, blogging and the web as a whole helped me tremendously in this regard – I see it as something of an ‘in between’ the silence and conversation, allowing you to speak but with the anonymity that comes with online exchanges – it was an excellent starting block for me and the responses were all so lovely and caring. I also found myself writing letters to my doctor and preparing notes for our sessions, which helped no end in getting it all out.

It’s still difficult – my depression has not gone away, no matter how much I rattle with pills or how familiar I am to my GP. I miss my old friends – well, a couple of them. But what I do know is that I began 2016 feeling stronger than I had for a long time – dare I say, I was even optimistic about it – and that can’t be a coincidence, with some of the outings, revelations and progressions made last year by just opening my mouth, and indeed through wittering on via WordPress to such lovely people as yourself. You never know, I might even find a job soon! Perhaps that might offer just a shred of hope to someone – when you are ready, it will happen. There are so many stories of recovery out there.

A conversation about mental health can be one of the most crucial you ever have – and today is all about educating and removing the stigma, allowing these to become less of a daunting prospect for both parties. Indeed, the purpose of this post was primarily not to tell you about my ordeal but to offer that listening ear to anybody out there reading this – please feel free to comment and we can have a chat. I’ve mentioned already the benefit I felt using the internet as a starting point; a further bonus is that you don’t even have to actually get under the umbrella with that strange chap!

For information about today and for support on both sides, see the Time to Change site; Rethink and Mind have similar material. You can contact The Samaritans if you are in urgent need of help.

SaSSaM“SPELL [INDISTINCT].”

Inspired by Charlie, who sadly left these chaps out of his retro toy series – the Speak & Spell and Speak & Maths had to settle for this place instead, turned into 3D models. Building these in Cinema 4D was about as fun as you’d expect.

I grew up in the 90s, but being the youngest of five meant few of my toys were actually new; the majority were inherited from my siblings who grew up in the 70s and 80s. Two such wonders were these (it appears there was also a yellow Speak & Read available, but we didn’t have that, or perhaps it just didn’t survive to 1992). It was an impressive piece of kit for my infant self to play with then, never mind for the kids of the late 70s – it spoke and knew. I used to call it a computer (probably because I wasn’t allowed near our actual computer… and when I did go on it, the printer invariably started smoking. But I digress.) which might not have been so far out as I later thought: as is to be expected by now, YouTube has all the answers. This chap covers everything you could possibly wish to know about the Speak & Spell, so that’s my cue to zip it. Enjoy.