ATV Yesterday and Today

If you’ve read my blog before, you may have come across some posts about my friend Roddy Buxton. Roddy is an incredibly inventive chap – he’s rather like Wallace and Grommit rolled into one! He has his own blog these days and I find everything on it fascinating.

One of Roddy’s cracking contraptions

One of the subjects recently covered on Roddy’s blog is the home-made telecine machine he built. The telecine was a device invented by John Logie-Baird at the very dawn of broadcasting (he began work on telecine back in the 1920s) for transferring pictures from film to television.

Roddy also shares my love of everything ATV, so naturally one of the first films Roddy used to demonstrate his telecine was a 16mm film copy of the ATV Today title sequence from 1976.

This title sequence was used from 1976-1979 and proved so iconic (no doubt helped immeasurably by the rather forgetful young lady who forgot to put her dress on) it is often used to herald items about ATV on ITV Central News. Sadly, as you can see below, the sequence was not created in widescreen so it usually looks pretty odd when it’s shown these days.

How the sequence looks when broadcast these days.

The quality of Roddy’s transfer was so good I thought it really lent itself to creating a genuine widescreen version. In addition, this would provide me with a perfect opportunity to learn some more about animating using the free software animation tool Synfig Studio.

The first thing to do when attempting an animation like this is to watch the source video frame by frame and jot down a list of key-frames – the frames where something starts or stops happening. I use a piece of free software called Avidemux to play video frame by frame. Avidemux is like a Swiss Army knife for video and I find it handy for all sorts of things.

Video in Avidemux

I write key-frame lists in text file that I keep with all the other files for a project. I used to jot the key frames down on a pad, but I’ve found using a text file has two important advantages: it’s neater and I can always find it! Here is my key frame list in Gedit, which is my favourite text editor:

Key-frame list in Gedit

After I have my key-frame list I then do any experimenting I need to do if there are any parts of the sequence I’m not sure how to achieve. It’s always good to do this before you start a lot of work on graphics or animation so that you don’t waste a lot of time creating things you can’t eventually use.

The ATV Today title sequence is mostly straightforward, as it uses techniques I’ve already used in the Spotlight South-West titles I created last year. However one thing I was not too sure about was how to key video onto the finished sequence.

Usually, when I have to create video keyed onto animation I cheat. Instead of keying, I make “cut-outs” (transparent areas) in my animation. I then export my animation as a PNG32 image sequence and play any video I need underneath it. This gives a perfect, fringeless key and was the technique I used for my News At One title sequence.

However, with this title sequence things were a bit trickier – I needed two key colours, as the titles often contained two completely different video sequences keyed onto it at the same time.

Two sequences keyed at once

Therefore I had to use chromakeying in Kdenlive using the “Blue Screen” filter, something I had never had a lot of success with before.

The first part was simple – I couldn’t key two different video sequences onto two different coloured keys at once in Kdenlive. Therefore I had to key the first colour, export the video losslessly (so I would get no compression artefacts), then key the second colour.

The harder part was making the key look smooth. Digital keying is an all or nothing affair, so what you key tends to have horrible pixellated edges.

Very nasty pixel stepping on the keyed video

The solution to this problem was obvious, so it took me quite a while to hit upon it! The ATV Today title sequence is standard definition PAL Widescreen. However, if I export my animation at 1080p HD and do my keys at HD they will have much nicer rounded edges as the pixels are “smaller”. I can then downscale my video to standard definition when I’ve done my keying and get the rounded effect I was after.

Smooth keying, without pixel stepping

The other thing I found is that keying in Kdenlive is very, very sensitive. I had to do lots of test renders on short sections as there was only one “Variance” setting (on a scale between 1 and 100) that was exactly right for each colour.

So now I was convinced I could actually produce the sequence, it was time to start drawing. I created all of my images for the sequence in Inkscape, which is a free software vector graphic tool based around the SVG standard.

However, in order to produce images in Inkscape I needed to take source images from the original video to trace over. I used Avidemux to do this. The slit masks that the film sequences are keyed on to are about four screens wide, so once I had exported all the images I was interested in I needed to stitch them together in the free software image editor The GIMP. Here is an example, picked totally at random:

She’ll catch her death of cold…

Back in Inkscape I realised that the sequence was based around twenty stripes, so the first thing I did before I created all the slit mask images was created guides for each stripe:

These guides saved me a lot of time

The stripes were simply rounded rectangles that I drew in Inkscape. It didn’t take long to trace all of the slit masks for the title sequence. Two of the masks were repeated, which meant that I didn’t have as many graphics to create as I was fearing.

Once the slit masks were out of the way I could create the smaller items such as the logo:

ATV Today logo created in Inkscape

And, with that, all the Inkscape drawing was done. It was time to animate my drawings now, so I needed to export my Inkscape drawings into Synfig Studio. To do this I was able to use nikitakit’s fantastic new Synfig Studio SIF file Exporter plug-in for Inkscape. This does a fabulous job of enabling Inkscape artwork to be used in Synfig Studio, and it will soon be included as standard in Inkscape releases.

When I did my Spotlight title sequence I exported (saved) all of my encapsulated canvases (akin to Symbols in Flash) that I needed to reuse within my main Synfig file. This was probably because I came to Synfig from Macromedia Flash and was used to the idea of having a large file containing all the library symbols it used internally.

I have been playing with Synfig Studio a lot more since then, and I realised a far more sensible way to work was to have each of what would have been my library symbols in Flash saved as separate Synfig files. Therefore I created eight separate Synfig Studio files for each part of the sequence and created a master file that imports them all and is used to render out the finished sequence.

The project structure

This meant that my finished sequence was made up of nine very simple Synfig animation files instead of one large and complicated one.

The animation itself mainly consisted of simply animating my Inkscape slit masks across the stage using linear interpolation (i.e. a regular speed of movement).

I could type my key-frames from my key-frame text file directly into the Synfig Studio key-frame list:

Key-frames for one part of the animation

The glow was added to the ATV Today logo using a “Fast Gaussian Blur”, and the colour was changed using the “Colour Correct” layer effect – exactly the same techniques I used in the Spotlight South-West titles.

ATV Today logo in Synfig

In order to improve the rendering speed I made sure I changed the “Amount” (visibility) of anything that was not on the stage at the present time to 0 so the renderer wouldn’t bother trying to render. You do this using Constant interpolation so that the value is either 0 or 1.

I had a couple of very minor problems with Synfig when I was working on this animation. One thing that confused me sometimes was the misalignment of key-frame symbol between the Properties panel and the Timeline.

This misalignment can be very confusing

As you can see above, the misalignment gets greater the further down the “Properties Panel” something appears. This makes it quite hard at times to work out what is being animated.

Some very odd Length values indeed!

Another problem I had was that the key-frame panel shows strange values in the time of length columns – particularly if you forget to set your project to 25 frames per second at the outset.

However, overall I think Synfig Studio did brilliantly, and I would chose it over Flash if I had to create this sequence again and could choose any program to create it in.

The most important technical benefit of Synfig Studio for this job was the fact that it uses floating point precision for colour, so the glows on the ATV Today logo look far better than they would have done in Flash as the colour values would not be prematurely rounded before the final render.

I rendered out my Synfig Studio animation as video via ffmpeg using the HuffyUV lossless codec, and then I was ready to move onto Kdenlive and do the keying.

Obviously I needed some “film sequences” to key into the titles, but I only have a small selection of videos as I don’t have a video camera. To capture video I use my Canon Ixus 65, which records MJPEG video at 640 x 480 resolution at 30fps.

My 16mm film camera

Bizarrely, when the progressive nature of its output is coupled with the fact it produces quite noisy pictures, I’ve found this makes it a perfect digital substitute for 16mm film camera!

I “filmised” all the keyed inserts, so that when they appear in the sequence they will have been filmised twice. Hopefully, this means I’ll get something like the degradation in quality you get when a film is then transferred to another film using an optical printer.

Once the keying was done the finished sequence was filmised entirely using Kdenlive using techniques I’ve already discussed here.

And so, here’s the finished sequence:

Although I’m not happy about the selection of clips I’ve used, I’m delighted with the actual animation itself. I’m also very pleased that I’ve completed another project entirely using free software. However, I think the final word should go to Roddy:

Thanks for the link. I had a bit of a lump in my throat, seeing those titles scrolling across, hearing the music, while munching on my Chicken and Chips Tea… blimey, I was expecting Crossroads to come on just after!

If you are interested in ATV, then why not buy yourself a copy of the documentary From ATV Land in Colour? Three years in the making, over four hours in duration, its contains extensive footage (some not seen for nearly fifty years) and over eleven hours of specially shot interviews edited into two DVDs.

From Recreations to Replicas

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that whenever my attention turns to the Midlands it’s usually at the prompting of my friend Roddy Buxton.

Roddy Buxton, courtesy Fake Festivals

Roddy is a lighting engineer, electrician and visual effects designer. He is now based in South Yorkshire but grew up in ATV Land. Roddy’s TV career started in the Central Television film department, working as a spark on such programmes as Peak Practice and Boon.

As with Oliver Postgate, Roddy’s branching out into visual effects design happened quite by chance when a director noticed how practical he was and decided he’d be the perfect person to knock up a semi-practical suitcase nuke for a film!

In 2009 Roddy thought he’d like to have a go at creating a working replica of the ATV station clock from the sixties. As far as I know, this clock only exists as an off-air photograph in the Transdiffusion archive.

Photo courtesy Transdiffusion

Station clocks used to be shown at numerous times during the day by all televisions stations from the 1950s to the early 1990s. Giving the correct time was not only seen as a valuable public service to the viewer, but the clock equipment was used to sync the studio’s signals with external sources. This was vital to prevent visual glitches such as this:

Roddy asked if I could supply him with the artwork in a format suitable for printing, something I was only too happy to do. I sent him two Inkscape files, one for the clock face, the other for the hands:

Watch your face…

…and hands.

Roddy soon had other things on his mind – a new addition to his family! – and I thought no more of the model clock.

However, earlier this year Roddy started asking me questions about my Flash recreation of the BBC Schools dots. The BBC Schools dots were shown in the minute immediately preceding BBC One’s programmes for schools and colleges between September 1977 and June 1983.

In the final year the dots were digitally originated using technology similar to Richard Russell’s GNAT clock, but before that the dots were a mechanical model in the “Noddy room”.

Noddy Room, courtesy VT Old Boys

The Noddy room was a special studio in the BBC that held various mechanical models and 12″ by 10″ captions. These were captured in black and white by a remote controlled camera that used to “nod” up and down as different ones were selected – hence the name “Noddy” room. Colour was usually added electronically to the images before they were broadcast.

Roddy discussed the lighting for the dots:

The lighting for the BBC Noddy wasn’t anything specialised. It consisted of two P38 flood lamps (available from all good DIY/Electrical stores) – these are likely to have been photographic lamps – however the only difference being is the price and box they come in. They are the same voltage, wattage and colour temp. The lamps were attached to the camera, so wherever the camera was pointing that area would be lit.

So I supplied Roddy with the dots artwork as an Inkscape SVG file and I also uploaded my latest recreation of the dots in Flash to YouTube:

In May I was delighted to receive a mail from Roddy with a photograph of this prototype dots model:

Prototype dots, courtesy Roddy Buxton

Roddy said:

The clock face is made from hardboard; though I am not happy with the results; as the dots are not that hard edged. I think I will end up using this clock face as a template to make the actual clock out of punched steel/aluminium – that way I can get hard edged dots.

Here are some more of Roddy’s pictures of making the prototype:

Holes drilled through the hardboard

Temporary captions applied to check sizing

Matt paint added to remove the reflections

I thought the prototype looked absolutely fabulous, and by now I was looking forward to seeing the finished product enormously. I didn’t have long to wait – on the 11th June Roddy wrote to say:

The artwork for the BBC “Dots” has arrived in printed form. The company I have used did all of my printing for me for £11 including P&P, and to the correct sizes – and in a matt finish too.

And on the 6th of July I finally got to see how the final schools dots model was progressing:

I showed the progress so far to my friend Rory Clark who summed it all up beautifully when he said:

Bloody hell – they’re impressive!

Not only that, but Roddy had started work on something else as well!

In Colour – the ATV Station Clock replica

Roddy assures me:

Another week and the dots will be vanishing ;-)! (Finally)

I’m very much looking forward to that. And I’m also hoping Roddy will also recreate some other models from times past – and it looks like I’m in luck!

Roddy tells me:

On the “to do list” – I have always wanted a BBC Globe – so will look at that. The “Diamond” is pretty easy to do (will definitely look at that!)

Then there’s the “Pie Chart”!!

Stay tuned!

Coloured Sugar

Once I’d finished writing a range of BBC Micro Python-Fu image filters for The GIMP, the Amstrad CPC series seemed the obvious next computer to tackle.

The graphics capabilities of the CPC were very similar to those of the BBC Micro, but the CPCs benefitted greatly from having many more colours available. Everything you could ever want to know about the video capabilities of the Amstrad CPC range is explained here.

The graphics capabilities are so similar, in fact, that to create a graphics filter for Amstrad CPC in Mode 0 all I had to do was change the palette data in my BBC Micro Mode 5 filter. Instead of picking 4 colours from a range of 8 the filter simply needs to pick 16 colours from a range of 27.

So, here is a picture of Baron Sugar‘s beloved Hackney Empire (formerly the ATV Television Theatre):

ATV, Rediffusion and ABC all made programmes here

And here it is put through my Amstrad CPC Mode 0 image filter for The GIMP with no dithering:

Amstrad CPC, Mode 0, No Dither

Oh dear. Even the BBC Micro Mode 2 filter seemed to be able to do better:

BBC Micro, Mode 2, No Dither

Here’s the Amstrad CPC Mode 0 filter with 2×2 threshold matrix:

Amstrad CPC, Mode 0, Ordered Dither 2×2 threshold matrix

The BBC Micro Mode 2 version with a 2×2 threshold matix seems much flatter and less detailed:

BBC Micro, Mode 2, Ordered Dither 2×2 threshold matrix

So what went wrong with no dithering? Well, the method I’m using to choose a palette is very crude – it picks the sixteen most used colours from the Amstrad CPC palette to go into the final image. If my method is applied an image with lots of dark areas and a few highlights the highlights will be completely missing as the light colours will not be used enough to feature in the final table of 16 colours. I obviously need to find a method that takes into account the range of luminance used on an image.

The situation gets even worse when dealing with the Amstrad CPC Mode 1. Amstrad CPC Mode 1 is very similar to the BBC Micro’s Mode 1. But whereas Mode 1 on the BBC Micro can pick 4 colours from a selection of 8, Mode 1 on the Amstrad CPC can pick 4 colours from a selection of 27.

Here’s a picture of Polly parrot:

Pining for the fjords

Here’s the same picture put through the Amstrad CPC Mode 1 filter with no dithering:

Amstrad CPC, Mode 1, No Dither

Here’s the same picture of a parrot put through the BBC Micro Mode 1 filter with no dithering.

BBC Micro, Mode 1, No Dither

Even Sierra3 error diffusion won’t help the Amstrad CPC Mode 1 image:

Amstrad CPC, Mode 1, Sierra 3 Error Diffusion

Whereas the BBC Micro filter produces excellent results:

BBC Micro, Mode 1, Sierra 3 Error Diffusion

Needless to say, the Amstrad CPC filters should be producing better results than the BBC Micro filters!

So, I’m going off to find a better way to pick an Amstrad palette! In the meantime, if you want to play with the Amstrad CPC filters they can be downloaded from here. Microsoft Windows users can find out how to install and use the filters with The GIMP by following the very nice set of instructions with pictures I’ve found here.

Set Piece

A few months back Roddy Buxton asked if I could do him a favour. His son had a school project about “the 70s”, and one of the things they were doing was making a 70s style news programme. As Roddy is from ATV land, that had to mean ATV Today. But in order to make the video authentic, Roddy wondered if I could recreate a section of the ATV Today set to key in behind his son on the video.

Reg Harcourt – ATV Today

I knew exactly the set he had in mind. It was the lovely beige one with an abstract geometrical design. If ever a set designer managed to capture the essence of the seventies current affairs in one set, this was this one. I managed to get a couple of pictures from Jase Robertson’s site sub-TV.

At the time, I had mislaid my serial number for Swift 3D version 5, so I couldn’t do this in 3D – which would have been the logical way to tackle this job. So, I fired up my trusty copy of Inkscape, and tried my best to muddle through using that.

All I did was take the best screen grab I had to hand (which, sadly, weren’t as large or as clear as I would have liked) and trace one square section of the design.

Tracing the set in Inkscape with Margaret Hounsell

I then used gradient fills to create the 3D effect. I’ve found watching “Paint Along With Nancy” a great help with colouring in vector designs. I use Nancy Kominsky’s technique of using three tones (light, medium and dark) and using purple for low-lights and lemon yellow and white for highlights if necessary. Nancy knows her stuff – it works!

Output from Inkscape

After exporting the resulting SVG file as a PNG I used the GNU Image Manipulation programme (otherwise known as The GIMP) to finish the job off. I adjusted the colours to match the image, blurred the image slightly so it would be slightly out of focus, added a tiny bit of HSV noise and then a very slight lens distortion completed the job.

After GIMP-ing, the end result

I’ve included the images I created at full size in this post, just in case you want to have a go at being Reg Harcourt or Derek Hobson and report on strikes at British Leyland in the comfort of your own home. Just click on them to enlarge.

ATV on the BBC

I have a YouTube channel called “stupidrubbish” where I put bits and pieces of video I’ve created as and when I get the chance.

The channel’s name “stupidrubbish” comes from the rather unaffectionate term my wife uses to refer to television presentation. Her usual question would be “Are you working or are you doing stupid rubbish?”. The answer would often be “Both.” In Hungarian, the term translates to “hülye szemét” and sounds even ruder than it does in English.

Absolute bobbins, and I freely admit it

Amazingly, although it contains all sorts of bits and pieces I’ve poured my heart and soul into getting as accurate as possible, the most popular video on the channel is something I very nearly didn’t upload at all, and did nearly 25 years ago. It was my first attempt to recreate some presentation on a computer and it was not done in Flash, or even on a PC. It was done on a BBC Master 128 computer in 1986, written in BBC BASIC and was the ATV colour zoom logo.

I hadn’t seen an ATV logo in years in 1986, and wondered whether I would ever see one again. You can see from the animation that I couldn’t really remember what the logo looked like, or even what happened in the animation, but I suppose it all adds to the charm. I planned the lightspots and the logo out on graph paper using a pencil and pair of compasses.

To draw the logo I used the Acorn Graphics Extension ROM (GXR) arcs (the GXR extensions were included in the Master by default), a GXR custom fill pattern and screen memory bank switching in order to animate the thing. I also used GCOL1 for mixing the colours using a bitwise AND in the lightspots and palette switching to allow me to animate on bits of the logo without having to wait to draw them.

A number of commenters expressed interest in the code, so here it is:

1REM The “ATV” logo
2REM by
3REM Dave Jeffery
460FORbox=250 TO 958 STEP 8
490c=c+1:IFc=7 c=1
570FORF=1 TO 6:VDU19,F,4;0;19,F+8,7;0;
590FORF=1 TO 6:VDU19,F,3;0;19,F+8,3;0;: FORW=0TO100:NEXT
690FORloop=600 TO 792 STEP 8
730FORloop=500 TO 692 STEP 8
770FORloop=500 TO 692 STEP 8
810FORwait=0 TO 1000:NEXT
890MOVE500+100,708+150: MOVE500+150,708: PLOT85,500+150,708+150: PLOT85,700,708
910FORwait=0 TO 1500:NEXT
940FORwait=0 TO 1500:NEXT
980MOVE500+100,328: MOVE500+150,328+150: PLOT85,500+150,328: PLOT85,700,328+150

If you want to run the code, why not pop along to, where you can get hold of a BBC Emulator to try this out for yourself.

If you run the code in an emulator (or on a real BBC Master 128) you’ll notice I took a few liberties with the timings when I was editing the video together to upload to YouTube!

Hopefully I’ve got a bit better at recreating the ATV logo since then. A more recent attempt, in Macromedia Flash 8, is here:

G Spots

While I was producing a title sequence for the “A Shower Of Shot” documentary, Rory Clark asked me if I would also produce some little animations that would appear in the documentary itself.

Rory had decided to break the documentary into sections, with the title of section being a word beginning with the letter g. He asked me if I would produce a few seconds of animation that would introduce each of the sections. He gave me a list of words “girls, gifts, gags, gaffes, etc.” and let me get on with it.

I started by creating all the words Rory gave me in Inkscape, and exported them all for import into Macromedia Flash 8 as .eps (Encapsulated Postscript) files.

Why don’t you build yourself a word…

My first idea was a bit too elaborate; I got carried away, which I often do! I produced an apple on a gradient background…

…that gets hit by a bolt coming out of a crossbow…

…smashing the screen…

…and revealing the name of the section underneath.

Rory gave me a bit of much needed direction and said he simply needed the word “golden…”…

…which would then be hit by a bolt…

…you’d see a flash…

…and with a quick shudder…

…the title of the section would be revealed.

Another thing Rory asked me to do was a breakdown caption. One of the things he remembered about watching “The Golden Shot” as a child were the breakdowns caused by technical difficulties, strikes or IRA bomb threats. These were the joys of live television in the 70s.

Obviously there was no argument about the style – Rory wanted an HTV holding transparency in the style we both remembered from the seventies which was handy as I would have probably given him one of those anyway! I selected a suitably naff publicity shot of Bob from a selection Rory sent to me and recreated in Inkscape what we would have seen in Wales and the West in the case of one of the aforementioned catastrophies.

The polyester clad stars of Wednesbury Co-op cheese counter…

Another thing Rory asked me to do was to add, for technical reasons, a few seconds of grey onto the beginning of the ATV Colour Zoom. Whilst I was happy to oblige, I suggested that he might also like to add this:

A fitting place to finish, I think.

I created it by tracing the caption that appears on the front of a telerecording of the last Golden Shot Bob presented in 1972 after he had been sacked for no reason whatsoever by Francis Essex. I used Inkscape to create the entire caption –  I couldn’t face drawing something as fiddly as this in Flash anymore! I must be getting old…

And with that, my work on the “A Shower Of Shot” documentary was done.

A Shower of Shot

Now I’d produced my “Monkhouse” font, my next job was to produce a caption using it. The Monkhouse font needs to be used very large to be legible, so the ATV graphic designers merged the letters together to give themselves enough room.

I also love the fact that the words are not centred.

I looked at the example above and noticed that the outer two outlines were fused together. By putting my letters over the ones in the screen-grab I worked out that the fourth outline of each letter should overlap the third outline of the letter to its left.

To do this letter fusing I used Inkscape and the letter outlines I’d drawn to import into FontForge. I used them rather than the true-type font simply because they were already the right size. I did this fusing a letter at a time, left to right. First of all I’d overlap the letters.

Overlap the letters

Then I’d merge the two outer outlines using the Inkscape Path Union feature. After that I deleted the areas of the merged path I didn’t want. The quickest way to do this was simply to draw a rectangle over an area of the overlap…

Rectangle over the overlap

…and then use the Path Difference feature….

Path Difference

…and then tidy up the paths using the Nodes tool.

And Bob’s Your Uncle

Then I’d do the same thing again for the second outline in.

Here’s the finished caption in Inkscape:

The end result.

After Rory OK-ed the end result he asked if I wanted to have a go at animating a title sequence for him. I said I would, provided I could get Macromedia Flash 8 to behave on Ubuntu GNU/Linux (I don’t have a copy of Windows). WINE is a very clever piece of free software that allows programs written for Microsoft Windows family of operating systems to run on the GNU/Linux operating system.

I already had WINE installed so I tried installing my copy of Macromedia Flash 8 and it worked perfectly. The only problem was the lack of anti-aliasing on some of the smaller fonts used on the interface and some of the keyboard short-cuts I liked using not working.

The next problem I had was how to export my Inkscape design into Flash. After doing a few tests the best format to use for the Inkscape to Flash 8 transfer seemed to be Encapsulated Postscript or “.eps”.

Now I was sure I could do something useful in Flash I got back to Rory and asked him which music he wanted to use. Rory quite rightly sent me back a copy of the late sixties/early seventies theme that was used for the longest amount of time. However, there was something missing – I wanted the “left a bit, right a bit, fire” that I remembered from my childhood. I suggested Rory cull it from the start of the final season’s title sequence.

I wanted to include this because I wanted to add the iconic ATV Colour Zoom logo at start of the sequence and have Bob smash it to pieces with a crossbow.

First of all I traced the bolt and bow from the final season titles – this was a very easy job as the shapes were quite simple. I layered a few gradient fills on top of each other to get a kind of “airbrushed” effect.

Running on GNU/Linux? That’s Flash…

Then I needed to smash the ATV logo to pieces. The first thing I needed to do was break apart my ATV logo in Flash so that it was all one symbol on one layer with no groups. Then I drew a “crack” shape on top of it. Finally, I turned the pieces inside each bit of the “crack” into separate symbol so I could animate them.

Lady Plowden did this too…

Although it’s very simple it worked quite well. As far as the titles themselves were concerned I wanted to copy the final season titles with the bolt setting off on a journey with concentric rings of airbrushed items giving an impression of movement.

This is what I wanted to copy…

One of the items I needed to borrow from those original titles was, naturally, an apple. Tracing the apple in Flash was an absolutely horrible job, and reminded me how lucky I am to be able to draw things in Inkscape most of the time. I decided not to draw the apple in Inkscape as I had no way of getting the gradient fills from Inkscape into Flash – they come across as bitmaps in all the formats I tried. This was no good as all of the objects I drew had to change size dramatically in the finished animation so they really had to be totally vector shapes.

Looks sweet, but rotten to do.

If you’ve never watched “The Golden Shot” you may not know that over the theme music an announcer says “…Live, from Birmingham…”. To illustrate the “from Birmingham” part I wanted a ring of ATV logos to appear. That was simplicity itself. But for the “…Live…” part I wanted to show the reason for the program being live – a telephone. “The Golden Shot” was a program where viewers at home could phone in and play.

In the later seasons of “The Golden Shot” a gold plated Trimphone was used, and I just had to have a trimphone in the titles as they are the essence of Britain in the seventies. I found a website with pictures of trimphones and I’m sure you’ll be delighted to know the trimphone I used as reference material was one of the series designed by Lord Snowden.

Something beginning with T: Trimphone – lovely!!!!!

Finally, I wanted to have a postcard, as viewers writing-in was an important part of the programme too. I used my Queen’s head and stamp perforations I’d designed many moons ago to use on a recreation of an ITV Schools and Colleges interval transparency. Anyone familiar with Bob’s life story will understand the significance of what’s actually written on the card.

And I want them served on that nice silver cake stand…

Sadly I currently don’t have access to the fantastic Swift3D here in England – I left my serial number in the UK and you can’t export without it. If I had, I would have used it to realise one of Rory’s original concepts for the title sequence.

What he asked me to do was to make the “O” rotate when it is hit by a crossbow bolt so that it looked like an “i” when it was on its edge so we got a shit/shot gag on the main title card. In fact, if I had had Swift3D I would also have recreated the wonderful psychedelic silver tube effect from the 1972 title sequence as well – it truly has to be seen to be believed.

Write a bit…

My friend Rory Clark does an awful lot of work for the classic TV organisation Kaleidoscope. One of the many things he does for Kaleidoscope is produce documentary films for their events. Their most recent event, “Bob’s Full House”, was held in The David Lean Room at BAFTA in London on the 24th October 2009. The event was to feature, amongst many other things, three specially made documentary films about Bob Monkhouse and I ended up helping out Rory a little by contributing some bits and pieces to two of them.

The first documentary Rory asked me to contribute to was “A Shower Of Shot” – a half hour history of the popular ATV Sunday afternoon game show “The Golden Shot“. The Golden Shot is one of my earliest television memories, so it was something I was delighted to contribute to.

Left a bit, right a bit, fire!

Initially Rory asked me to just create him an opening caption in “one of the Golden Shot typefaces”. There were four to choose from. The original Golden Shot title sequences used the one of the “grots” or Grotesque fonts.

Safe, dull, grot.

The colour era heralded something much more exciting – a wonderful “disco” engraved font complete with coloured targets.

Almost illegible, but who cares! ATV graphics at their outrageous best.

The Charlie Williams era was heralded by the strange arts and crafts Arnold Boecklin font. The typeface was as out of place as Williams, so it all made some kind of sense.

Are you alright my flower? No.

Then we get to the transatlantic schmaltzy Stephanie De Sykes and Rain era, with the rather transatlantic schmaltzy looking “Flamenco” face.

Life is a Beautiful Book; your mileage may vary.

There was really no contest as to which font I wanted to use but there was one small problem – I couldn’t get hold of the “disco” font for love nor money. I then recalled the advice of a friend, the great Southern/TVS graphic designer Alan Scragg: “I design fonts for clients as a matter of course as part of a design.” So I thought I’d try and do a Scraggie and do the same thing.

My plan was to draw the letter shapes in Inkscape for import into Fontforge on Ubuntu GNU/Linux. I was a bit nervous about this font as the nature of the typeface meant that I would be drawing many, many more outlines than I would be drawing for a normal face.

I thought the most sensible place to start was with the lower-case letter “l”. I took a screen grab of the end caption from a DVD of the program that Rory sent me. I imported this into the bottom layer in Inkscape so that I could trace over it. I then corrected the geometry of the grab so that the horizontals and verticals of the screen grab were properly straight. Next I cheated a bit – I played with the scale of the screen grab so that the white elements of the letter “l” sat on pixel boundaries. This would make my job in creating the letters much easier. Once I had done this I added some horizontal guides and turned on snapping to guides.

That was an l of a job…

From the letter l, I could see that the letters all followed a consistent pattern. An inner letter, which is 3 pixels thick, two pixel gap, three pixel thick shape, two pixel gap, three pixel shape, three pixel gap, three pixel shape, three pixel gap, three pixel shape, eight pixel gap, five pixel thick shape.

Just to check, I then did the lower case “o”, which was easy as it was made out of concentric circles. This worked perfectly so I knew I was on the right lines, so to speak.

My problem was this – creating concentric circles and rectangles was easy. However, how would I create concentric “g” or “f” shapes? Inkscape does have an “Outset” command, that would seem to solve this problem. You give it a shape and it creates an expanded version. However, it gives you no control over how much it expands the shape by. This was no good to me – I needed my shapes expanded by exact amounts.

In the end I resorted to using stroking. In other words, I’d draw the inner shape. Then stroke the inner shape with a two pixel thick stroke. I’d then convert that stroke to a shape and stroke that with a three pixel thick stroke and so on. It was repetitive and slow, but it worked a treat. If any Inkscape gurus can tell me a better way to do this I’d be grateful as there’s another engraved font I want to create soon!

After I had stroked a shape and converted the stroke to a fill, I had to remove a large number of extra, unneeded points created by the stroke/convert lines to fill process before I stroked the shape again. This was particularly important as I would be importing my shapes into a font editor later – I needed to keep each one as simple as possible.

This was a lovely “listen to music” type of job that you get with graphics sometimes, but in order I didn’t get lost or confused (my default state) I made sure I wrote down where I was on my pad. It ended up looking like this (click to enlarge):

Notice the crossed out alphabet!

The other problem I had was more minor – I had to “make up” the letters that didn’t appear in the caption. Luckily it was pretty clear from the style of the letters I had got how the other letters should look.

The next job was to sort out all the letters I had made so I could import them into FontForge 2.0. This was quite a confusing job. In this typeface all of the letters (or glyphs) have a number of “cut out” areas inside them which should not be filled with colour.  The font renderer that displays them needs a way of working out which bits of the glyph to fill and which bits not to fill. It does this by looking at the direction in which you joined up the points on each outline (or path).

You have to join up the points that make up outermost path in a clockwise direction (to show it should be filled), the points that make up the next path in in an anti-clockwise direction (to show it should not be filled) and so on. This meant that I needed to know which path was which. To make it easier I filled the concentric shapes in Inkscape with different colours so I could see what was going on.

The outlines got very confusing, thanks to the “targets”.

Without the colours, it wouldn’t be at all clear that the yellow area was in fact all one outline. The blue area would be a bit of a tricky one to work out as well.

I then exported each letter as a separate .svg file, in the same way as I did for my Central and Picasso faces.

Individual letters as svg files, ready for importing into Fontographer.

The import into FontForge 2.0 was quite straightforward, apart from the fact there seemed to be a bug in the FontForge svg parser. It didn’t seem to recognise “corner” points properly which meant I often had to spend time connecting the corner points up by hand. In other words I was a grown man spending hours on end doing dot-to-dots.This bug has since been fixed – which would have saved me hours. C’est la vie…

The letter “m” imported into FontForge.

Once I exported the truetype font, I named it “Monkhouse” in Bob’s honour. If you want to have a play with the Monkhouse font yourself I’ve released it under CC-BY-SA and you can download it from here. It’s lower case only and has no punctuation. One day I’d like to return to the typeface and finish it off properly.

In a future post I’d like to explain what I actually ended up doing with the “Monkhouse” font, but I think that’s been quite enough stupid rubbish from me for one day!

The finished font: Monkhouse.

By the way, the Kaleidoscope event was to raise money for the Prostate Cancer Research Fund, so if you do make use of the font, if you give a few bob for Bob that would be lovely.

Starting Science credits

Here are the finished filmised “Starting Science” credits, which I discussed in my previous post here.

After animation was created in Macromedia Flash 8:
  • the .swf was loaded into Premiere Elements 4.0,
  • gate weave was added using the Active Camera filter,
  • the video was exported from Premiere Elements as an .avi using the HuffyUV codec
  • then imported into VirtualDub
  • the VirtualDub blur filter was added
  • the MSU Noise Generator filter was added
  • the MSU Old Cinema filter was added
  • the video was exported from VirtualDub as an .avi using the HuffyUV codec
  • the video was turned into a .flv using the Flash Video Encoder (OnVP6 codec)
  • the video was uploaded to YouTube.

The credits are silent, as I don’t want to upset Ron Geesin, but with music it’s fantastic!

Film on a budget

I have done a lot of Adobe Flash animations of television graphics from the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. I have also just bought a copy of Adobe Premiere Elements 4.0, so I can experiment with video editing. I am really happy with Premiere Elements. In fact, there is only one thing I cannot do with it: make my graphics look like they are on film.

Stuart Kettle’s Starting Science robot, which I created from scratch in Flash, then filmised in VirtualDub. Click on it for a better look.

Television graphics in the 70s were often broadcast from 16mm colour film. Graphics on film have a special “look”:

  • colours change
  • edges become softer
  • you may see dust or scratches
  • the picture may bob up and down or look grainy

Input video from Flash (encoded with Huffyuv) on the left, VirtualDub output on the right. Using VirtualDub filters means I can work with colours which are not “video safe” or sharp edges in Flash and not worry about how they will look.

If you want to make video look like old film, there are expensive plug-ins available that do a fantastic job. I can’t afford them, and I don’t like using cracked software. Most video editing programs come with a free old film plug in. I tried Adobe Premiere Elements’ free “Old Film” plug-in. It was rubbish! So I needed to find another way – one that was cheap.

Before you start, you need some video. To get animations out of Flash and into a video format I use a codec called “HuffyUV” – it’s a free lossless video compression codec. After you install it, you can export an avi from Flash using the “Export Movie” option in the File menu and select HuffyUV as the codec.

Don’t forget to make sure the Flash Files are 720 x 576 at 25fps for PAL. I do my animations in a symbol that is 788 x 576 for PAL 4:3 or 1050 x 576 for PAL 16:9. I then squash the animations on the main stage for export horizontally to 720 x 576.

To get video out of Premiere Elements 4.0 to filmise it I also use HuffYUV. The DV format that Adobe suggests you use to export video you want to put back into Premiere Elements is no good for this job. It is very compact, but it will cause all sorts of nasty colour bleeding and make your end result look like a nasty VHS recording done somewhere with poor reception. To export a video as an .avi with HuffYUV from Premiere Elements you need to use “Export” from the File menu. Don’t forget to tweak the settings to export “Progressive” – you don’t need fields for film stuff!

Now we have some video we can filmise it. On the internet I found something called the MSU Old Cinema filter for a program called VirtualDub. I had never heard of either before, but I think they are both fantastic. Here’s what I do with them.

In the MSU Old Cinema filter, I always start by selecting the “Modern video with yellow shift” preset, and then clicking on “Advanced”. This lets me play with all the filter’s settings.

In the “Settings” group I always uncheck all the boxes apart from “Show Noise” and “Random Noise On Screen”. This will give you “speckle” and “sparkle”. “Speckle” are bits of dirt on the film, which appear as black dots. In the 1970s film was broadcast that was covered in dirt! If the dirt was on the negative, then it would appear white on screen – this is “sparkle”. I never touch any other filter setting now apart from the Colour Correction.

I have a lot of off-air recordings of television from the 1970s. I have found the 16mm film on them suffered from something called “Yellow Shift”. This means that blue has faded much more than red and green, so you end up with slightly yellowy look with greyish blues. However, I have found the “Yellow Shift” Colour correction in the MSU Old Cinema filter doesn’t get this look quite right. In particular, it gets pinks wrong.

That means I usually use “Manual Linear” colour correction instead, and play with the colour sliders myself. To match the appearance of a 1979 print of the ATV colour zoom ident, I found Strength 60%, Red 186, Green 186, Blue 126 worked fine.

To get the look of a 1980 edition of ATV’s “Starting Science” then I found Strength 60%, Red, 102, Green 114, Blue 30 worked, but I needed the VirtualDub built-in Brightness and Contrast Filter too. I set the Brightness to +7 and left the Contrast at 100%.

For a really faded look, to match a 1975 edition of Granada’s “A Place To Live”, I found Strength 80%, Red 171, Green 107, Blue 42 worked well.

If the yellow cast is too strong or your footage looks too dark with these colour corrections you can reduce the Strength setting.

To make the film look “grainy”, I use another free VirtualDub filter. It’s called the MSU Noise Generator. Normal Distributed Noise with Y strength 3, Cb strength 3 and Cr strength 3 is a good start, but noise varies a lot from film to film.

If you add noise it not only makes your end result look more realistic – it can also hide defects in your source material. It is particularly good for breaking up gradient fills, which often look bad on video.

Film has softer edges than video, so it is important to soften the edges of anything you want to sell as film. To soften the edges I use the VirtualDub built-in “blur”” filter. However, you must make sure this appears before the other filters, so you don’t blur the grain or scratches.

If you are working in PAL 16:9, you can right click on the video input and output panes in VirtualDub to change view them at the correct aspect ratio.

To export the video from VirtualDub, I also use HuffyUV. If you press Ctrl-P you’ll be able to change the video compression method.

So we’ve got the grain, we’ve got the softness, we’ve got the faded colour and the speckle and sparkle and the scratches. All that’s left is the gate weave.

Gate weave is the gentle bobbing up and down that film used to do. The MSU Old Cinema filter and the Elements Old Film plug in both really overdo this effect. However, there is a way of getting a realistic gate weave effect. To do this I use the “Active Camera” plug in that comes with Premiere Elements 4. If you add this effect to a piece of video, changing the settings to Horizontal .33, Vertical 2.0, Crop 5, Rate 50, Jitter 75 is a good starting point.

The MSU Old Cinema filter is not a perfect solution – the number of speckle and sparkle artifacts it has is limited and they look rather small on screen. It cannot do things like “hair” trapped in the gate. And I have to add the marker that shows the film is coming to the end of a reel in Flash. It would also be good if there were adjustable settings for gate weave and flicker.

The MSU Noise Generation filter does not make a totally convincing film grain either – MSU have written a proper Film noise plug but it’s for its paying customers only.

However, this is the best “free” filmising solution I have found, and it can produce some very realistic results. Try it yourself!