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Recently, I gave my model of the Countdown clock a revisit to meddle with its animation. With that, I thought it rude not to give the whole set an overhaul.

It wasn’t really much in the way of reshaping or remodelling elements; the vast majority of it was achieved by modifying textures – some of which hung around for years, much longer than they should have – and lighting. I referred, quite slavishly, to screenshots from a recent episode to create a more authentic setup.

It does rather reinforce just how much a model (or set, for that matter) depends on lighting. The build is mostly the same, yet it’s night and day. I suppose braving the higher resolutions – and resigning myself to the longer render times – helps in the long run. Thank god for Muckluck and his Broken Sword playthroughs, is all I can say.

And here’s the impetus for the whole thing, a render of everyone’s favourite clock running:

Apparently, the new clock (in place since 2013) runs at 29.5 seconds, not 30, so I reworked it accordingly to see if it made a visible difference. I’ll let you decide…

If you were to take a look back at my first attempt from January last year, I hope you’d agree that there’s a significant improvement. I’m pleased with this particular upgrade. Onward, and upward.

Countdown, and indeed Channel 4 itself, will celebrate its fortieth birthday on 2nd November. Not long now – the countdown has started!

It’s that Countdown sequence remake I mentioned back in January, when I reworked the 1989 titles. You have doubtless been on the edge of your seats since then, and for that I can only apologise.

And yes, there are some errors in there, but hopefully none so shamefully glaring as previously. It’s an extended cut this time around too, as, for some reason, the original Countdown theme tune was edited down to twenty seconds, despite predecessor Calendar Countdown using a perfectly serviceable thirty second version. I’m using that uncut theme here.

These snazzy CGI titles were introduced in 1987 for the 500th episode special (for the record, we’re fast approaching 8,000 episodes and forty years on air) and lasted just over two years. I’m wondering if they were perhaps saw the teatime game show on the other side – Blockbusters, of course – and decided they too would like a futuristic 7-segment style logotype? While we’re at it, how on earth did Bob manage to get away without a single appearance in Dictionary Corner? He’d probably have been a brilliant host aswell. Perhaps he was just too cool for Countdown.

Though obviously a big visual update back in the day, I was somewhat indifferent to the titles prior to working on this. I can imagine the animation process in the eighties was rather more challenging and laborious than today, and still I found it a pain to get those letters and numbers to fly around into the box. That’s partly why I hit the wall months ago – I just didn’t have a clue how to do it properly! Eventually, after resolving to get it out of the way by hook or by crook, I found a way using a spline and offsetting each letter. But it still doesn’t look quite as elegant as the original, so hats off to YTV and whoever animated this sequence.

Happy New Year to you. You crazy fool, sticking around for all this time.

So. A new year. A bit battered, a bit tired, but a fresh start apparently. So let’s go back to the late eighties while also throwing back to last year. In a semi-response to a post from a few months back, here we have a complete Countdown title redux.

The real thing here is, can you spot the cock-up in my recreation?

It’s relatively minor, such that it took me a few watches to notice so, if you do catch it, a nod to you for being awake and bothered. There are lots of TV and game show enthusiasts among my YouTube subscribers, many of whom beyond eagle-eyed. I’m frankly surprised that none of them pointed it out straight away.

Anyway, this is based on the titles introduced in summer of 1989. I have upscaled to widescreen and applied a few tweaks here and there, chiefly a more faithful representation of the clock (without losing the aesthetic) and using the familiar white and blue colour scheme for the words, not the red and white which proved problematic to say the least. It’s a rather simple sequence; creation was more time-consuming than difficult. It does look primitive now, but I still think it’s a neat title concept, probably the strongest the show has had.

I’m warning you now that, partly due to the kind reaction to this on YouTube, a similar treatment of the preceding Countdown sequence is underway, so watch out for that. If it’s good, it might end up here. If there’s an error, it might too end up here!

Spotted it yet?

Would you enter a dungeon to play a game devised by these two?

I hear that the new The Crystal Maze has been axed by Channel 4 after only three series. I must confess I stopped watching it about five episodes in, feeling it was not made for me. It doesn’t sound like it ever improved, and indeed the trajectory of viewing figures suggested it wasn’t made for lots of other people also. Going celebrity only for its final run was the final straw. It’s a frustrating misfire; the first episode back in 2017 drew one of the biggest audiences of the year for Channel 4 and the opportunity for something special was obviously there. Oh well! At least we still have the original series, and that was actually quite good.

With that mindset, you can understand why, on hearing of its termination, I produced this. Here’s a pixel art portrait of our mellifluous maître-d to the Crystal Maze, Richard O’Brien and his Mumsey (Sandra Caron) from days of yore. The style is loosely based on the RetroMania characters I worked on. Neither look particularly like their real-life counterpart – I’ve tried Richard several times in pixel and have yet to perfect his unique visage – but the “eclectic” outfits were fun to work on. I wouldn’t want to complete a sprite sheet of either, though!

On a completely unrelated note: did you know it’s once again possible to access the Classic Editor, free of blocks? Maybe it has always been there, I’m not sure, but I thought if anybody out there is still annoyed by them then you might want to know. In your admin, go to Posts and note the ‘Screen Options’ tab in the top-right corner. Change to Classic View. You’ll then get the little ‘Add New’ button with the drop-down menu which allows you to select the Classic Editor. Hooray!

I was asked to take one of my Countdown set models and animate the classic opening camera shot, where it would pan from the audience around to the set. Always one to give the people what they want, I went ahead and did it, with the 1994 model. And, always one to go overboard, I included an old attempt at reimagining the show’s opening titles from the same era. The fact that they aren’t finished, I fear, tells you all you need know. Title sequences are harder than they look! But I thought I’d just include the last few seconds to feed into this new render.

Countdown used to get new titles every few years, but the current set have been around for almost ten years, likely for budget reasons. I would say they’re due a refresh, so if anyone out there is adept with animation and fancies a project, why not have a go?

Back in those heady days of 2018, I had a go at some Channel 4 mocks, not for the first time either. “Let’s see how we get on with the blocks in 2021” I said at the end of that post. And look what’s happened!!! Prescient or predictable? I know what my money’s on.

Anyway, these were inspired by a favourite YouTuber returning to the fray after several years and posting various mocks of his own – one of which sees the Channel 4 blocks morphing into the TV Ark logo. Musing on that idea of fusion, I took two favourites – the 1982 package from Four, and the neon lights BBC Two ident from 1991 – and smooshed them together. Here are the results. It’s rather busier than the original in terms of lighting and possibly the reason Lambie-Nairn kept to neon blue is revealed here, as things go a tad Chrismassy. But I thought it would be criminal to do this for Channel 4 and not use the colours. I probably say it every time I post Four stuff, but they really should bring the colours back.

The lights are cloned and set to flash at random. It’s possible to have an animated sequence whilst this is going, so really I could have had another bash at some of the original Four motifs. But I thought stationary was effective and quite satisfying in itself.

As both idents used here were created by the Lambie-Nairn agency, I can’t let this post go by without a tribute to the man behind it all, Martin Lambie-Nairn, who passed away over Christmas. What a genius Martin was; a true visionary who made marks that inspired me, along with countless others I’m sure. Thank you, Martin.

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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.

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.

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.

So guys, time for another question. Choose your category: People or Places? I’m going to have to hurry you. I’m really going to have to push you for an answer guys, we’re live, sorry guys. Sorry guys, would you like me to toss a coin? You have to go with a category guys…

…Places it is. Which of these places is not in the UK?

mpdtest304

Never mind Millionaire, that’s yesterday’s news! The next in this year’s veritable feast of brand new quiz reboots is The Million Pound Drop, though not without its purse-strings being tightened considerably. Shifted to afternoons, it is now rather awkwardly dubbed The 100k Drop and appears on Channel 4 from tomorrow.

Starting in 2010 and running until 2015, Million Pound Drop was broadcast live, usually around 9 or 10PM on Friday and Saturday nights for a few weeks at a time. Confronted by four drops, pairs of contestants had to answer questions by gambling a real million pounds (in £25k bundles) on the drop – ideally all on the right answer, but they could split their money if they were unsure, with the caveat of leaving at least one clear at all times. Any money placed on the wrong answers, well, dropped, plummeting through the trapdoor and rumbling like thunder down a chute and into the clutches of security guards. If they made it through eight (later seven) of these gruelling questions, they got to keep whatever was left.

It was an energetic show and perfect for the weekend. It was also quite fascinating to see contestants handling a physical cash prize, which doubtless had an impact even though it wasn’t remotely theirs unless they made it to the last question. I used to quite enjoy it – at one stage, I even survived the online play-along game to unlock application for the programme. The urge didn’t last, though. Being greeted with a form that was almost forty pages long, and realising I probably couldn’t have written that much for a life story at that point, I decided they could keep their million pounds.

I likely wouldn’t have made it on anyway; I may have met one requirement of being under-35, but sadly I’m not photogenic, nor am I perma-smiley and hyperactive, which were seemingly hard and fast rules. I always thought it a bit rich of Davina McCall to shout out to the over-60s for leading the online game – as they often were – because you knew they were never going to get due representation on the programme.

Million Pound Drop all got a bit samey after a while, and meddling with the format rather than where change was actually needed likely accelerated its downfall. I’m actually curious about The 100k Drop, though. One presumes the policies of prime-time will be relaxed, and that should mean more diverse questions, and that should mean a more diverse programme. Yay for diversity. It could end up being a better show. We’ll see!

Anyway, all of this rambling at a ridiculous hour in the morning is because I wanted to do a quick sim test with the drop. It’s a compelling set piece, with an aura of ‘boss battle’ about it. It’s still satisfyingly intense when it kicks into life and the wonga falls.

I originally created bundles of cash with individual notes – the most rigid notes you’ve ever seen! – but simulating any more than a handful of these was a bit too much for my computer, so I had to go with forty blocks instead. It was relatively simple from thereon in, throwing a Rigid Body tag onto the bundles, Colliders on the trapdoors and then animating them in sequence. The scale and surroundings may be slightly off as most of it was done purely from memory – perhaps I’ll come back to MPD and give it Millionaire-esque treatment with a full set model. Or perhaps not, who knows. I don’t. It’s late. I’m going to have to hurry you guys – let’s see what’s gonna drop.

(Spunkie is in Scotland, Crapstone in Devon, and Loose Bottom in Lewes. Fucking is a village in Austria. So, now you know!)