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3D

Yes, it’s what you’ve long clamoured for – and that’s a nine-letter word.

A return visit to this Countdown malarkey (only eight, but a darn good word) is, admittedly, normally code for having a thirst to create but a total drought of practical (nine letters) ideas – it’s often the way, or vice versa. Had I the skills before, though, I probably would have gone straight to this one, rather than chip away at the very wooden predecessor. It was a bit of a nightmare with curve upon curve, and troublesome splines all over – a lot of the successes came from just winging it, but I guess that’s part of the fun. I’m pretty pleased with what I eventually coaxed out of the chaos, and I’d hope it’s all the better for the time that’s passed since my last go.

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A retro look for the early nineties, the show went truly overboard (nine!) with lights – hundreds of the things, in strands strung from the clock in chevron-esque ‘wings’, which I always presumed was a grandiose (again!) nod to producer Yorkshire TV’s logo-mark, but I could have overthought that. They would even blink when somebody scored the ultimate goal of a nine-letter word – a reward whose manner probably says all that need be said of Countdown.

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With all that flash and the show being at its peak during the nineties, it’s probably the definitive Countdown look for many; it’s certainly the one in which the warmest memories are wrapped up for me, spending half an hour each day in the company of avuncular pun-master and sartorial deckchair, Richard Whiteley and, in the perfect TV/dinner partnership, a bowl of Alphabetti spaghetti. (I think it’s this wistful nostalgia that tricked me into thinking that stuff tasted good!) I’m moved to think of my grandfather excitedly telling me that Countdown was about to start and sitting me on his knee, or asking if I managed to outdo the contestants last time. The answer was always no, but he knew that one day I would figure it out, and, sure enough, I did! Appropriately for a game dominated by a big clock, Countdown over its thirty-five years has forged an affinity with time like no other TV show I can think of – both my grandfather and Richard are now much-missed memories, but they come to mind whenever the music hits. They were happy days.

There are probably several nine-letter words in there.

cd94F2All this being said, it figures that it jarred somewhat when the show was given a makeover, but the flowing locks live on as that thing of unmatched beauty, the victor’s teapot, which takes its form even today.


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I should put this in the Timepiece series – yes, the one I started in September and haven’t added to since; a much-needed kick up the arse for it, let’s hope it works! And it’s not like it’s unjust. The nation can continue without Big Ben, but I wouldn’t fancy our chances if the Countdown clock were silenced, would you!? Long may the clock tick.

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It’s quite a departure from the usual Norfolk landscape, with two hundred foot chimneys and silos on the bank of the River Yare. This is Cantley Sugar Factory, which opened in 1912 and has slowly but surely grown into the monster you see today – one of only four sugar beet factories left in the UK.

It has a reputation as something of an eyesore, and that’s understandable. It seems to threaten the puny windpumps across the river, who try their best to defy by facing the other way. It’ll loom over many a photograph. But, having grown up fascinated by the immediate juxtaposition of old and new industry – like gasometers and inexplicably tall chimneys of the old power station – I don’t really mind it. For me, it’s just another piece of the landscape.

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That being said, after taking the perceptions into consideration and having looked at some shots of the machinery, I did get a thirst for the excessively industrial; something harsh and overbearing. With that, I found my way to 3D and started randomly throwing steel and piping together:

Less regimented and just a bit of a mess at the moment – perhaps that works in its favour? – but it’s thrown up some exciting ideas. Maybe there’s something in a typeface using these elements? It would be fun to try and construct some monstrous three-dimensional letters, but it seems as though it could look rather sharp in 2D.

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I feel like the title of this post promised so much but delivered so little – sorry about that. Perhaps one day I’ll draw a sugar daddy to make amends. It’d be rude not to.

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The idea that I’m playing with windmills on a regular basis probably won’t surprise any friend of this blog.

This week it was reported that £4million is being pumped into the Water, Mills and Marshes project. Among other pursuits afforded by the grant, twelve derelict mills are set to be cleaned up, restored with the assistance of mind-bending 3D laser technology and, most importantly, preserved for the future.

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So, in response to such happy news, here’s an assortment of old mill and pump studies, 2D and 3D, given a splash of colour and some Photoshop filters. They might not have found a place in my postings over the last couple of months, but they certainly come together here, in celebration of these beautiful structures.

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I’m not sure quite how far the grant money will stretch, but perhaps, in years to come, there will be a few more sights like this about the Broads. Here’s hoping!

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At the risk of developing square eyes, another attempt at computing modelling using a computer, and moving into the eighties we have the legendary ZX Spectrum, developed by one Clive Sinclair. Released in the spring of 1982 to enormous demand, the Spectrum championed rubber-keyed home computing, and at an affordable price; the launch model sold for £125, significantly cheaper than virtually any competitor of the day. It quickly became Britain’s best-selling computer and would go on to perform just as well across Europe.

I believe the +2, a 128k revision released in 1986 which I’ve attempted to model here, was our first home computer – though, sadly, I don’t think things got off to a great start. It can’t have had a particularly impressive lifespan, as my only recollection of it was broken in a container gathering dust, while the later +2A model was wowing the family with the likes of Trap Door, OutRun and Blockbusters. This successor seemed to power on valiantly until it was thought obsolete circa 2000 and, criminally, disposed of.

I wasn’t ever allowed near it that much – I barely knew how to use it anyway – but I do have vivid memories of sitting and watching others play these games; games that weren’t on a par with visual quality to our snazzy 16-bit consoles that I could play, but were still engaging, and in some ways felt more fun. The bright colours surely helped, and perhaps being branded unworthy of touching the thing alone did, too… but I’m sure there was more to it than that, for its impact hasn’t lessened in twenty years of my time, nor thirty-five years of technological progress.

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One of the Spectrum’s biggest triumphs was melding the computing and gaming offering, going one step further and encouraging enthusiasts to create their own games, aided by bespoke software and publications. Magazines would print reams of code on a regular basis. I daresay a large number of today’s programmers cut their teeth on the Speccy, and that introductory element, tapping into the creativity of its audience in such a way surely goes some way to explain why its users remember it so fondly.

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With such enduring features on its side, the Spectrum had a long life and saw off most of its contemporaries from the early eighties. It was discontinued in 1992, after multiple refreshes and revisions, though games would continue to trickle out in some regions for a couple of years. This being said, the machine is far from dead; the community thrives, and excitingly you will find homebrew games are still being put together to this day. Proof, if ever it were needed, that there is something magic about the ZX Spectrum.

ZXSpectrumplus2_0049AI do hope you can see some visual improvements in these renders. I’ve finally figured out how to operate the depth of field tools and capabilities! It’s something I was a little daunted by, blindly changing configurations and hoping for the best, but already it’s throwing out some promising aesthetics, giving scenes a far greater physicality. The keys may be way off, but the effect is nice, so that’s okay! It’s a great tool to have at my disposal as I continue ambling through this modelling lark.

One of the games I remember very clearly from back in the day is Batman The Movie, based on Tim Burton’s first outing with the Caped Crusader. I still love its soundtrack. It’s still bloody hard!

atari2600-1Now we can play Pong at home!

With another veritable brainwave, I decided to have a look at some home computers and consoles for 3D inspiration. There isn’t really a better starting point than the Atari VCS, or, as it was later known, the Atari 2600.

A response to the increasing popularity of arcade games like the aforementioned table tennis simulation, Atari invested $100 million into the development of this home system prior to its eventual release in September 1977. It was introduced at a price of $199.99, which sounds relatively reasonable, until you factor in forty years of inflation. This is equivalent to almost eight hundred dollars today! Such might explain why sales were decidedly modest to begin with. Eventually, though, the console gained momentum, and at its peak in 1982 sold over eight million units, the first machine to do such impressive business and prove demand for home gaming beyond any doubt.

atari2600-2Though there were many highlights, with a string of arcade hits improved for making the jump to cartridge and colour, complicated hardware coupled with the increasing demand and saturation of the video game market in the early eighties saw individual titles suffer, with many being rushed if not scrapped altogether. Perhaps the most notable example of such a rush job is E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, a colossal failure and regarded by many as the worst game ever made. While I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, I have played it, and can confirm it is indeed quite the experience.

All of this being said, the 2600 was incredibly resilient. It comfortably outlived many of its technically superior contemporaries – games were still being made in the early nineties, well into the 16-bit era, and of course nostalgia prevails to this day. A fitting tenure and legacy for the console that, however rough around the edges, surely started it all. Pretty fun to model, too.

atari2600-3Fancy a game? Here’s some footage of E.T. for you. You’re welcome.

WWF-RING0021In one of those ‘why didn’t I try this years ago?’ moments, I thought I’d have a go at modelling a WWF wrestling ring, replete with the classic blue bar steel cage of the eighties and nineties.

Back in those days, this was as risky as the product got; the scores of ring technicians scuttling around the ring slowly setting up the structure meant something big was coming up. The denouement. Its relative low frequency coupled with the old routine of longer, slow-burn storylines made the confines of the cage a perfectly powerful climax. Even as the show grew edgier, its legacy maintained a presence.

WWF-RING0018Naturally, the ring itself came first. The WWF’s ‘squared circle’ was and still is larger than your average ring, at 20ft x 20ft. Having the dimensions available online made this a lot less daunting.

Texturing here, specifically the placement of logos, took longer than it probably should have at this stage, but once I’d figured it out, it was fun putting multiple candidates onto the ring apron, and the overhanging flag. Some worked better than others…

Rage in the Cage was not a title of a legitimate WWF event – at least, not to my knowledge – but a wrestling game for the ill-fated MegaCD. Indeed, it might have been the only wrestling game on the platform. (It wasn’t very good!)

I did have a go at some lighting rigs, mostly for the Cloth flag, but also to try and replicate that classic effect of the long streaks from the dizzy heights which seem to add so much to the spectacle (along with the relentless camera flashes, which are much missed whenever I catch newer clips). I did think better of trying to build and render an entire stadium. Perhaps this particular match up just hasn’t drawn as hoped? Or maybe it’s an Empty Arena Cage match?

WWF-RING0019It looks a little toylike and plastic in places, no doubt because of my texturing. I suppose such an aesthetic is not necessarily a bad thing; nine-year old me would have loved a blue cage for my wrestling ring play-set!

WWF-RING0020Several options from the blue bars era that spring to mind, but I’m choosing this 1988 clash pitting André the Giant against Hulk Hogan; not only because it was the culmination of their legendary feud of eighteen months, but it also features one of my favourite commentators’ lines, from the ever-reliable Lord Alfred Hayes as The Giant starts his climb to victory:

“Gosh, look at André!! He’s like some huge prehistoric creature up there!”

Classic.

stream-1Ah, the stream.

It’s one of those natural spots where you could happily wile away hours at a time, watching the water trickle along. As transpired with the piece above, the setting is just as meditative to draw, which was just as well, really. I loosely referenced a shot of the rocky stream beneath Ashness Bridge of the Lake District, taken by my friend Mark. Not to peddle an ulterior motive, of course, but he’s a fantastic photographer – do take a look at his gallery!

bamill-3Obviously, another inspirational landmark is the windmill. Have I ever said that before? It’s enough of a link to justify bundling this in here as an extra! It’s just a little experimentation, really; I’d been tinkering with some environmental lighting and attempting to create a foggy view – the impressive Berney Arms Mill rising above the morning mist with her brand new sails.

BAmill0012Quite handily, it meant that I didn’t actually have to render that troublesome terrain! This could breathe a bit of life into the landscapes I’ve been modelling, so it appears both of these streams are flowing.