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Animation

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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I’m sorry if this post is a little overloaded. I might have overdone it a tad with GIFs, here. Just going with the flow – as indeed I was when I started drawing some letters thinking about the strong industrial take of my last post.

In this first attempt, it was a case of taking the piping down its simplest form – helped, as always, by staying well away from colour – and then having the glyph flow through. There are sequences for every letter, but they’re all the same deal and so I thought better of uploading twenty-six GIFs to one post.

Nothing much else to it, really, but the sweeping nature is quite effective and I’m pretty chuffed with it for an evening’s work.

It’s nice to be getting addicted to lettering again – it was always the discipline I enjoyed the most. All the more exciting is that my drawings and other areas are now informing and feeding into it. Possibilities abound – yay!

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thurne-motorI’ve put my windmill models into action before, using keyframes to bookend the motion of the sails. This time around, however, I’m playing with some of the software’s simulation tools and sticking the sails onto a Motor object. As you’d expect, this works rather like a continuous supply of energy, allowing objects to move or spin, depending on your configuration. It seems silly that I’ve not thought to use this before now, but then, I never have been one for the simple route!

With that constant power, the controls simply allow you to moderate and determine how much it provides, making a smooth start and fluctuating revolution speeds a breeze to animate. Not a ground-breaker, perhaps, but satisfying, and a very useful thing to have discovered.

Our subject for this experiment is Thurne, which stands on the outskirts of the village of the same name and beside the river of the same name. It was built in 1820 and worked for over a century, shutting down for the last time in 1936. By 1950, and like many of its peers at the time, the mill was lying derelict and under threat of demolition, but fortunately rescue came at the hands of Bob Morse, a windmill fanatic, and soon the Windmill Trust took it on. Since then, it has been kept in good condition and, with its splendid white coat and pretty vicinity, enjoys a reputation as one of the most popular on the Broads – I believe recently it has even been restored to full working order, an accolade that can’t be boasted by many broadland mills and one which makes it even more worth a visit.

A short time ago, I posted a clip of the motor power on my Instagram gallery.

 

The Crystal Maze makes a return to television this Sunday as part of Channel 4’s Stand Up to Cancer season.

This alone, I confess, has been hard to get too excited about; filmed at the Live Experience inside an office block, I’m naturally expecting an episode somewhat less spectacular than its namesake is noted for. The appointment of Stephen Merchant as host doesn’t fill me with much optimism, either, but we’ll have to see how he does. (It didn’t really help that the press broke the story promising David Tennant – how marvellous he’d have been.)

What is intriguing me, though, is that a new, much larger maze has conveniently started going up in Manchester. Hmm! Do they know something we don’t? I remain somewhat apprehensive of a full-scale TV revival – it’s difficult to wonder how any update or format tweak could make The Crystal Maze a better product. Perhaps offering some brand new zones – Arctic, anyone? –  would give it distinction and dilute the inevitable comparisons, but I’d think that doubtful, as you’d risk upsetting a load of the audience from the beginning. They will need to know what they’re doing, paying due respect to the original without confining itself to its shadow.

Still, enough fretting before the event. The news has inspired me to make some more Maze graphics. Off the back of all my 3D works, I’ve long been toying with the idea of recreating the zones in full. Well, I sort of did that; here’s a recreation of the diagram that flashes up in the journey between zones, as Richard and the team navigate the various tunnels, stairways and rivers en route to the next location. This map was enjoyable to me as a child because it confirmed that The Crystal Maze really was the vast, interlocked world it appeared to be. It was even greater to find later on that the diagram came from messing around with the maze’s floor-plan, and the set, the largest in Europe at the time, actually was linked together as shown. Magical!

To be a bit different, I toyed with added details emblematic of each zone and items in the game cells, but have since come to the conclusion that this is little more than superfluous clutter. It looks stronger without.

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To Sunday, then. Browsing the TV schedules and spotting The Crystal Maze is sweet, and something I didn’t think ever likely to happen unless I won the lottery. It’s unlikely to put on the same show, but let’s hope the special – and any developments that may follow – can capture at least a measure of the spirit and fun we remember so very fondly.

My series of mill models over the spring explored several structures, each with a full set of sails and apparently all necessary gear to go to work. I neglected to focus on their derelict colleagues, who in their way are just as charming, perhaps more so inasmuch as stimulating the imagination and exuding their own haunting embrace.

I’ve not based my model on any particular mill this time; I just harked back to the days when I would go round the Broads on Sundays and then come back, inspired, and create my own landscape drawings. Never was there not a windmill in view! I have essentially circled back round to that with these exercises, which is probably why they’re so enjoyable.

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What these offer over a Biro sketch, of course, is a real command of dimension and exploration. The approach to such a mill can be fun, cutting through the askew and unkempt veil of these artefacts. Overgrown pathways and sheltered streams, everywhere but nowhere to go, giving a true sense of discovery (and triumph, despite the nettle stings!) upon actually reaching the destination…

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…and then of course you realise there was a clear footpath if only you’d approached from the other way. Still, though.

This twirling time machine may have long since ground to a halt, but its impact… wait, was it me, or did you just see a man at the door…?

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Flashback to former glories, or resplendent restoration? You decide.

new11The show is back on the road! After being thoroughly counted out in recent weeks, it seems felicitous to return to the digestive biscuit embrace of Countdown. As much a joy as a convenience –  I shan’t lie! – it has spurred just about the only thing I’ve created since my last post approximately ten years ago. I know, I know… it’s not good enough!

With typical over-excitement, Richard Whiteley spent the last Countdowns of 2002 banging on about the new set coming the following year. This would have been the first real cosmetic change in a near decade of viewing, so it did pique my curiosity – I had visions of the show being completely changed: all computerised and shiny, a charmlessly futuristic number done on the clock and everyone wearing spacesuits to fit in.

I was, of course, drastically overestimating the Countdown budget, never mind the appeal of spacesuits. What we did ultimately get didn’t do much for me, frankly, though I suppose your summation will depend on how you rate an assault of bright pink and magenta. Perhaps it was all an attempt to make Richard’s jackets appear less garish? Maybe they were the inspiration to begin with – I can appreciate it that way!

Designer Andy Walmsley is also credited with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? – a masterful design that has travelled the globe. A valiant fist of Countdown was made; well-meant and surely unique, but just a bit over the top and ill-fitting for me. Thank goodness the game’s simple beauty shone brighter than any set piece!

Now that I’m done slagging off the set, I’d best talk about the process. This was a redressing job, working with my original graphics and essentially sticking cuboids around the carryover elements. While perhaps not easy on the eye in reality, it was fun to play with intense colours and semi-transparent material in 3D – though, as I whinge about every encounter, these features did heavily impact on render times, on this occasion even creating some issues in animation, with nasty strobing on the stripes… hmm! I think I really have generated something resembling the real deal!

Maybe my indifference toward this whole look is compelled by the fact that Countdown was sprawled on the ropes, reeling for much of this period. Feeling bloated after the extension to forty-five minutes, it was then thrown back an hour to 3pm, immediately robbed of its sizable student audience (including me!) and raising doubts about its future. Of course the most monumental blow came in 2005, with the very sad passing of Richard; this beckoned two lacklustre runs with Des I (Lynam) and II (O’Connor) as chair – both were presenting while apparently scanning the studio for the quickest exit. Thank goodness Jeff Stelling and Rachel Riley came along in 2009, waking the thing up and restoring Countdown to the integrity and modest vigour of the good old days.

There’s only one more ‘era’ of Countdown to cover, really – the nineties, the era I remember most warmly – so I mightaswell give that a go. One day, when I’m thrown a conundrum.