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Animation

Well, here we are again! I am sensing polite smiles all around as we buckle up for yet another edition of Countdown. Honestly, the thinking behind this was similar to the previous pine cones. Not sure of the time I’d have, it was really just something I thought I could chip away at in short bursts without taxing my brain too much. It would just be a case of modifying my previous attempt, looking at the early nineties set.


This time, we’re in 1999, a happy time just before the millennium bug would come along and change life as we know it, blowing up all of our computers and pulling planes from the sky. Or, perhaps, not so much. Thankfully. I understand much was done behind the scenes to alleviate any potential issues, but, as a child at the time, all I remember is the media doing a good job of putting the fear of God into us. Some things don’t change, huh, or maybe it was a godsend that we all bought our Y2K-compliant watches, calculators and underwear. All this being said, I can’t have let it get to me that much, as my memories of that Christmas and New Year are entirely happy. I guess that’s how it should be when you’re seven.

Besides the obvious switch to indigo lighting, the main set really hasn’t changed much; some minor adjustments to the backdrop, and some new textures, but that’s about it. It was really a test to see how much I could do to clean up the clock’s ‘wings’ without having to redo them, because I remember they were quite the pain and I can barely even remember how I did it anyway.

cd1999-011aNew letters and numbers area! Clearly, they were going mad with the budget at this point – they might have even gone into triple figures throwing the lights in over here. The boards are the same as before, just modified, but the backdrop and numbers tray are completely new.

cd1999-010aIf you’re not a fan of the colour scheme – maybe you’d prefer it if it were blue daba dee daba die – here’s an attempt at recreating the credits, with the flashing lights and bright orange:

cd1999-lightsI feel like Countdown – with a warm presenter, at least – is a programme perfect for this time of year, whether you’re snowed in, dumfungled or just feeling lazy. Essentially a parlour game, friendly and unquestionably familiar, it seems to chime with much of the Christmas spirit of tradition. That would doubtless explains why, these days, the Christmas break is about the only time Channel 4 don’t show Countdown! It didn’t used to be this way, though; I remember when the grand final was screened on Christmas Day itself, indeed 1999 being one such year. I know it’s not as popular as it used to be, and Nick Hewer is so dour that he cannot be relied upon to big things up, but I do miss the finals actually having a sense of occasion. Ah well. I suppose hidden-away-at-two-o’clock Countdown is better than no Countdown at all.

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My previous excursion to the fairground had me inspired to go back and revisit some of the other rides I looked at back in the day. There are few rides which encapsulate the old-fashioned fairground feel like the Rock-O-Plane, with its trusses, bulbs and cables strung around those huge arms. No surprise too, as the ride has been around for seventy years.

This ones’s a little different, though. Rather than the egg-shaped pods that so iconically house the passengers, this later variant ditches them in favour of front-facing chairs, meaning the ‘rocking’ is an altogether different experience. The common name for this version appears to be Sky Dancer.

The 2016 Rock-O-Plane model wasn’t actually that bad. The biggest issue was that it was about a third of the height it should have been. I did rebuild the wheel though, with some more detailed framework. The cars were transplanted from the Space Loop mostly.

To try and get the chairs to ‘rock’ authentically, I thought of using connectors and hard body simulation to actually have them swinging from the wheel but, fearing for my computer’s safety, chickened out. I instead added a step effector in two regions of the wheel – one at the top-left quadrant, the other at the bottom-right – with angular parameters of around 90 degrees.

That said, the rendered simulation actually looks and behaves quite a bit worse than it seemed to in the viewport, with some pretty sharp swings at points. It does at least seem to be the right kind of idea; I think the key is getting a balance between the strength of the effector region and the speed of the wheel itself. Below is the obligatory animation. I think that’s the fairground thirst quenched for now, but it’s been quite a fun ride!

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Is it early 2016 again? Alas, it is not. Sorry for getting your hopes up. However, we’re getting into the retro spirit here with a new fairground model to add to the collection from way back then – well, not entirely new. It’s another Top Spin, actually a very similar, slightly later (1993!) model by the same manufacturer, just with a cooler name: Space Loop. Seems a curious colour scheme for a space theme, but who am I to comment on such things?

This wasn’t really something I set out to do. It came about, actually, during the spring, when my spare time was almost non-existent and I desperately wanted to try and fit something in, so I took my 2016 Top Spin model and tried to glam it up a little, using what I’d learnt since then. It was going alright I suppose, but the old model’s clunkiness was starting to catch up with it. I thought it better to forget this build and start from scratch.

Skip ahead to a week or so ago, when I was afforded both some time and inspiration.

spaceloop-v5_0001I actually had some dimensions to work with this time, so not having to approximate height was a great help. Models do look better when they’re in proportion, I guess.

spaceloop-v5_0002The gondola is probably the biggest improvement of the ride itself, though more through greater patience than any shiny new tools. When tweaking my old model, I tried to apply some snazzy physics/simulation to a basic setup to see if I could replicate the brakes and achieve an authentic spin. I had little success with this, though, as Carol Vorderman might say, I’m sure it’s possible. Give me another few years.

Also the staging and lighting is much more involved than it was before – we have some  decoration and signage, actual lightbulbs rather than flat textures, and the strips on the supports are animated to flash on a loop – something I’ve only recently learnt how to do, after so long of manually animating entire sequences like a lemon.

With all this time to myself, I even went as far as rendering a sequence, attempting an evening setting to achieve a more sensible render time but actually losing rather a lot of its atmosphere. It might have been almost four years but damn, there’s still lots to learn when it comes to animation. But anyway, what’s old is new again. Kinda. Life truly is a Space Loop.

Yes, it’s that time of year, where outside sounds rather like a war zone thanks to fireworks screaming and banging all over the place. I don’t know, maybe I’m getting too old for this stuff. Well, as the saying goes, if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em. So I did, in a manner that won’t break the bank and terrify animals everywhere: I attempted to create some 3D animated fireworks.

They’re pretty simple, actually: an emitter producing planes, which are tagged with motion blur and highlights, giving them the coloured glow you see in the render. There’s also a gravity effector at play, pulling them downwards and, hopefully, achieving a more realistic effect.

firework04The above was done with tracers, giving a slightly more authentic trail, and I think the gravity effects are much clearer here, too. I rendered with no anti-aliasing whatsoever, in-keeping with this, the year of the pixel.

I also had a go at some sparkler effects; it’s a similar deal, but this time using some random ‘sparkly’ shapes and cloning them spherically, rather than having an animated emission. They did get better as I went along, which I suppose is good.

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And with the final GIF (I promise) we come to this obscene spinny firework thing – technical term, you understand. Just two emitters – albeit with much narrower range than previously – grouped together and rotated.

I have to say this year has been relatively quiet for fireworks, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so sour on the subject. If you are visiting a display, burning an effigy or any kind of festivity this evening, then do have fun. If you aren’t, well, who needs it when you have this?

Ooooh! Ahhhh!

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Having done a few pure pixel pictures lately, I ventured into three dimensions to look at transferring objects into the pixel realm; reducing resolutions, avoiding anti-aliasing and trying to create as authentic a visual as I can.

Cheating, essentially.

I began playing with some simple shapes and animations, limiting colour.

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Happy results, and certainly a time saver for designs like those above and below.

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And, having played around with hexagons, it was time for the obligatory detour to Blockbusters, which then spilled into other game shows for good measure. After all, what do pixels make?

Blockbusters is set to return on Comedy Central (yes, seriously) at some point this year. By my count, this will be the fifth time since the golden Bob era that this format has been dredged back up. Will it take off this time, I wonder? You have to admire the perseverance.

While there’s nothing especially ground-breaking here, it’s nice to have it confirmed that pixel art doesn’t have to be restricted to just Photoshop painting; the 3D alternative for reference is equally effective, and a handy cheat. Cheating is good when it saves you time!

With all the stuff I’ve done on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire previously, you’re probably not surprised in the least to see this, an attempt at modelling the revival set.

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Like most game shows these days, it’s predominantly spotlights and LED screens. The video floor replacing the old ‘bowl’ was something I was initially unsure of, but they proved me wrong – it’s used to great effect throughout the show.

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There might not be all the glass and shine of the predecessor, but there are those video panels. I’d done some basic video integration with my Million Pound Drop screens, but this required rather a lot more. The results are somewhat basic, mostly cobbled together from previous or abandoned projects; it’s not nearly so impressive as the real deal, but it’s nice to know it works.

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I’m pleasantly surprised to be enjoying the new Millionaire as much as I am. I thought it was finished a decade or so ago, so the fact that it feels even remotely special again is testament to not Jeremy Clarkson but the overall production. The show is back in March, I understand; let’s hope ITV keep it as an occasional event, stripped over a few days, and aren’t tempted to water it down (no celebrities!!) or overexpose it. As it is, it should be an attraction for some time.

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Honestly, I’m surprised it’s taken as long as it has to come back to this. Here we are now, three years younger and hopefully three years more experienced than my last play with the Channel 4 blocks.

There really is something special about those original Lambie-Nairn idents; there’s the inspirational and nostalgic element, of course, but I think that does them a disservice in some ways. Despite being renders from almost forty years ago now, they still look fantastic and most definitely hold up as a symbol of what Channel 4 was meant to be. When it comes to my favourite TV presentation, they’re a front-runner, just ahead of the BBC balloon from 1997 which, incidentally, was another Lambie-Nairn creation.

I started playing with the Interlock sequence above, which was actually relatively simple, only taking an hour or so once I figured out how to group the various sectors.

Above and below were inspired by the Explosion and Around and Back idents, though I didn’t go for a straight recreation this time, instead trying to give them an original routine. This was much harder to crack without clipping or just looking entirely inelegant, but thankfully anchoring each block to a circular spline made things easier, and I probably could make a total recreation with that knowledge.

This was when I started throwing unnecessary extras at the blocks, such as volumetric lighting, but they make for some interesting stills. There’s also a frosty 4 there, because it’s nearly Christmas, in case you didn’t know.

Throwing a transparency channel onto the blocks made for some pleasing jewel effects, especially with a faint glow. Not quite so nice fully-formed, however, which I suppose is quite important:

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Taking the easy way out, I removed the front face of the blocks and put some fairy lights inside, with a floor to take illumination. Perhaps more disco than Christmas, but never mind – the music is festive, so of course it now works perfectly. As it turns out, C4 did similar to far greater effect last year for their Christmas presentation, but oh well.

I haven’t had as much time as I’d like to do 3D lately, so these have proven the perfect exercise – all relatively quick and never throttling my PC like other projects. Let’s see how we get on with the blocks in 2021, eh.