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Graphic design

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Insert coin here! We’re off to the amusement arcades – well, kind of – and looking at some characters for 1991’s WWF WrestleFest – a game of sheer beauty, far better than anything a home console at the time could muster. I’m charmed every time by the aesthetics of this game; each character so perfectly elevated and toylike, the saturation mirroring the character of the WWF at the time. It’s as if you’re commanding action figures. The simple but frantically challenging gameplay doesn’t hurt its appeal, either. It’s both a regret and a mercy that I didn’t get to button mash on this for real, as I’m sure it’d have eaten all of my pocket money!

The game is still widely acclaimed and enjoyed to this day, to the degree that many have looked into modding the game in a bid to make it better still, or just bring its roster up to date. With that, I was inspired to have a go at making some sprites of competitors who didn’t make the cut for WrestleFest – perhaps they weren’t prominent enough in 1991, or they weren’t even a wrestler at the time. Some may (hopefully!) look familiar from last year’s series of portraits! Entirely faithful or not, these were a fun departure from what I’ve been doing of late, and it’s always fun to get under the skin of an old video game.

Of course, the next step is creating a map of sprites for each one so that some sort of animation is possible. That sounds quite a big job, and I’m not sure I’ve the motivation to do that just yet – maybe one day!

In a tradition laid down only a few months ago, I thought it adequate use of my quiet afternoon to sort my second lot of wrestlers into a pack of trading cards. A rather different style, this time, as I feel this bunch is generally edgier than the last – this has allowed me to go rather Photoshop happy with gradients. There’s no wildcard this time, sadly, but the much sought after ‘supercard’ has made a return visit!

Whether any more will come in the future, I’m not sure. They’ve again been great fun. Throughout these series I’ve been progressively ticking off a list of potential candidates, and many are left waiting. I do have some other ideas in terms of execution, too – we’ll have to see if they pan out!

For now though, what better way to round off the year than with a class photo?

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They may look a troupe of burly, unforgiving chaps, but they ask me to wish you a very peaceful and prosperous 2017. Indeed, I’d like to say the same; enjoy yourself this evening if you’re up to mischief, and I hope next year brings you all that you want from it.

Oh, and speaking of traditions… though I’m not sure the Countdown clock takes into account this ‘leap second’ business – hat tip to JP and Guido, there – so you’ll have to bear that in mind!

To 2017! x

astroboy-5In a change to the usual – never a bad thing – I was asked by un ami to create a drawing based on the titular character of the Astro Boy manga series, specifically the 2003 incarnation. The series has been around since 1951, with the first TV adaptations coming just over a decade later. Their visual direction embodied the anime aesthetic, and indeed Astro Boy is considered the first of that style to enjoy global success.

The series is set in the now not-so-distant universe of 2043, where robots and humans coexist. Astro himself is an android, equipped with immense powers and unmatched intelligence. Devotedly modelled by Dr. Tenma after his late son, he was initially shut down during development, after the doctor noted the ill treatment superceded robots received, drawing parallels to his initial loss. When Tenma later disappears, Astro is discovered by another professor, who revives him and attempts to gift him a normal robotic existence. Beside a no-nonsense career fighting off rogue robots and humans, Astro must also try to find out the truth about his elusive father. Compelling stuff.

Naturally, it was the aforementioned arsenal of powers that formed the basis of the drawing. Astro packs a cannon in one arm, a super-powerful beam in the other, and soars into the sky with the help of rocket booster boots. All that impressive stuff, but can he put some trousers on…?

The character drawing itself was a fairly simple vector process, completed in Illustrator and then taken into Photoshop for shading and then experimentation of backgrounds. Some were geared to a more simple end, others a more in-depth attempt at reflecting the universe. In fact, the second piece you see above makes nifty reuse of a skyline created for a redux of the legendary Blockbusters title sequence, one of my first ventures into animation. An interesting result came of it, but I think the understated variations come off far better.

This process meant that what was a single drawing mutated into several! Photoshop’s often-ominous filters came in very handy here, with cutout effects and motion blurs giving a suitable backdrop for the art direction – I particularly like the results seen below.

The impact of Astro’s artillery also prompted some fun with lighting, too, giving some pleasing variety across the developments. I don’t think my Astros can quite tangle with the beauty of his anime counterpart, but nevertheless they came out better than expected.

Having not done a vector character since Sonic’s Grounder back in April, this was a welcome revisit. As always, it was heartening to do it for someone else, and to respond to a completely new world. ‘Twas a good few days!

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You got twenty-five more letters than you asked for!

I was a little bored, and, cool cat that I am, this invariably means I fall back on ropey old game shows. This time, it was the turn of Blockbusters, the student quiz hosted by the delightful Bob Holness and nobody else ever.

Away from its questions and incredible opening and theme tune, I had long been eyeing up the nice digital-style cut used for both the logo-type and letter slides of the game board. I’d never been able to locate the exact font itself, so I decided to take to Illustrator and have a go at making my own en hommage. The razor-sharp edges made it relatively painless to reach the level you see – essentially blocking (and busting!) squares and right-angle triangles together. Some letters look a little off – ‘S’ and ‘Y’ are troubling me the most – but it was a lot of fun.

I could spin the lettering out into various posters bearing witty slogans pertinent to the show, but why do that when you can sum the programme up as follows: goodness, weren’t those kids hilarious?

blockbusters-1-01I’d made a template of the game board long ago but with the wrong font, so fixing this was a must. Let’s play Blockbusters!

blockbusters-1-03As I imagine is the case with just about anybody who ever saw the programme, I now have an excessive lust for hexagons, the cheeky, geometric eye candy they so obviously are. There are just so many possibilities and interpretations, as Victor Vasarely celebrated to the point of tease. I wonder if he ever caught Blockbusters?

Rifling through, I found these relics from early last year, which, while apparently unfinished, show some fun being had with the shape’s versatility. What started out as simple pinwheels begin to masquerade as shapes of a different dimension.

What endless fun one can have with handsome hexagons. Thanks, Bob!

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.

confused1-00It seems a lifetime ago now that I was wandering around Norwich as student of art – Graphic Communications, to be precise, at NUCA. It’s a little scary to think it’s been six years since my first semester. While not a period I look back on with tremendous fondness – regrettably, much of that is my own fault – I met some unforgettable personalities and had great fun making stuff with them.

I delved quite heavily into typography and font design in my second year, when we were given much more freedom in our practice. I believe it was also around this time that my mother picked up her first smartphone. Besides the frightful interface, she was most perplexed by the ‘mispellings’ and the ‘weird little faces’ that were now peppering her friends’ correspondence. Granted, there was mischief to be had in deliberately sending messages loaded with as many ‘txt’ words and emoticons as possible, but I shared her pain, not so much with emoticons but the over-egged text speak. I’m fine with a casual LOL or OMG, and can make allowances for platforms with character limits, obviously. But when u c ppl rly strt pushin it 2 xtrmes it cn bcum a bt of-putn, ye? We’ve all been there. My entire brief was written around this; exploring text speak, its usage and impact – if any – on general parlance, and how, for the uninitiated, it can slash a romantic sentence into an ugly code puzzle. By this, I essentially mean I spent the research phase sourcing beautiful quotes and playing word games. Not bad!

confused1-01The entire face, naturally, spiralled from the ubiquitous :S emoticon. It was a purposely minimal, cold and trying construction. Application mainly came in jumbling words up, or taking quotes and cutting characters wherever possible.

confused0002These chaps was going to play a big part of my degree show – optical illusions and Jenga-esque towers of text speak dystopia were in discussion. In having to drop out of university, these frightening characters sadly never broke out of the screen. With Cinema 4D at my disposal, however, I had a quick punt and created some 3D impressions of that landscape.

confused-3_0003I’m reminded again how much I enjoy working with type. I should really make an effort to do more.

I thought something like this would be a a neat and sufficiently retro way of showing my wrestlers all together. Can YOU collect all ten WWF Superstars, including the ultra-rare wild card? It’s the cereal box treat that packs a punch!

I redid André the Giant to fit in with the adopted style of the series. I think ten seems an adequate point to call for the bell. Though, I’ve really not submitted – these outrageous characters have been such fun and I’m chuffed with them all, such that I can quite see me producing a second series of cards before long. I was keeping a list of potential portraits as I went along, and there are still many notable characters left over.

It has been nice to dust off another corner of my youth, coming to remember why I enjoyed it, likewise why I quite hastily fell out with it. A valuable exercise, and one which I do hope you enjoyed! Maybe more soon!