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Graphic design

Atarimaker-tech1

Following on from my attempt at a 3d model of the Atari 2600, in which I had spent some time looking at the console’s gameplay and graphics, I happened across a felicitous piece of software.

Atari FontMaker does as you’d likely expect; it gives you the default character map and allows you to make changes to individual glyphs, creating a custom typeface or a pallette for artwork – perhaps both! It looks as if you can even export your maps in a file that the Atari can use, though with bad memories of BASIC on the Spectrum coming back, I haven’t been compelled to try that just yet. Fortunately, you can export as images, and the program gives you a view to lay down your marks. Above and below is a very quick modification of the default set, with the view above and map below:

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Then came some attempts at making larger display faces from configurations of characters:

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Then, moving on and trying to create some scenery. Sharp lines led me in an urban, industrial direction.

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The format and amount of letter spaces meant that a nighttime city skyline was quite fun to put together, even before implementing colour.

Atarimaker-trianglesI’m sure someone with a more creative and patient mind could whip up some lovely patterns in this software, because that’s one thing even the primitive visuals can’t scupper completely. This has a seafront amusement arcade look about it. It makes you wonder what Sonic’s Casino Night Zone might have looked like on the Atari…

I then tried to be a tad more ambitious, putting together a mountainous landscape replete with birds. This required pretty much the whole set to be tweaked, as can be seen below; the first is how the piece would look under the default set:

Atarimaker-mountainsPerhaps a few too many clouds, but nevertheless it’s probably one of the stronger experiments here.

Atarimaker-sonicSpeaking of Sonic earlier, the above was inspired by his 8-bit outings in the Green Hill Zone – not inspired enough to actually feature him, apparently! It is very green, though, you have to give me that.

I returned to lettering, but geared toward a more stylised finish. A simple start; I quite like its brashness, not sure about the colour:

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The shard-like nature of the above experiment gave me the obvious idea:

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As I said, the obvious progression. To my knowledge, there wasn’t a Crystal Maze game on the Atari. I wonder how it might have looked, had there been…

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…probably better than that!

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Well, if you think Channel 4’s catch-up service is slow today…! This was a must, really, as a throwback to my BASIC exploits of university, wherein I attempted to make a Channel 4 ident that could run on the ZX Spectrum. The greater colour capabilities here meant that the logo came out looking much more impressive.

And, to finish, Mr. Babbage from Family Fortunes and various motorways. Perfect for this format.

Atarimaker-mrbabbageThis was a heap of fun for me, as you might be able to gather by the sheer amount of stuff! It’s always interesting to go back and see what you can squeeze out of technology thought long out of date, attempting to turn the restrictions to your advantage. I think you’re more often than not pleasantly surprised, if not amazed. There is surely much more that can be created with just this program.

Thanks to MatoSimi for putting it together – if you’re interested in trying this for yourself, you can find it here. Have fun.

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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.

negative-letters-2-01More fun letter play. I was feeling geometric, and I’m afraid that’s about as far as this one goes regarding rationale. Well, besides fun! With that as it was, I just took a square and elipse, trying to make some interesting configurations. It soon morphed into a ‘negative’ bent, hence the results. I called it Positive because it was darn fun – as good a reason as any.

negative-letters-2-05It can work in a single white-out, though it’s not quite so successful when inverted as some characters begin to look indistinguishable.

negative-letters-2-08_0002Strokes are kinda fun! We probably shouldn’t go around subjecting it to Photoshop warps, though…

negative-letters-2-07Illustrator’s Simplify tool straightened the round edges, giving it a very different aesthetic. A little rough around the edges when done that way, but it looks like a trigonal variant could work just as well with a bit of care.

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The alphabet is by no means perfect, but it was a fruitful exploration. I always say on my return to lettering that I should make an effort to do more. I am saying that again, here. It’s a very Positive experience.

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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!