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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.

 

terminator1We are spoilt – another new ride has turned up at the fairground! It looks dangerous, and indeed, it’s called Terminator. The attraction has been around since the early nineties. In appearance, it’s not unlike the Top Spin, which arrived several months ago. However, it only has to kick into operation for its distinction to become clear.

terminator2While perfectly capable of performing the same routine as a Top Spin, the Terminator has one key difference – the arms do not have to rotate in sync with each other. They can be programmed to move independently, twisting and turning the gondola in one heck of a dance.

This was an interesting mechanic to try and translate into Cinema 4D. I wanted to try and get the gondola to react smartly to two spinning arms. With the similarities mentioned, common sense suggested a redress of my Top Spin model – even so, it took an awfully long time to update and change to what you see here!

terminator8To begin with, I looked at Connectors, with the belief that they would, well, connect the gondola to the bottom of the arms. Initially there was great promise, with some even allowing the gondola to spin during vanilla revolutions, but frustration eventually won over perseverance, especially when things like this kept happening:

terminator7That’s probably the closest I came, too. There are so many settings for the Connectors relating to physics and configurations about which I’ve no idea whatsoever, so it was just a case of randomly putting numbers in and seeing what happens. I think that image in itself suggests that, with some brainpower applied, it could probably be done that way. Sadly, it eluded me.

I then thought about Targets, which ensure that one object permanently looks at another. It sounded like a behaviour that could be turned to my advantage here; I grouped the tilting lower left arm and the gondola, while putting a target at the bottom of the straight arm. Astonishingly, this seemed to work relatively well! It’s far from perfect; it strays occasionally, again, probably due to my lack of knowledge, but it’s come out significantly better than all of the Connector experiments, and has at least come closer to solving the problem posed by the ride, and project.

I’ve only animated the arms in this render snippet – the gondola is bound by its left arm ‘parent’ and the right-hand target. Fun!

If you’d like to see the Terminator in real-life action, here we are. One resided at Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach for several years, but with a far less elaborate diorama. It looked a far more intense ride, though!

Welcome to the nineties! And a return to the realm of game shows, furthermore a return to the evergreen Countdown, to which we’ve been quite carelessly oblivious for some time. I really should have gone all out and scheduled this to go out at half-past four, shouldn’t I? Never mind.

Count1990_S0In 1990, it was just Richard Whiteley and Carol Vorderman left of Countdown’s troupe of staff. Vorderman had, until this point, only been wheeled on to referee the numbers game; it was reputedly down to the laziness of the producer and his unwillingness to audition hopefuls that she was ‘promoted’ to Whiteley’s lone foil, but I think it proved to be a shrewd decision. It took some time, but eventually the chemistry blossomed and Countdown flourished, discarding the sterile formality of its infancy and becoming charming, convivial telly. Though I’m not sure I fully observed or appreciated it at the time, those are definitely qualities true of the show I grew up with.

Count1990-C2The Richard/Carol era was ushered in with a new set, replacing the pastel of the original with lots and lots of wood. It wasn’t the most lavish, was it? But then, I suppose it is Countdown we’re discussing – Hollywood may be nine letters, but it wouldn’t be allowed. It’s certainly not the most offensive set they’ve had – maybe that’s another project for another time? – but it is rather clinical, perhaps because it bears an uncanny resemblance to my dentist’s old waiting room. I can practically smell the surgery, and hear the drill upstairs. With Whiteley’s puns often as painful as pulling teeth, perhaps it’s a mercy I wasn’t around to see the show in this era!

Count1990_S1Tempted as I was to brag about how quickly this came together, I’m not sure it counts, as so many of the elements were simply lifted from my main graphics. It’s more of a redressing. This being said, the elements that were newly constructed – jagged walls, Dalek-esque panel desks – did prove a much less fearful build than anticipated, which made it fun. The majority of the process was cloning a single panel of wall and angling it as required. Then, another. And another. And a fourth, please, Carol…

Vorderman’s domain didn’t go unloved, being appropriately renovated and now placed on the same scene as the main stage. I’ve tried to make it look less dingy than it appears on the reference clips, but indeed, it looks a little strange for me doing so – perhaps revealing there was a good reason for the darker lighting! Or perhaps I’m just lousy at lighting scenes. I’d put money on that, actually.

The references I speak of were only charmingly fuzzy VHS rips of Countdown found on YouTube:

And I lifted the letters selection in my quick animated header from a notable outtake:

Poor Richard did find himself in some unfortunate situations over the years. It’s not so much the word being offered as it is his obvious astonishment and then the attempt to fumble through that makes it so amusing.

There we have it. Countdown. Again. I feel that, coupled with Millionaire, this has ended my latest game show gorge, but that’s by no means a guarantee (that’s a nine-letter word). Retain your vigilance (that’s a nine-letter word).

Well that’s all for now, anyway. It’s 5PM now (trust me!) and I think Oprah’s on next. Time to put the Master System on.

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.

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But we don’t want to give you that! Into the next dimension – 27 June 2012

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.

millionaire03aThe 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.

millionaire01The 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.

millionaire02aI 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.