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The best tattoo there was…

and the best tattoo there ever will be.

Well well, here’s something I never expected to happen. A few weeks ago, I was asked if a couple of my custom WrestleFest character designs could potentially be used for a tattoo – Bret and Owen Hart, to be precise. Of course, I said yes; it’s beyond flattering that somebody wanted my art to be quite literally a part of them.

And sure enough, earlier today I received this:

How cool is that!? My thanks to Ajay for being mad enough to want this and for going through with it. I still can’t quite believe it!

Today I discovered that it’s thirty years since The Undertaker made his WWF debut. As the mystery man making up “Million Dollar Man” Ted DiBiase’s team at Survivor Series, this was a character that was probably going to go one of two ways. As it was, Taker enjoyed instant success and despite being introduced as an evil, undead beast doing Paul Bearer’s bidding, crowds bought into it so much that they wanted to see him, and began cheering for him. The rest is history and, as Bobby Heenan would cry on commentary, “long live The Undertaker!”

Here’s a little thing to mark the anniversary. In preparation for RetroMania, I started taking WrestleFest sprites and attempting likenesses of various wrestlers, as I’ve posted on here previously (indeed, it was that post which got me the job!). The Undertaker was one of these experiments; really, it’s a surprise he’s not in the game to begin with, though its 1991 release means he may have debuted a little too late for it. With such a progression in outfits and styles, it was a lot of fun in the good old pixel style.

As if the watermark weren’t large enough, I feel the need to reiterate that The Undertaker is NOT in RetroMania Wrestling. Sorry if I got your hopes up!

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Yes, it’s getting toward that time again, and yes, it does seem to get here faster and faster with each year. To ‘celebrate’ the return of the C-word, here’s a pixel card from last year featuring a rather festive edit of Jake “The Snake” Roberts from WWF WrestleFest, who appears to have a sackful of treats for us all. Yes, I’m sure he does. It absolutely won’t be a python or cobra or anything remotely sinister. It’s Christmas – he says so, and we can trust him.

And so I set about trying to think something up for this year’s e-card – something quick, preferably, as the time may or may not be my own. Right now, Chri$tmas just feels a tad inconvenient. I guess I’ll have to keep my fingers crossed for the elusive snowfall, or just dig out my reindeer pyjamas and the Carpenters’ Christmas Portrait to try and gain some vague semblance of festivity. Ah well, I suppose there’s still a way to go, yet, and I do normally cave in a week or so before the main event. We’ll see. Just don’t tell Jake that I don’t really think it’s Christmas yet…

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He’ll probably take a while to load.

Here we have a Spectrum-inspired pixel portrait of André the Giant, who is something of a regular on this blog. Inspiration came from two places: A generous helping of Skittles, and watching a review of the Spectrum’s typically awful adaptation of The Krypton Factor. Standard, I’m sure you’ll agree. I saw the portraits of the contestants in all their pixel glory and thought it’d be fun to try a similar thing with André.

Nostalgia Nerd is heartily recommended.

As it was, I ended up working on this for almost four hours, until after 4 o’clock this morning. I’m not going to complain. Motivation is not my strong point, so if the time flies by like that – which it most definitely did – then it can’t be that bad. It was really enjoyable, actually, and quite a happy result, similar to my stippling experiments from a few years ago. You can tell I started in the eye/nose T-zone and worked outwards, because it gets tidier the further we go from there. Some of the positioning and gradients could be better, particularly around the jawline, but I’ll take this as an impulse punt. Skittles or not, I will look into doing more of this.

At one point I just casually duplicated the marks layer and nudged it slightly, and was intrigued by the effect. Here are some alternates, positioned to the right, beneath, and another with a drop shadow effect; of course with nearest neighbour interpolation the aesthetic is locked to sharp pixels, so, even if less effective, they keep an authentic look.

I’ve probably shared this before, but it never gets old: here’s a clip of André at WrestleMania IV, mocking Hulk Hogan and showing Bob Uecker who’s boss.

WWFbig-repoman6And now for something a little different – the same, but different. Wanting to wrest a bit more character out of a portrait, I began cutting up references in Photoshop, enlarging and warping certain bits and bobs to try and guide me. With that focus, I turned back to the stars of the wrestling ring, and Repo Man, aka Barry Darsow aka Demolition Smash. The epitome of early nineties WWF silliness, you couldn’t ask for a better guinea pig!

First spotted skulking around the ring in autumn 1991, Repo Man, replete with domino mask and long coat, would predominantly play out in a series of vignettes, in which he repossessed or outright stole items from members of the public. On one shocking occasion, he even stole the psychedelic hat of “Macho Man” Randy Savage, something I’m sure fans would never forget. His trusty tow rope came in handy not just for his occupation but for in-ring action, too, as he’d tie up his defeated foes and even repossess them. Such antics incurred the ire of big men like British Bulldog and Crush, who seemed to power over Repo Man with ease in their respective feuds. Repo very quickly became a jobber, but a hilarious one, and that’s all that matters.

Curiously, it was intended for the character to start doing good deeds and become a heroic role model, but when the plans were shelved, Darsow quit in 1993. Surely for the best, as the character just screams dastardly comic book villain, and it’s probably better remembered for being exclusively that.

This is the first piece I’ve completed in quite a while – it hasn’t been an especially productive start to the year. But this was fun and, as a process, felt fresh – maybe more on this vein to come. I just think perhaps the heads need to get bigger!

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.

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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 even to this day. 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!

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“It’s the irresistible force meeting the immovable object!”

Thirty years ago today, the most memorable stare-down in the history of professional wrestling took place in the middle of the Pontiac Silverdome, before some eighty thousand fans. At WrestleMania III, Hulk Hogan, the WWF’s flag-bearer throughout its global expansion of the eighties, was pitted against André the Giant, the icon and star of the seventies.

As the current legacy of WrestleMania behoves a generous amount of nostalgia, it’s easy to overlook the fact that, while obviously hugely important, I and II were not much to write home about, feeling more like glorified house shows with Mr. T and Ozzy Osbourne shoe-horned in. WrestleMania III, from the opening shot, feels different, progressive and special, not least for the iconic venue and raucous crowd. There were other touches, too; I particularly like how the wrestlers don’t walk the long aisle, but travel via a cart dressed as a miniature ring. High above and almost floating over the sea of humanity, the performers come off looking like bona fide stars.

André had been considering retirement the year prior; complications of acromegaly were contributing to a steady decline in his mobility. A huge star in overseas promotions, he actually worked retirement matches in Mexico and Japan, before the question of North America came up, where he hadn’t wrestled in months. It was during his time in England shooting The Princess Bride that he was tempted into the match by Federation boss, Vince McMahon – but not before surgery on his back in an effort to relieve his pain.

The Giant would return to WWF television in January 1987, turning evil, aligning himself with Bobby “The Brain” Heenan – right-hand man of countless Hogan rivals – and challenging for the title. Prior to the big match, they would only meet on one occasion, during a twenty-man battle royal, where the nasty Giant ejected Hulk with considerable ease. Coupled with claims that André had gone undefeated for fifteen years, Hulkamaniacs were probably quaking in their boots more than ever before. They cared. Looking back now, the storyline was executed so simply, but therein is its beauty; overdoing it was not necessary with such awesome characters. The buzz was off the scale.

Of course, with Hogan a limited wrestler at best, and André clearly in poor condition, the WrestleMania III match is not a five-star classic, to say the least. But, from the two locking eyes as the bell rings, to the moment Hogan lifts Andre up and slams him en route to victory, there is no clearer an example of how little that matters. For sheer spectacle, I can’t think of another match that really comes close; I first saw it at the age of twelve, seventeen years after the event – I’ve watched it countless times since, and it still has that special feeling. Testament to the moment’s totemic importance is the sheer number of times such a stand-off has been referenced, if not outright emulated – but never has it had quite the same impact as Hogan versus André, where The Giant generously passed the torch to the new ‘number one’, and the wrestling boom reached its apex, thirty years ago today.

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

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Finally… The Rock has come back….. to Jaywalks! Cue the cheap pop! And so it is that The Rock marks the final chapter in this series of superstars, last but not by any means least.

As a young man, Dwayne Johnson always hoped to make it big in football, playing for both Miami Hurricanes and Calgary Stampeders. However, in the mid-nineties a combination of injuries and cuts left him in a deep depression, to the extent that, when called back, he declined and instead looked to a new path in professional wrestling. This didn’t come on a  whim; wrestling reached far in the family. His father was wrestling star of the seventies and eighties Rocky Johnson, and his grandfather ‘High Chief’ Peter Maivia. Several of his uncles and cousins are noted performers past and present.

The first third-generation performer to wrestle in WWF, his lineage was blended to give the name ‘Rocky Maivia’ and he made his debut in the summer of 1996, pitted against legendary Brooklyn Brawler in a series of trial matches. Johnson was so strapped for cash that he had to borrow an uncle’s trunks. Epitomising the clean-cut, smiling blue-chipper, his impact on fans was modest, to put it lightly. It wasn’t really until a year or so later, when he became part of the Nation of Domination, that audiences really felt the extent of Maivia’s prowess. Ditching the bright blue gear and going by the far harder moniker of The Rock, his sassy insults and entertaining mic work saw him propelled to leader of the stable, and subsequently Intercontinental Champion throughout 1998, giving fans all the more fuel to shout, “Rocky Sucks!”. Some hard-fought rivalries with crazy Ken Shamrock, and later Triple H, put on impressive shows and made promising signs of things to come. His SummerSlam ’98 ladder match with HHH stands out as one of my favourites of all, and indeed the first ever wrestling figures I bought were commemorative of this contest.

The sheer entertainment value of Rocky’s turns, however, would win fans over, and soon he was being cheered even as a villain. He’d be World Champion before 1998 came to a close, and later his escalating popularity was fully embraced with a turn to good guy, hailing himself ‘The People’s Champion’, and ‘The Most Electrifying Man In Sports Entertainment’. It’s hard to disagree; The Rock had already become one of wrestling’s most influential draws, and soon ended up appearing on all manner of TV shows across the world. People just seemed to love him. Shows and video games were being branded on the strength of his slogans and catchphrases.

After spending much of late 1999 battling The British Bulldog and then forming an inspired tag team with Mankind as Rock ‘N’ Sock Connection, 2000 would consist largely of trading the World title with Triple H. The two collided month after month, but it was ultimately young Olympian Kurt Angle to whom Rocky would drop the belt. He’d regain it in February of 2001, only to drop it to Stone Cold Steve Austin at WrestleMania XVII, with Austin turning heel in a moment many claim to be the death of the golden ‘Attitude Era’. Rock disappeared for several months to film his first movie, The Scorpion King. Acquiring a taste for the silver screen, this was the story of The Rock for the next couple of years, really; return for a few months, lose the title and then disappear to make another movie. Fans started to resent this, and by late 2002, chants of “Rocky Sucks” could be heard for the first time in years.

Returning the next year, The Rock became ‘Hollywood Rock’ – essentially capitalising on the prior reactions of the crowd, branding WWE a stepping stone and no longer a priority. Though the stint was brief, it was some of Johnson’s best work. After beating Hulk Hogan (for the second time) and Steve Austin at consecutive pay-per-views, he came unstuck against Goldberg and then vanished again – this time, actually leaving WWE to become a film star. He made one more special appearance at 2004 for the twentieth WrestleMania, but wouldn’t wrestle again until 2011, where he appeared to make a fairly substantial return and continues to drop in to this day.

A recent article identified Johnson as the highest-paid actor in Hollywood, earning $64.5million in a year, so it seems he’s certainly found a way to transfer his in-ring skills with great effect. He comes across as a very humble and charitable person, both in and out of the ring; he always seemed quite happy to go out there with a young star and make them look good, for the benefit of business. And of course he was hugely entertaining… if you smell what The Rock is cookin’!

What better way of spending Christmas Eve than at a concert – a Rock concert, no less? In the pomp of his ‘Hollywood’ run, we were gifted a performance from the man himself. It is pitch-perfect. Rarely have I heard such heat from a WWE crowd.

Merry Christmas to you all!