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Imagine Countdown still going in 2021.

Imagine me still posting about Countdown in 2021.

Well, indeed, a new year brings the same old shizzle. In more ways than one, this time around. I have little to say about this programme that hasn’t already been posted several times, so let’s just move on to the project. I had covered all studio sets for the show, bar the current one, introduced in 2017 for the show’s 77th series. So here we are, for the completionists out there. It was certainly evolution over revolution and in some ways a bit of a downgrade from the classy predecessor – the upper section looks a bit like someone left the scaffolding up – but I guess simplicity was the word in mind (yes, that’s ten letters). With nice lighting I suppose it looks decent enough, and the desk is rather swish.

I hadn’t really watched Countdown for a year or so when lockdown (the first one) struck, but rather got back into it as I found it snuck nicely into my schedule. I’m sure that was the case for some other people too, and with another one looming that process may repeat itself. It’s good to have an old classic on hand for some simple escapism, with some astonishment at just how bad at the game I have become. But I suppose that’s part of the fun. There’s also the prospect of a new presenter in its fortieth year, with Nick Hewer to step down in the summer; at first it was for a few weeks’ shielding, then he decided to jack it in altogether. I can’t say I’m too upset about that, though to have stuck at it for as long as he has is impressive. Hopefully they find a host who can wake the show (and Rachel) up a bit and restore some of the spark it used to have. Basically, what I’m saying is they should just give it to Colin Murray. It’s either he or Moira Stuart.

I feel the Bee Gees should take some of the credit for this, as they have bound into my life for some unknown reason and their bizarre groove was the backing track for this build. “TRAGEDY…” My neighbours must love me.

Happy New Year. The countdown to the end of lockdown is on.

Ahh…

I would ramble at length as usual, but my brain is in the Christmas-New Year sludge, this time more than ever it seems. I have to admit, I am enjoying not doing much of anything at all.

This animation loop was rendered back in March, as a submission for Thurne Mill’s 200th birthday exhibition (which, of course, was indefinitely postponed). Thanks to the BBC Sound Effects Archive for the audio.

Perhaps it will calm things down for you, for all of eighteen seconds at least.

I’ve seen countless versions of these little cut-away isometric interiors whilst browsing the work of various voxel creators, such that, if you’re starting out, it appears to be the law to make at least one. Hence, I thought I’d better try. But I wasn’t going to make one of my bedroom. I ended up riffing off The Crystal Maze and going all Aztec Zone this evening. It was the most iconic of all the zones, surely, and those cramped little game cells seen on the show were ideal inspiration for such a challenge.

I’m not sure what on earth the contestants are supposed to be doing in these cells – but then the chances are they wouldn’t even if it had been blatantly obvious. Bless them.

The first attempt was, perhaps expectedly, a bit naff. I was just throwing things in all over the place really and not remembering what I’d learnt last time around; namely, to actually engage the brain as to what I’m doing. For shame. Did have some fun playing around with the water feature, though I’m not sure the water texture is really working, nor the gargoyle itself for that matter.

The addition of greenery and some paint lifted it somewhat. The semi-buried items were less than successful, though. On a 50×50 grid, I probably should’ve seen that coming a mile off. Ah well.

Third time around, and we’re looking rather better now, a sort of mixture of the two giving a result I’m okay with. The time spent on the walls paid off, and the water has been muddied up a little; certainly enough to make sure you don’t lose your footing on those stepping stones. What’s more, I discovered the emission function and turned the ‘sun’ down to let the torches really do their thing, with a nice toasty glow lighting up the cell. It’s a powerful feature for which I can imagine many good uses. I look forward to playing with it.

At least it’s more interesting than modelling my bedroom.

Well, not quite starting blocks. But the recent penchant for pixels had me thinking once again about ephtracy’s MagicaVoxel, which has been sitting around on my machine for years now and, besides a piece or two here and there, hasn’t been put to particularly good use. My excuses are that I found the interface a little daunting and the camera seemed to do its own thing – usually not what I needed it to be doing. Well, I thought it was about time I came face to face with this old nemesis and settled the score once and for all.

I was going to make something.

Really, I was just being a drama queen for a change. It’s nowhere near as scary a program as I had told myself it was – actually, it’s rather fun and therapeutic once you get your head around the camera. Time disappears just as it does with 2D pixel art, or sticking Lego blocks together. I just started doodling really, thinking of Lego playsets, and coming up with some sort of ruined monument:

It’s not going to win any awards, but the lessons learnt in that session were very valuable indeed. And I actually wanted to make something else, rather than hit close and throw the PC in the bin so that’s a big hurdle cleared. Hence, the next two hours were spent modelling something on a larger scale; a ruined church, a not uncommon sight around these parts:

This one was lots of fun, and I think captures some of that toylike charm.

Yes, it does take a bit of getting used to, and I still have a great deal to learn, but MagicaVoxel is quite an enjoyable experience once you get going, and hopefully I’ll be using it more from now on. I’m sure if you use it more than once every two years you’ll pick it up even quicker than I did. And it’s free, which is always nice.

When I started working on the Super Loop on Top called Colorado, I realised I was probably going to have to create some appropriate scenery for the backdrop. Hence, deserts, rock structures and mountain peaks were the order of the day, with a splash of waves and rapids to suit the water jets on the ride… a feature I ultimately didn’t include anyway. The ensuing studies and developments were, suitably, quite a rocky bunch; as per usual, it didn’t take me long to go completely off-brief. Here are some of the diversions that were taken.

The turquoise sky piece did actually find its way into the ride, adorning the control/ticket booth. Chiefly because I like turquoise.

Really, the only reason any of the above have made it onto my blog is because I transplanted the circuitry from my previous post and started concocting a similar landscape. The result – a series of cyber mountain ranges. I rather appreciate the dystopian, Doom-esque aesthetic. For me, they’re the peak.

A change of pace from the Norfolk Broads, anyhow.

terminatorcolorado1737Here’s another funfair contraption. Anyone know what it’s called? Oh well, take a seat, they’re going fast! Or not, as it appears here. Which, to be honest, chimes with my memories of the same ride at the Pleasure Beach. I am guessing it was more popular elsewhere.

terminatorcolorado1440This nineties wonder is known as a Super Loop on Top, though of course this has been styled as Colorado, complete with springs and red rocks. I did attempt to model the local version of this ride – Terminator – a few years back, but this time I wanted to try Colorado. The ride always caught my eye with its swerving, tilting movements, but I think this paint job makes it even cooler. I believe there are also water jets to make the ride literally cooler, but I evidently haven’t reached that stage yet.

I also wanted to get the proportions a little better this time around. Feeling bullish, I ended up contacting the manufacturer, Moser Rides, and asking if specifications were available. To my surprise, Stefano Moser responded and sent me some catalogue scans which came in very handy indeed. Grazie, Stefano! As they say, if you don’t ask, you don’t get.

terminatorcolorado1068A first for this build was the inclusion of backdrop scenery, lined with an excessive number of flashing bulbs. I mostly just copied the artwork from reference images, so I can’t take credit for that, but it’s fun; certainly it adds to the fairground feel.

terminatorcolorado2484Animation-wise, it’s still not perfect and it was still rather frustrating, but at least this time the gondola is actually joined to both arms. Hold on tight!

Don’t say I didn’t warn you – I said there would be more of this carry-on to come, and here we are. I didn’t quite expect it to come this quickly, but there will be no complaints about that. This little spike in productivity is very welcome.

First, we have these concoctions above, trying to take my previous post onward and into a 3D space. They aren’t really up to much at the moment but who knows, with someone clever texturing and arranging lighting they might have something going for them. As it is, the sphere arrangement just reminds me of the Chupa Chups display in sweet shops – temptation aside, that’s not really a bad thing.

On that mention of texturing, here are a couple of late additions; it’s the same basic principle, only with rounded branches and a snazzy steel finish:

I broke that down a little more with the next set, removing the branches and coming to floating shapes housing the tree’s image; in this case, said image comes from a post I made way back in 2017.

Finally, introducing the old favourite, the glitch effect; this time done with layers and layers of lines, each with different colours:

geometric-trees-B005geometric-trees-B006The first actually seems to chime quite nicely with the original and its setting. The yellow is perhaps a little loud, but who’s worrying about that? I’m pretty good at messing things up in general, so it’s rather surprising it’s taken me this long to embrace the glitch effect in my work. It’s fun.

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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.

firework08
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!

firework04_0074

rope-letters-1
It’s time for another look at lettering, and high time too, as I haven’t been able to do nearly as much as I would’ve liked this year; I wanted to fit in another Twenty-Six Spins but that doesn’t look likely, sadly. It will happen, though. When you least expect it. Consider this a warning for shoddy Photoshops and even shoddier wheel puns.

I was looking at quick, flowing forms and somehow came to ropes. I thought it might be interesting to try and model a rope in 3D. So that’s what I did. (It wasn’t that interesting, really).

Surprisingly simple it was, actually, done in a couple of minutes by sweeping a flower shape along a spline and having it rotate along. It does seem to lose something on longer forms, as you might be able to tell. It’s a bit ropey. I also wasn’t entirely sure about the texture that I made, so I went back to black and white to try and mask that as much as possible. It’s quite unusual for me to start with colour or texture then work backwards, especially with lettering; I’ve learnt over the years that the gold is always to be found in the simplest forms, and that, unsurprisingly, seems to be true of this exercise too. That’s where the hallowed Threshold filter comes in. Even the textured renders look much punchier in simple monochrome, I think.

I did attempt some knots, as you can see here with a couple of alternate forms. I’ve never been good with tying even the most basic of knots, so maybe that’s why I largely steered clear of this. They’re even harder with splines! I imagine there are plugins out there which can model such a thing with just a click.

And for all my slamming colour earlier on, I did throw a few letters into Photoshop and give them a paint job; kind of fun, I guess, but I might be saying that to the happy colours themselves rather than the letters.

rope-letters-5rope-letters-2rope-letters-4rope-letters-3

Well, that ties it up for now. This experiment might knot be for everyone, but it was once again fun learning the ropes. Hopefully next year I’ll not be roped into other things, and shall be able to do a little more in this vein.