Having been in discussion with an old friend possibly even more enamoured with the game show than myself, I’d a feeling – as indeed I do on every conversation – that his unabashed delight in cheesy presenters, sparkly sets and strobe lights would rub off on me. And I was right. He’s a terrible influence.
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire launched on ITV in September 1998, coming after years of developing and tweaking the format of both the quiz and the show itself. Stripped in half-hour bursts across two weeks, the show was an instant success – in subsequent series, it would boast audiences of almost twenty million, even with the rapid increase of satellite alternatives, and soon it’d have travelled the world. The computer game was the best-selling of the year 2000. It left its rivals, offering cars and a couple of grand, in the dark. Millionaire was perhaps the last ‘event’ game show, and in its favour was its universal accessibility. People used to be talking about it in the playground at first school – we simply couldn’t fathom such monstrous sums of money. I expect we weren’t alone in that view.
It was the cleverness of its construction that allowed even we, aged only six and seven when it started, to engage in the programme. Pitching the questions as multiple-choice and presenting them for the duration not only cajoled bullish contenders into chancing their arm, but it also meant that everyone at home could have a go, with a decent chance of indeed being correct whether you had the foggiest idea what the question was asking or not. Instantly, there was a connection – you were active viewers, and your thought process informed the narrative between yourself and the contestant, which might have already been dictated by their outwardly laddish tendencies or crippling nerves. Superiority or regret was amply topped up. Only fuelling this – one way or another! – was the stewardship of Chris Tarrant; invariably incensing in his lengthy pauses and stalls, he was also very good at making you care about what was going on. You couldn’t imagine anyone else doing the job.
I was most powerfully fascinated, though, by the show’s set as a child (weird kid). Designed with the show’s capacity for theatre very much in mind, the round, stepped-up nature exacerbated the isolation aspect, while also offering potential to be unitive in atmosphere. True to the game show, it had its share of shine and strobe, but they were used in a very different way, again only adding to the tension of the thing. I was fascinated by the way the lights would go up and down, the house lights dropping darker the further the player ventured, until it was just them and Chris visible.
Who Wants To Be A Millionaire was not only a historic game show, but really is the reason for much of the television that has followed. The dark, spotlit sets. The dramatic music scores. The focus on emotion. Big viewing figures. Indeed, the bar was only going to go up (or down, depending on what you might think!) and it wasn’t long before Millionaire‘s playbook was stolen. Once the jackpot had been bagged, though, the moment had passed rather, and interest began to wane, big wins became less of a story, certainly compared to cheating ehe-NO!-m Majors trying to con their way to the cash.
In the subsequent years, the show slipped steadily into irrelevance – shifting from stripped five days a week to early Tuesday night, and subject to several last-ditch format reversions, none of which worked. Tarrant quit in 2013, with the final show going out quietly the next year. Something of a shame really, though I won’t pretend it shouldn’t have gone many years earlier. Much better off remembered as the unstoppable force it was in its pomp.
The Who Wants To Be A Millionaire set was, I believe, the very first thing I tried to build in 3D nearly half a decade ago now – mainly because I thought it looked simple. I soon realised it was far from such, but nevertheless, the way that shapes actually seemed to be, and the ease in which colours and textures were falling into the view-port, made me want to explore the subject in greater depth.
With my confidence increasing recently, and with this quizzy shot in the arm, I thought I’d give Millionaire another go, to see if I could master the whole lighting business, a practice in which I’m lagging slightly. The floor would also be a challenge.
The build was refreshingly simple, if laborious at times. Lots and lots of radial cloning. As I thought, replicating the glass-and-dish construct of the floor was tough; all about achieving the right texture – namely, that crooked, shard motif. It didn’t turn out quite as I hoped, but I think it’s at least on the right lines.
The lights were rather more difficult than expected. I did not know how to get the snazzy pattern to show on the floor, nor could I find anywhere that told me; this suggests that either I’m insane in wanting to do this, or it’s so blindingly simple that no advice is necessary. In the end, I put a disc with the pattern cut out of it, directly in front of the spotlight falloff, and grouped it. It worked a charm, and once I’d started setting them properly, the stage began to really look Millionaire-ish in appearance.
I even rendered a quick video of the lights going down – as mentioned earlier, one of the most vivid draws of the show for me when I was little. There’s something rather stilted about the animation compared to the routine on TV, and I’m not quite sure why that is, but it was nice to try and the descent into darkness is very satisfying. In that hobbled-together effort, I intertwined my 3D with some graphics I made back in 2012, which were created with a view to actually recording a couple of ‘academic’ Millionaire episodes for a sixth form. Purple was their colour, so purple was what they got! Sadly it never happened – perhaps they realised it was out of their budget? – but I still have the visuals, I suppose now merely fan art:
So that’s Millionaire. Given that I’ve only spent a couple of days on this, and it took me three years to complete the Countdown set, I think I fared rather well. I at least learnt a lot in setting up and animating spot lights. Now I just need to explore glassy stuff in more detail, and try and preferably come up with a solution that doesn’t take three-quarters of an hour to render one frame.
Constructing the set did give me greater appreciation for the efforts of the old games, which generally were well done, especially looking back after fifteen years. The PlayStation 2 version, which came complete with a CGI Chris Tarrant was, quite naturally, hilarious.