Wednesday, 31 December 2014

So It Came Back After All...

I'd got to the point, this time last year, when I really didn't think Arbitrary Stopframe would be coming back, having been replaced on the slate by things like Papercuts and The Murkum Show.

As of this Christmas, the allegedly-defunct series has aired another 25 episodes.  So much for predictions.

I won't bore you by recapping the tale of how Episode 14 got made.  If you don't know already, you can read it here.  Having written off Series 2 back in January, though, I promptly came down with a new idea for how I could go ahead with Series 2 - as one does.  The phrase 'animated advent calendar' popped into my head, I realised that it would mesh nicely with the AS format, and that was kinda that.

In the earlier stages of development, I considered various stylistic options, e.g. trying to set up the title sequence so it would do a traditional Advent Calendar opening-door effect, but I never got round to implementing that; the actual title sequence ended up being very short (which is probably a good thing when it's going to get used 24 times in rapid succession), cutting out the signature segment and Zooky's appearance at the end, giving everything a vaguely-frost-ish colour-grading, and reverting to the original AS theme tune, albeit in a specially-commissioned jingle-bell-ified remix. The format of the episodes in general ended up being broadly similar to the original episodes, although a bit shorter, and of course featuring the number of the day in each clip.

I had hoped to have a bit more of the series in the can before December rolled around, but I didn't, so that was that.  When I published Day 1, I'd only finished editing up to Day 5, and filmed up to Day 9.  I spent most of my spare time throughout Advent producing the remainder of the Calendar in a bit of a frantic rush, and there were two days (Tues 9 and Tues 16) when I actually ran out of finished episodes and had to spend the rest of the day editing some more so I could carry on publishing without an interruption!

In case you haven't seen it already, here's the complete Advent Calendar playlist:

And finally, here's a selection of behind-the-scenes fun facts from the project, in a vaguely chronological order:
  • The Animated Advent Calendar was written by the same four people who have penned The Murkum Show Series 1 and 2 - me, Tim Johnston, Sarah Johnston and Sam Arthur.  Sarah was the most prolific guest writer, bucking the usual trend of Tim taking that accolade.
  • The episodes weren't written in anything like the 'correct' order - the first storyline I came up with was the one with Monster Movie spitting bits of another chewed-up DVD case at Murkum, which became Day 15, and the last episode written was Day 22.
  • Some episodes contain less-than-subtle back-references to the original series, most notably Odom weilding a Sharpie again on Day 1, Cylinder making a nuisance of himself on Day 3, Zooky interfering with a jar of instant coffee on Day 5, and of course Monster Movie making a few more appearances and usually roaring a lot.
  • Some of the cast had only been in one episode each by the end of the original series; this time round I wanted to make sure everyone had been in multiple episodes.  In the end, Arthur got two more outings in the Calendar and three overall, and every other character (apart from the webcam, which arguably doesn't count) had been in at least four overall.  Murkum has made the most appearances in AS overall, with six.  Harrison is the only character whose AS appearances have all been solo.
  • The episodes have individual titles - although they don't appear within the videos themselves or in the YouTube descriptions, they will be published soon on the AS page at
  • This was the first animated project I filmed using my new Nikon D7100.  As a side-effect, it's also my first animated project with source imagery created at a higher resolution than 1080p.  I could shoot 4K stopmotion if i wanted - but I can't edit 4K with my current version of Sony Vegas, so that'd be a bit pointless.
  • The first five episodes, plus nos 9, 12 and 24, were filmed in the correct sequence, but the rest were all shot out of order - 7 and 8 were shot before 6, 11 before 10, and 13 to 23 were hopelessly scrambled.  The reshuffles were made for practical reasons, such as availability of the kitchen (which was why I pulled 7 and 8 forwards), or filming episodes with a shared character or prop together (most notably 12 and 21, which were shot as a pair, and the three with Monster Movie - 15, 20 and 23 - which were all shot on the same day).
  • You might not have realised it, but if you've been watching my other animation output this year then you'll already have seen that little battery-operated string of LEDs several times before - it was an integral part of the lighting setup for most of the episodes of The Murkum Show Series 2 and its spin-off Greasy Food with Gonce.
  • The longest episode in the Calendar was Day 3 (52.44 seconds), and the shortest was Day 14 (33.72 seconds).  All 24 days were shorter than the previous-shortest AS video, Episode 2 Fruit Pastilles (56.52 seconds).
  • Murkum's little grumble at the end of Day 4 was the first piece of actual dialogue ever used in AS (his screams in Series 1 don't really count as dialogue, and they were stock sounds rather than original recordings anyway); I performed, recorded and processed his lines for Days 4, 10 and 15 using exactly the same techniques as I do for The Murkum Show, except that the AS lines were recorded after I'd shot the videos, instead of before rolling cameras like I would do on his main series.
  • After filming Days 6 and 9, I left the string of blue lights sellotaped to my desk for several days (mostly because it had been such a faff sellotaping them down that I couldn't quite bring myself to rip them off again already), before clearing them up so I could shoot Day 11.
  • The episode with the most troubled production was probably Day 10 - I shot the first half three times, and had to scrap the first two and revise my plans due to technical problems.
  • Day 11 was not only the scariest episode of the Calendar to film, but the scariest bit of animation I've ever done, point blank.  Working with live flame in both that episode and in Day 22 was pretty nerve-wracking, but at least the tealight candles in Day 22 were fairly staid; the matches used in Day 11 burnt a lot faster than I'd hoped, and came upsettingly close to melting Snow to a dirty yellow blob a couple of times.  In the half-dozen-or-so frames it takes her to spin around between lighting the match and igniting the 'fuse' in the crisp packet, I had to film faster than I can ever remember working before (apart from live-action stuff, obviously!) and actually had to swap out the original match in her hand for a new one after 3 or 4 frames, because they burnt so fast.  I ate the crisps afterwards.
  • The most productive filming day was Thursday 4 December - I shot an unprecedented five videos back-to-back: 12 to 14, plus 16 and 21.
  • The disappearing number on the gift label in Day 14 was done with a combination of practical and digital trickery - but I won't tell you all the details because that would spoil the fun.
  • In case you were wondering, the other DVD whose remains Monster Movie spits out in Day 15 was 300.  I didn't want to tear up something from my own DVD collection, so I went into the charity shop a few doors up from where I work and rummaged around for something with a cover that featured a BBFC '15' logo on a suitable background; they were all the same price, and most of the '15' logos were about the same size, so I picked 300 based mainly on the background texture.  As a consequence, there might (although I can't confirm) be a tiny little fragment of Gerard Butler's leg somewhere on-screen for a couple of frames' worth of Day 15.  I haven't actually watched the film, just ripped the corner off the cover and got a plasticene-legged South Korean kaiju DVD to spit out the shreds.
  • Day 15 was also the first episode in any of my animated mini-series to credit somebody else for creating or co-creating a featured character (Sam, for providing the original concept for Monster Movie).  I suppose I could have credited or co-credited Tim for various characters who have featured in Arbitrary Stopframe or The Murkum Show over the years, but there are so many characters in the Murk Army and the history of their creation has been so complicated that it would have added several extra credit screens to each episode trying to explain who was responsible for writing who, so Tim and I have a tacit agreement that we don't bother with character credits for Murk Army videos, for the sake of people's mental health.
  • The idea for Day 18 emerged out of discussions over Tim's pitch for Day 14 - but I ended up filming Day 14 as originally pitched as well.
  • Day 20 was the first time Arthur has ever been heard speaking - his original film Arthur & the Punk was silent.  I had a cold the day I edited Days 20 to 24, and the otherwise-annoying throatful of phlegm came in surprisingly useful when I was trying to do an old-person voice.  I still ended up recording all of his lines twice.
  • Day 23 re-used some of the chocolates Cylinder was messing with in Day 3, and some of the dolly mixtures that Murkum got mixed up with in Day 10.  I don't know if you'd noticed, but I like to sneak a dolly-mixture joke into my stopmotion work every now and then, particularly in the X-Battles GT shorts.  As with the crisps from Day 11, I ate some of the sweets after filming with them.
  • This was the first project to feature the revised mnimation logo - the logo's lighting colours have been subtly altered, the text style has been changed to match that used in the main M.C.Media logo (stronger overall corporate image, and all that... heheh), and the awkward capital N has been dropped, leaving the official stylisation entirely lowercase.  I like the fact that the previous mnimation logo made its debut on the same video as the D80, and this one made its debut on the same video as the D7100.

- The Colclough

Friday, 5 December 2014

But All I Wanted...

...was to reply to a comment.  Seriously, I'd got a comment on a YouTube video (which is now a rare enough event that it merits being remarked upon!), and I wanted to reply.  Google, in their infinite wisdom, wouldn't let me reply without generating a new bleeding Google+ page attached specifically to my YT channel... as if one useless G+ page attached to the top level of my Google account wasn't bad enough!

I'm getting seriously hacked off with the whole YT/G+ thing.

Back in the day, if you wanted to be on YT, you had a YT account.  You logged into that account, and you could add videos to your channel and leave comments and stuff, just like what happens on any other website whose designers have brain cells.  End of.

Now?  Sure, you can sign into YT, albeit using your Google account, and post videos, like before.  But it seems that leaving comments requires the existence of at least one (preferably fifteen) G+ pages bolted to various parts of your Google account like so many tumours.  That's basically what it comes down to - unifying YT accounts into Google accounts, fair enough, but now they've gone and given YouTube cancer.  G+ is a hideous, cancerous growth infecting the system and ruining everything, and I FREAKING HATE IT.  You hear me, Google?  I'll bet you don't, but I'm gonna yell at you anyway: I HATE GOOGLE+.  ALL OF IT.  IT'S STUPID AND POINTLESS AND ADDS NOTHING TO THE YOUTUBE EXPERIENCE, UNLESS YOU COUNT FRUSTRATION AS AN ADDITION.  GET IT?

The thing is, it does nothing.  If G+ did anything that was worth doing, then I might not mind adding a page or two, but it doesn't.  It does nothing.  It's one more platform where you can allegedly connect with people, but I've never made a single meaningful connection on that platform.  The people I actually want to talk to, I talk to on Skype or Steam - or, shock horror, in person!  Going through the treadmill of adding them all as contacts on yet another online platform does nothing for me.  And even when I add people there, they don't do anything there to make it worth my while having bothered to add them there.  And neither do I.  The cool stuff is happening on other platforms.  ALL OF IT.  Nothing - nothing whatsoever - of any interest happens on G+.  You go to any G+ page you like, and it's got the same hollow, vaguely depressing feeling that an empty room has.  And I find it very, very frustrating being forced to connect a bunch of depressing empty rooms onto my YT account.

Dear Google: G+ has failed.  Please kill it immediately.  Keep Google accounts by all means, but please delete every trace of G+ code from the system, take down all those soul-crushing empty pages, and let the world go back to the way it should be.  And fire the person who instigated G+, because they're stupid.

Thank you.

- The Colclough

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

So, Three Months Later...

I feel vaguely hypocritical - having given Hannah Newcombe a scolding for letting her blog lapse, I find myself having done the same thing (albeit not on such a grand scale).  Three months have passed since I last posted on here.

What's happened?
  • I've helped build a conservatory.
  • I've finished the second season of The Murkum Show, plus spin-off Greasy Food With Gonce, and been putting in some brain-juice on the third run.
  • I've made progress towards filming the next set of Papercuts episodes.
  • I've started writing Cylinder and Miserable Series 4 (as threatened earlier).
  • I've put in a few months of doodling on my second Papertowns drawing.
  • I've bought a new camera - a Nikon D7100, which is very, very nice, and will be used for all future instalments of Murkum Show, Papercuts etc.
  • I went to Root Hill again - my 9th time.  Really starting to feel like part of the woodwork now.  Enjoyed it very much.  Was able to take a car for the first time.  Also took the D7100, and had a horrible moment where I thought it was broken, but fortunately it turned out that the £900 camera was fine, the problem was with the £20 memory cards, which were in fact fakes and have now been sent back and refunded.
  • I launched a new website for YBC... and then had an embarrassing hiccup where I forgot the admin password.
  • Probably other stuff I've forgotten to mention.

So, there you go - a quick recap of all the stuff that I never got round to blogging about in more tedious detail over the last quarter of a year.

Oh... and I might have slightly started writing A Salesman Beneath again, after a nearly-3-year hiatus.  Hm...

- The Colclough

Friday, 13 June 2014

Fifteen Miles to Electricity

The broadband at Yateley Baptist hasn't been working very well for the last couple of months.  It broke down, stayed down for a fortnight or so, got fixed, stayed working for two or three weeks, and then broke down again - and it's been down for about three weeks now.  An engineer's coming on Tuesday.

Not very helpful when you've got sermon recordings to upload, or if you'd been planning to screen World Cup matches with free food as a getting-to-know-people-in-the-community exercise, and the screening was going to be done via the web.

However, I had an email last night which offers a timely dose of perspective:

I've recently been helping to prepare some booklets for printing, on behalf of YBC's missionary Ian, who makes radio programmes in French (mainly for broadcast into Francophone Africa) and writes up summaries of the teaching in booklet form.  It's an interesting exercise when I barely speak a word of French, although I can sometimes trace a few words back through their Greek or Latin roots and get some idea of what a sentence might be saying.  But the latest instalment gets even more interesting - it's not the French version (already published), but a translation into Lobiri.  I think I might have heard the name once or twice before the book turned up, but I've got to admit I haven't even got round to Googling it to find out what part of Africa it comes from!  The script uses some Latin characters, but also several others that don't appear in English and don't look much like Greek or Cyrillic, so I can't even guess at what's being said - I have to take it on trust that it's a straight translation of Ian's writing and doesn't contain any raving heresies.

I've been sent the translation in PDF format and it's proving difficult to transfer back into Word for processing, so I've asked if I could have a .doc version.  Then the reply came back, and this is where I return to my original point: apparently my request should be possible - except it might take a while, because the guy who translated the book into Lobiri doesn't have electricity.  The nearest town with electricity - never mind the Internet, just basic electricity - is at the other end of 25km's (or 15 miles') worth of dirt tracks.

Which makes my little gripe with BT Broadband seem a bit puny, doesn't it?

- The Colclough

Saturday, 26 April 2014

Eventuality Zero

For the first time in almost eight years, you and I are on an equal footing.

I began writing Cylinder and Miserable way back on the 9th of June 2006, and about a year ago I finished writing Series 3 (as noted in this other post); since then I've been publishing steadily without writing any new material, and as of today I have released all extant episodes (2126 of them!), up to and including the end of Series 3 - which means you know everything I do.  Well, you know everything apart from the [MASSIVE SPOILER] which I'm planning for the as-yet-unwritten Series 4... but that doesn't count, because it doesn't really exist until I get round to producing Episodes 2127 onwards.

The previous two times, there was a big lump of overlap: I started writing Series 2 before I'd finished publishing Series 1, and I started writing Series 3 before I'd finished publishing Series 2; not so this time.  In a way, it's apt that there should be a bit more separation between Series 3 and 4, as I'm planning a few changes next time round.  (You'll have to wait and see what those changes are, though.)

Thing is, though, it's not just Cylinder and Miserable.  It's very nearly everything.

Grace and Caffeine wrapped up back in 2010 (noted in my third-ever post on this blog), and despite me having notes for dozens of potential new episodes, I've never got round to producing any of them.  Knowing It's Called Aspergers seems to have reached its natural endpoint as of last summer.  Alien President was only ever a limited-time deal, and is long since completed.  Tim, meanwhile, has put Brothers in Shells on an indefinite hiatus, and long since finished his C&M spinoff Sidewards.  The only other significant comic strip (or project in a similar format) either of us have been involved with is Fort Paradox.

If you've been reading Fort Paradox, you'll have noticed that we ran out of episodes at the beginning of last month.  Again, completely ran out, with no overlap or buffer - Episode 180 was published, without Episode 181 having been written.  We scripted the next thirteen strips a few days later, though, and earlier this week Tim illustrated Episodes 184 and 193, which is the only thing that stopped us reaching "Eventuality Zero": the point where every single one of our comic-strip projects has completely run out of finished-but-unpublished episodes.

I expect the new Fort Paradox strips will take a while to see the light of day, as it's unlikely that we're going to finish the next two chapters in any sort of hurry, and hopefully C&M Series 4 will be in production before FP runs out again, so Eventuality Zero should still be at least a year or two away.  Beyond that... who knows?

In the meantime, though, I intend to enjoy being able to discuss C&M on an equal footing - at least with Tim and Sarah, even if nobody else is paying attention any more.

- The Colclough

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Expanding the Paper Horizon

I finished a drawing last Tuesday.

Normally, finishing a drawing isn't such a big deal, as I do quite a few of them.  But this one was different: for starters, it was a whole year (a year plus four days, in fact) in the making.  It's impractically large, at nearly 1.2 metres (4') long.  The scariest statistic - which I only just finished calculating tonight, a week later - is that it contains 150 people.  Although when I say 'people', I don't mean fully-detailed humans, I mean little box people in the same vein as the cast of Papercuts.

I drew a bunch of pictures when I was about 9 to 11, showing various small towns populated by fictional creatures of my own design.  I enjoyed them at the time (all 15 of them!), but in retrospect there are all sorts of problems, such as there being far too many doctors' surgeries despite very few people appearing to be sick or injured, or such as a depressing lack of architectural variation from village to village or from building to building.  But somehow, despite the numerous flaws, I still have a bit of a soft spot for these creakingly awful doodles - but I'm still not publishing them.  I bring this up because in some ways, my new work is essentially the same project, just being tackled again 16 years later by an older and wiser version of me.  Okay, so I've transferred the whole thing into a different fictional world, re-populated it with a different species, and generally shaken everything up, but the basic idea of drawing a portrait of a fictional high street remains unchanged, and the new picture contains all sorts of (usually inconspicuous) little nods back to what I was drawing in the late 1990s.

But despite the fact that it radically reboots my "Let's sit down and draw a town off the top of my head" project, Papertowns: Desmonton isn't a whole new world coming into being from scratch, but is actually an expansion of another world which I began a couple of years ago and which I'm very fond of irrespective of its relatively small size: the world of Papercuts.

The seven Papercuts episodes released so far collectively form what I've started referring to as 'Phase I', and they're pretty self-contained, with few or no hints at what the surrounding world might be like.  I'm planning a few changes for 'Phase II' (Episode 8 onwards), such as making an alteration or two to the title-sequence visuals and letting Tim remix the theme tune; another change which has been less consciously planned, but which I suspect will happen anyway, is an increasing awareness of the bigger universe.  Tim's written a script for Phase II which name-drops Desmonton, for example - in the context that Desmonton, as you see it in the new drawing, is the nearest town of any significance to the Papercuts characters' residence.  I've started thinking through details such as how their currency works, which is briefly hinted at in Episode 7 Debt of Gravy-tude and might become more significant in future instalments.  I haven't yet decided which story will lead the charge on Phase II, but I'm very much looking forward to seeing how the new material develops, hopefully later this year.

Meanwhile, their world is growing in other directions, the first and most significant of which you can see here:

That's Desmonton, sorta - I don't know why Blogger has darkened and dirtied the image so badly.  I'd very much recommend that you go and look at the higher-quality version I've uploaded to DeviantArt, and click the picture there for full resolution.

And I've already started sketching another town... but more on that later.

- The Colclough

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

The Twit in the Breathing Mask Is Back

My last post offered something of a post-mortem on Arbitrary Stopframe Series 2.  This one is rather less morbid: The Murkum Show Series 2 is alive and kicking.  I'd already decided on the new location and started getting scripts together before the camera fell silent on the set of Series 1, and the project has been steadily picking up steam since about mid-January.

If you've been watching my YouTube output, you'll have noticed that my post-Papercuts-7 output included an Arbitrary Stopframe special, and then three new Fifteen-Minute Fortress videos - and if you were really observant, you might even have spotted my clever segue from one project into the next: FMF IV "I'll Explain Later" showed me building a rather odd little structure, which remained unidentified at the time (in terms of what I told the audience; obviously I knew what I was doing...), but later turned out to be a specially-built set for the Prologue to Series 2 of The Murkum Show.  No prizes for having spotted that, I'm afraid, except for the feel-good glow inside.

Fifteen-Minute Fortress IV: I'll Explain Later

...and the explanation - The Murkum Show: A Prologue to Series 2

Having filmed the Prologue, I knocked down the set, and (via one or two false starts) began assembling the much larger and more elaborate one which would represent Fort Murk's new Staff Lounge and one or two adjacent areas, ready to film the fifteen episodes which I'd got lined up for the new season.  (In case you're wondering, the recurrence of the number 15 across multiple projects is entirely coincidental; don't start expecting me to make Fifteen: The Movie any time soon, because I won't.)  Series 2 is proceeding much the same way Series 1 did, with episodes being recorded in batches of three at a time, and episode numbers and production-block codes picking up where the first season left off - restarting at Block F and Episode 16, in case you were wondering.

Progress has been (deliberately) rather headlong for the last month or so, with everything finished up to and including Block H / Episode 24 already, and I filmed Block I (Episodes 25 to 27) late last week, with help from Tim and guest appearances from some of his characters.  Oney, also seen in Tim's Alpha One stopmotion shorts, is one of Murkum's men, and his films exist in the same continuity as The Murkum Show (hinted at in Episode 5 last year, but only by video-conference), so it was nice to finally get both characters filming on the same set at the same time.

Last year, I managed to release all 15 episodes on 15 consecutive weekends, with all but one of them releasing on the Saturday, except that Episode 8 had to be pulled forwards to the Friday to accommodate a family weekend away; with no family weekends away planned for the next two or three months, I'm hoping to improve on Season 1's consistency of scheduling and get all 15 of this year's episodes out on 15 consecutive Saturdays.  Two down, thirteen more to go, with the season finale due to broadcast on the 7th of June.

Those two down, which I just mentioned

I'm also hoping to be able to stop saying the number 15 soon.

Check back to my YouTube channel this weekend for Episode 18...

- The Colclough

Saturday, 18 January 2014

The Remnants of 2

Don't get used to this.  Arbitrary Stopframe isn't back on a permanent basis, or anything approaching one - this is just a one-off special.

When I finished Series 1 back in November 2011, after filming Sam's rather excellent literal-Monster-Movie script, I decided that enough desk was enough, and if I did a second series then I'd try setting it in the kitchen.  It didn't take me long to come up with two work-in-progress storylines, which I earmarked for Episodes 14 and 15 - one with Zooky the Alien Dog Thing getting into the kitchen and finding a new food source (which may or may not have ended up being chocolate drops), and one with Emily and Snow making a mug of coffee for their animator.

Two years later, however, neither idea had reached a fully-developed filmable state, no more ideas had presented themselves, my attention was being increasingly taken up by Papercuts and The Murkum Show, and I'd been slowly drifting towards the opinion that Arbitrary Stopframe was dead - good and proper dead.  But then (I think on Sunday 5 January) I had an inspired idea: mash those two stories into a single episode, and produce it as a one-off special after Murkum Show Series 2.  That was followed by an even better idea: why wait?  Why not go ahead and do it right now, before TMS S2 had even got started?

So I did.

The revised title sequence is a hint at what might have been - I designed it at the end of 2011, with a view to using it for the entire second season, but now it'll probably only ever appear on this one episode.  The new music is part of the same 7-movement suite as the original theme tune (thanks again to Tim), and already appeared on the show once, as one of the radio selections which Odom doesn't approve of in Episode 8 Headphones.

Turns out our kitchen isn't a great working environment for animation.  A large part of the problem is that it's almost impossible to block out natural light, which neccessitated filming in the evenings when it'd gone dark outside, and it was surprisingly difficult to find an evening when I could have the room to myself - Episode 14 ended up being shot in two halves a week apart, on the last two Wednesday evenings (I'd be interested to see if anybody can spot the break).

Also worth noting: I had no assistance filming the shots of myself holding the mug, and I'm wondering whether anybody can figure out how I got to the shutter release for the frames where both of my hands are visible on screen... not that I'm offering any prizes.

Anyway, as I said, don't get used to this.  My little Arbitrary Stopframe revival thingy is over, and I'm now gearing up for the second season of The Murkum Show.  But I hope you enjoyed the blip while it lasted.

- The Colclough

In Which I Waffled

In case you were wondering how the heck Papercuts ever got made, here's a little peek behind the lens... thought I'd blog this before hurtling off into other projects.

- The Colclough

Saturday, 28 December 2013


I mentioned last time that I was nearly finished with Papercuts Episode 7, with the last remaining components being of the audio variety.  Well, today Tim finished and delivered his ninth composition for the series, I plugged it into the edit along with a handful of other freshly-minted audio elements, and Debt of Gravy-tude was finished.  And released - you should see it embedded a paragraph or two down from here.

I hope you've been taking note of the music in Papercuts.  Like the visuals, every last bit of it has been specially created for the show - no stock footage, stock score, or stock anything around here: I took the decision relatively early on in Production Block A, last spring, that since I was going to so much effort over the project anyway, I may as well go that bit further and record all my own sound effects too.  But the point is, Tim's actually been building up quite a broad-based collection of cues over the seven episodes, ranging from a slow, minimal guitar solo in Episode 3, up to rather more complex and breakneck-paced chase theme in Episode 6, via music for a windmill and a flower, for China, and even for outer space.  You can convey a lot with hand-drawn visuals (if I say so myself), but sometimes there's just no substitute for having a composer on hand to help with the scene-setting or (as is more common in this series) with the 'punctuation' of a scene.  The main point of this post, apart from showcasing Episode 7, is to offer Tim a public thank you for the Papercuts score.  So: thank you, Tim.

In case you were wondering, yes, the vlog is still coming.  Just taking a while to edit.  Keep watching this space!

- The Colclough

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Not Much of a Wrap Party

As you might have heard already if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter (I tweet now - sorta - @TheColclough), I just finished up filming on Papercuts Production Block C; Episodes 5 and 6 have already been released, and 7 has taken another crucial step towards its completion - I'm still hoping to be able to have it finished by the end of 2013.

I think I've mentioned before that for some reason I don't tend to get much of a buzz from finishing a film; it just happens, I feel a bit meh, and I move on to the next thing.  This time, though, it's gone beyond mere "not getting a buzz": in the half-hour since the camera shutter fell silent, I've actually started feeling a tad depressed about the whole thing.


Well, this might be a good time to explain that Episode 7 is, to all intents and purposes, the end of Papercuts as we know it.  I decided a couple of months back that the physical cutout process is too fiddly and time-consuming, so after finishing Block C (i.e. Episodes 5 to 7), I would pack it in, and produce any future episodes using a digital process.  I'd still create the various elements with paper, ink and photography, but the cutting-out and movement stages would take place inside the computer.  I've also considered making one or two revisions to the title sequence, and Tim's made noises about wanting to rework the theme tune, so there's looking to be quite a distinct break between Episode 7 and Episode 8 - the end of "Phase I", and the start of a "Phase II", if you like.  It struck me, a minute or two after finishing the closing shot, that that right there might have been the last time I ever did any work for this show using the physical-cutout technique (which I first dabbled with nearly three years ago), and that was when the almost-sad thing came in.

To be honest, I don't even know what the storyline for Episode 8 will be, or whose pen it'll come from - there are various ideas I've had, and various stories which have been pitched in various forms by one or two others (you know who you are), but nothing that's ready to film yet as far as I'm aware.  The Murkum Show is a different matter, as I've got several new episode scripts ready to go, but as far as Papercuts is concerned, I just finished shooting the last known script, and I suspect the unknown-ness of the next instalment was a contributing factor to my little bout of unhappiness.

Anyway, I think I'm getting over it now.  Just need to do a little bit more editing and audio work, and wait for one new music track from my resident composer, and Episode 7 will be ready to show off to the world, which is a very happy thought!

And in the meantime, since I haven't posted them on this blog yet, here are Episodes 5 and 6.  Enjoy (again, if applicable)...

...and have a very Merry Christmas and (in case I don't see you again before then) a happy New Year!

- The Colclough

Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Slate, November 2013

I'm not entirely sure where the phrase 'the slate' came from, but these days it seems to refer to the list of projects which a film studio is either working on now or planning to work on in the near future.  I thought this would be a good time to publish my own slate (or M.C.Media's, depending how you look at it) - so here goes...

Current project: Papercuts Production Block C (Episodes 5-7)

I've got a trio of scripts which came together around late summer, comprising the show's first two-parter, written by Tim, and a one-off episode by me.  Dialogue recording is complete, and the photography and editing stages are well underway for all three instalments.  The production block also includes some additional material: a short prologue to Episode 5, and a vlog showing the filmmaking process for Papercuts, specifically following the progression of work on a single new set which needed to be built for Block C.

 A moment from Papercuts Episode 5... coming soon!

The prologue was originally going to be the opening scene of Episode 5, but I felt that it wasn't necessary for the story and was slowing the episode down; initially I was going to tell Tim to just delete it, but then I decided I actually liked it in itself despite it not really being needed for the overall story, so I thought I'd go ahead and film it anyway, and release it separately as a prologue (inspired by the 'prequels' which Doctor Who has been doing for the last 2 or 3 years), under the pretext that it's a marketing thing.  It's finished, as of this morning, and you can see it here:

The production vlog will probably be the next thing I release, followed by Episode 5 itself.

Beyond the release of Episode 7, I don't really have any fixed plans for Papercuts; I'm open to doing more episodes in 2014 or later, but it all depends on getting scripts ready.

The next few projects: Fifteen-Minute Fortresses, Inanimate HD and The Murkum Show Series 2

This part is subject to change, but here's what I'm currently thinking in terms of my next work beyond Papercuts 7:

First up, you may or may not remember a little video I did earlier this year, titled The Fifteen-Minute Fortress?  Well, I might do a couple more of those.  Revise the parameters of the exercise, but still keep it broadly similar in spirit.  Watch this space.

Meanwhile, thinking even further back, you might recall my five-minute live-action short Inanimate from 2006.  This summer, armed with a vastly better camera and a friend who knew how to make said camera behave itself, I staged a remake of the film, now in shiny HD and starring Tim.  At some point, I need to knuckle down and edit the thing, and once the edit's complete, I'll take the logical next step and release the film.  Inanimate HD is rather more definite than Fifteen-Minute Fortress II, mostly because it's already been filmed, but the editing process could prove to be rather slow.

 Tim Johnston in the new version of Inanimate

And finally, the third and probably biggest thing on my near-future-projects slate is a second season of The Murkum Show.  The first was a lot of fun to make, and there's a lot of momentum building up for the second: I've already got a good idea of what the set will look like, and got seven episode scripts lined up (fun fact: all four of the people who wrote for Series 1 have already got scripts in the queue for Series 2).  It's very unlikely that Murkum Show S2 will see the light of day before next year, what with the work that remains to be done on my current projects, but I'm 98% sure it'll be happening in the first half of 2014.

Doctor Murkum in a recent adventure - expect more in early 2014

Other stuff that may or may not happen next year

I've got a few other bits and pieces on the go.  These include Improbable (a very odd little cel short, which I released a teaser clip for several months ago), Empire of the Pond (a remake of Fishy Business, a 2003 short whose storyline I thought was alright, but whose animation was so embarrassingly bad that I'm never going to let you see it), and a perhaps-over-ambitious CGI production titled Golden Cube, about a robot who works in a strange, futuristic dolly-mixtures factory.  No particular release schedules for any of those yet, but since I'm publishing the slate, it seems only fair to mention that they're on it - albeit down at the bottom.

 No, it won't start making any more sense when you see the finished film.

- The Colclough

Quite A Weekend

23 November 2013: yesterday, someone assassinated President Kennedy.  The papers are full of it.  Somewhere in a back column, they mentioned that writers C. S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley also died yesterday - but of course JFK is the bigger news.  And somebody told me that BBC Television will be starting some new science-fiction show tonight - science fiction on television, of all the strange things to do!

Well, fast-forward by precisly one-half of a century, and the dead guys are still (surprise, surprise) dead.  The balance of attention between Kennedy and Lewis' death-days has levelled out a bit, which I'd say is a good thing, as Kennedy may have been 'the most important' on a materialistic scale but Lewis was far more significant from a spiritual perspective.  Ultimately, though, they're both still dead.  As is Huxley, but I know very little about him really.

Doctor Who, on the other hand, is very much alive and kicking, and since the beginning of this month or thereabouts, the entire BBC seems to have metamorphosed into a giant promotion-and-celebration machine for its own sci-fi brainchild.  I haven't yet seen Mark Gatiss' drama about the show's origins, An Adventure in Space and Time, but it's waiting on the hard-disk recorder and I'm rather looking forward to it.  Ditto The Science of Doctor Who.  But the big news, of course, is the 75-minute anniversary special, The Day of the Doctor, which will be airing tonight, precisely 50 years after the very first episode went out on 23 November 1963.

I've seen that first episode, An Unearthly Child (along with the next 12), and it makes for an intriguing comparision - most of the major components are already there half a century ago, but on many other levels the thing has progressed and reinvented almost beyond recognition.  The acting has improved (thank goodness female roles no longer consist of "She sees the shadow of the monster.  AAAAAAIIEEEGHH!!!"), as have the set design, the cameras, and the visual effects.  It's not that the show has increased in ambition, necessarily, more that the technology has got to the point where the ambitions can be realised much more closely.

Tonight promises a huge, ambitious, monster-infested multi-Doctor story, and I for one am dead keen to see it.  May or may not blog again afterwards, if I think my reaction to it was interesting enough to blog about.

Until 7:50 pm, then.

- The Colclough

Saturday, 16 November 2013

The Chainbreaker

I'm about to do a bad thing: I've been nominated for an award (namely the Versatile Blogger Award), and part of the rules stipulate that I should nominate another 15 bloggers.  Well, I'm not nominating anybody, because I know a lot less that 15 other bloggers, and the ones I know, I know are already nominated.

My nomination comes via Sam, so I shall start by saying: Thank you, Sam, and recommending that the rest of you go and have a read of

In the process of listing his nominations, Sam has not only handed me this thing, but also single-handedly rendered me unable to fulfil the rules, as the other people I'd have nominated myself - most notably Tim ( and Hannah ( - are already on Sam's list.  Does failure to pass on new nominations equal declining your own award?  I'm not sure.  But either way, I'm afraid I've got to break the chain.  Sorry about that!

- The Colclough

Edit, several hours later

I knew I was forgetting something: I was supposed to mention seven facts about myself.  So, um... seven things that I haven't already told y'all...


...*scratches head*... goes:
  1. I usually shave on about a six-day cycle.  Basically, I have a clean shave, and then don't get round to picking the gadget up again until my face starts itching, which tends to take six days or thereabouts.  I picked this as a fact to mention because I was in the middle of my nearly-weekly shave when I suddenly remembered I'd forgotten a chunk out of this post.
  2. I've collected several dozen special-issue 50p, £1 and £2 coins.  I don't know exactly how much the collection is worth, either in terms of its face value or what another collector might pay for it, but I don't really care, as the whole point in collecting them is that they're my collection, and not for sale.
  3. It's not that I don't like limes, but they don't seem to like me - at least not if I eat much of it in one go.
  4. I've never owned a car.  Since I started learning to drive, my parents have had four different Fords (a 1996 Galaxy, a 2009 Mondeo, and two different Fiestas), of which I have driven all except the Galaxy.  I'm in no hurry to break the family Ford-driving habit.
  5. I think all of the odd-numbered Star Trek feature films (including the 2009 one) and most if not all of the even-numbered Windows releases (including 98, Vista a.k.a. NT6.0, and 8) are rubbish.  You probably don't want to get me started on all the reasons why.
  6. My drawing career has embraced all sorts of different types of paper, starting with ordinary copier paper, side-stepping to take in that weird stuff with the tear-off strips up the side with all the holes in, which you don't really see much any more, then getting ambitious with enormous bits of wallpaper backing sheet, taking to a cartridge pad with great enthusiasm, and most recently dabbling with watercolour 'paper', which is actually more like a type of cardboard.
  7. My taste in computer games is rather specific: the vast majority of the games I've enjoyed are puzzle-solving ones, and many of them involve screwing around with physics (e.g. Antichamber, Portal 1 & 2, Quantum Conundrum and arguably QUBE).  The other thing that appeals to me most in games is humour (e.g. DLC Quest, and Portal again).  My most recent acquisition is The Bridge.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Friends in Inconvenient Places

Okay, it's not the friends' fault.  It's not that they moved to Cardiff; it's that I moved away from.

Of course, we frequently jump at an opportunity to piggy-back a visit on top of a trip that's being made for some other purpose, but sometimes one or more of us (more often me) will shell out for a train ticket.  They're usually not bad: a quick hop on the local line into Reading, the main body of the journey on a HST on the old Great Western mainline, and then another local trolley at the far end.  Tickets have been known to cost as little as a tenner per direction, with some judicious advance booking.

Well, this time round, I went to buy my tickets at about 3 weeks out from the intended date of travel, and due to work commitments, I was going to head out on an evening train.  Tickets before 7 were in the £50 bracket and wouldn't have left any time for dinner anyway, and anything leaving home after 8 wouldn't have got me into Cardiff until stupid-o'clock at night (and my friends aren't exactly night owls), so all things considered it had to be the 7:07pm train.  £36, and that was only to Cardiff Central, as the local trolleys get very sporadic at night.

The tickets arrived, and the 7:07 didn't actually say 7:07 anywhere on it, but turned out to be a 'Super Offpeak'.  Very helpfully, it offered absolutely no indication whatsoever as to what times of day constituted 'Super Offpeak'.  Initially I wasn't too bothered about this as I only really had one sensible choice of train anyway... but then the work arrangements changed; I was asked to do an extra day the week before last, and I managed to get a day off in lieu this week, meaning that I was no longer limited to travelling to Cardiff after dinner.

So I phoned First Great Western in a bid to figure out what 'Super Offpeak' actually meant: could I travel in the middle of the day, for example?

No I couldn't.  I must admit to not being keen on getting an Accent at the far end of a phone line, but to be fair, this particular one was much more helpful than most of the others I've encountered (and a real person, however their enunciation, is still preferable to an automated system), and got me some definitive answers: un-allocated seating would be in Coach E on the HST, and - here's the rub - 'Super Offpeak' is FGW-speak for 'at night'; in other words, I could delay travelling for as long into the small hours as I fancied, but couldn't pull it any earlier, which is what I was actually interested in.

Just out of idle curiosity, I logged back in to National Rail Enquiries, fully expecting (considering that my departure date was now only 8 days away) that the cheapest tickets would be at least £40 each.  But they weren't - the 11:02 departure, including local trolley at the far end, was still only £15.

I did the maths: I could get the 'Super Offpeak i.e. basically at night' ticket refunded, albeit paying 50p for the stamp to return it, and a £10 fee to get the refund processed - so £25.50 back, out of the initial £36.  But even after paying the postage and the processing fee, and buying the new ticket at £15, I wound up £10.50 better off.  You can do things with £10.50 - including buy a whole ticket from my place to my friends', if you book far enough in advance.  Other advantages included getting another 7 hours at their place, and not having to drag one of them into the middle of the city to collect me from Central, so it seemed a bit of a no-brainer decision.  I'll be on the 11:02.

My parting 'moral of the story': beware evening trains on First Great Western!

- The Colclough

Friday, 6 September 2013

Nice Glorious Typical Chopstick

It's a funny thing - I find English being misspoken with a thick Indian accent rather frustrating, but the closely-related phenomenon of English being 'misspoken' in print, in a way that smacks of computer translation from an East Asian language, oddly endearing sometimes.

Take, for example, the text on the chopstick packet from the noodle bar Sam and I went to in Littlehampton, on one of the days out from Root Hill last week:

    "Welcome to Chinese Restaurant.
    Please try your Nice Chinese Food With Chopsticks
    the traditional and typical of Chinese glorious history.
    and culture

I think the text says it all.  If you appreciate the Engrish, then you appreciate it; if you don't, then no amount of explanation on my part is going to make you get it.

One other thing - it wasn't even a Chinese noodle bar.  It was Thai.

- The Colclough

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

First Impressions and Beginner's Luck

Over the course of Root Hill 2013, I got introduced to at least half a dozen new games, and I thought I'd do a post about them and what I thought of them.  In aproximately the order I played them: Gloom, Resistance, Zombie Dice, Carcassonne, Alhambra, and King of Tokyo.

Gloom: appeals to the more twisted side of my sense of humour, as each player controls a family of five characters, and must spend the game trying to give them the lowest possible self-esteeem.  The game consists of a special deck of cards, and nothing else - with the twist that the cards are mostly see-through, so they can be stacked to hide or reveal various parts of each other, with the outcome affecting your score; you have to tell some story to explain each card you play, which makes things rather more interesting; the idea is to play the bad-event cards on your own characters, and the cheerful ones against your rivals to give them unwanted positive self-esteeem points.  The game ends as soon as all five of one player's characters are dead, and then whoever has the lowest overall self-esteem points across their family wins.  Mwahahah.

I'm almost tempted to describe it as The Nightmare Before Christmas: the Card Game, but to be honest it's more TNBC without the Christmas - just gleeful misery.

Introduced by Sam; my opinion 4/5.

Resistance: to all intents and purposes, you're the Rebel Alliance out of Star Wars, or a comparable ragtag group of freedom fighters standing up against a big bad empire.  The political whys and wherefores are irrelevant; the point of the game is to figure out which of the five to ten players are actually Resistance, and which ones are spies sent in by the aforementioned big bad empire.  A subset of the players are selected to take part in each of five Missions, and the Resistance win if 3 missions are successful - the rub being that if spies are chosen to go on a mission, they have the option to fail it.

Somewhat like Mafia, but more structured and much more prone to mind-games.  Also, don't play it with Simon; he takes the spy-hunting far too seriously...

Introduced by... can't remember; my opinion 3 or 4/5.

Zombie Dice: very simple, really - you're a zombie, and you chase humans.  Draw 3 dice, roll them: a brain symbol means you catch the quarry and get their brain (duh), a flash symbol means the quarry pulled a shotgun and, well, shot you, and a pair-of-feet symbol means they got away, so you re-roll that particular die if you decide to continue your turn.  Get shot 3 times and your turn is over, with nothing added to your score.  So basically you collect brains and quit while you're ahead.

 The strategy is made more interesting by the different colours of the dice - red ones are more likely to land on a shot, while greens are more likely to turn up brains, and yellows are equally balanced, which means that you can gauge the likelihood of a positive outcome in a re-roll based on the colours of any dice which turned up feet the previous time.

Introduced by Sam (again); my opinion 2/5 for mental stimulation, but 4/5 as a quick bit of entertainment, ideal for when your brain's already gone to sleep.

Carcassonne: in a rustic mediaeval landscape made of square tiles randomly drawn from a bag... okay, I'll give up on the narrating-it-like-a-film-trailer thing.  It wasn't working.  Anyway...

The tiles are drawn at random, but there are rules on how you can lay them - specifically you must place similar edges together, grass against grass, city against city, and so on.  Then you start laying claim to various bits of road, field and city, in the hope that they'll get bigger and you'll win points for them.  Various other stuff happens, but that's the basic idea.

The version I played included 2 or 3 expansions, which give you extra turns, or give you extra points for getting the largest share in various industries (textile, grain etc); usually I'd prefer to play a game vanilla before introducing expansions, but the basic rules of Carcassonne are sufficiently simple that I was happy to make an exception.

The look of the landscape may prompt a comparison to Settlers of Catan (remember Hannah's post on that one?), but there's actually very little in common between them except for their rustic pre-technological settings.

Introduced by Josh (I think); my opinion 4/5.

Alhambra: gave me a sense of deja vu as it features a very similar landscape-generated-from-random-squares thing to Carcassonne, but this time round each player builds their own layout and it only represents one palace complex instead of a whole country.  The novel mechanic is the presence of not one but four different currencies within the game; for any given round there will be four different bits of palace available to purchase, and each requires a different currency.  Sometimes you opt to collect a particular currency to buy a particular bit, but then again, somebody else might buy the part before you get a chance to, so it's a bit of a gamble.  Points are awarded at three specific moments during the game, based on who has the most of each type of piece, and who has the longest wall surrounding a part of their palace.

The separate landscapes are both an advantage (nobody can cut you up) and a bit of an achille's heel (you can't cut anybody else up); the different currencies are an interesting mechanic, and help to make the game more engaging on the whole, but they can sometimes slow things down, especially at times when most or all of the available parts are expensive.

Introduced by Josh; my opinion 3/5.

King of Tokyo: in spirit, this is basically half a dozen Kaiju movies mashed up into an affectionate, board-game-shaped pastiche.  It mostly runs on die rolls, and various die faces can give you victory points, give you 'energy' (currency, used to buy power-up cards), or attack whichever monster is currently occupying Tokyo City (unless you're in there yourself, in which case you attack everyone else at once!), the aim being to keep your health above zero and be the first to reach 20 victory points.  Unfortunately I failed to keep my health up; out of the six games I'm writing about, this is the only one that I didn't win at least once during Root Hill - hence the "Beginner's Luck" part of the post title.  But the bit before I got stomped was quite enjoyable.

Introduced by Sam and/or Josh; my opinion 3.5/5.

- The Colclough

Pictures from Wikimedia Commons

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Never Twice the Same Circle

Sam suggested recently that I should do a post on how life has changed over the years, and I've decided to take up the suggestion, focussing specifically on the seven years since I first went to Root Hill.

I'd just finished sixth form, back in 2006.  I didn't know what I wanted to do next.  I'd barely started work on my giant mosaic project.  Cylinder and Miserable had only just started, and Grace and Caffeine wasn't even a twinkle in my eye yet.  I still had Arthur & the Punk in post-production, and the likes of Day-Glo! and The Probe Has Succeeded hadn't been so much as storyboarded.  Yateley Baptist was just two years into Adrian Reynolds' pastoral tenure, and the end wasn't remotely in sight.

In myself, I knew there was something wrong with me in terms of a chronic inability to empathise, but I had no idea what caused it or what to do about it.

And Root Hill?  New, bit scary... we had Andrew 'Moneybags' Sadler as one of the leaders, and we went to Guildford for the Tuesday outing, with Laserquest, boating and other things.  Other leader Dave Hollands was sometimes seen waving a tape-writing camcorder around, and the resultant video was available on either VHS (yes, really!) or DVD.

Fast forward seven years to 2013: I've been on the Root Hill camp eight times.  Andrew has been replaced by Jim Sayers (after a transition period in 2009 / 2010), and Guildford has been replaced on the timetable by Horsham, from 2011 onwards, because they shut down the Laserquest in Guildford.  The choice of churches on the Sunday morning remains largely the same, although I've switched my habits from Chilworth to Dorking in the interests of a shortened commute.  I took over as the videographer in 2008, and killed off the VHS option; my temporary successor went widescreen the next year; this year the video was shot by another newcomer, using a DSLR, and will be released exclusively online.

The people have nearly all changed - almost nobody else from the 2006 camp was still there for 2013 (one or two exceptions, but not many), but I'm not complaining.  I came into Root Hill as one of the youngsters, and felt a bit lost among the established friendships between the older campers; now, I am the older campers, and it's a lot easier taking on the younger ones as they arrive rather than trying to make my way around the whole new camp all in one go.  For me, the 2013 crowd feels much more like home - and feeling like home is, in my books, a very good thing.

But in spite of all the changes, Root Hill remains very much as it always was.  There's still a big pile of wood chippings next to the bonfire area each year, which I like to go and perch on top of to chew over things on some of the evenings.  The timetable and the menu barely change at all, in their major components at least.  And that's where the title of this post comes from: Root Hill is largely cyclical - it's ended up being a bit same-old-same-old, but it's a good kind of same-old-same-old, which is precisely what I keep going back for - but the cycle never repeats itself perfectly.  There's a degree of circularity, but it's never twice quite the same circle as any of the previous times.

This whole 'people' thing leads into another point of change over the last 7 years: the shift in my understanding of myself.  Five years ago, I was presented with the answer to why I struggle so much with people: it's a high-functioning autistic-spectrum condition, most likely a variant of Asperger's Syndrome.  In the half a decade since July 2008, the diagnosis has gone from new and shocking (I kinda wish my old Tailcast blog posts hadn't got wiped off the internet, as the one I did about my initial reaction would be good to link to for back-reference) to being fully accepted and normalised (as I mentioned a couple of posts back).

Adrian left Yateley Baptist four years ago after five years as our pastor.  We found and called his successor Andrew Wigham a few months ago, and he has moved in and started his work over the last two or three weeks.

I've passed my driving test, and been driving for long enough to pick up all sorts of terrible habits - palming the wheel more frequently than the gearstick, for example - and I've had a younger sibling get married, since 2006.

Cylinder and Miserable has run for 2126 episodes (1920 of them published, and counting); Grace and Caffeine has long since folded (after 178); cross-continuity spin-off Fort Paradox has had time to appear from nowhere, make strides, get forgotten, and get revived; the mosaic got completed, moved, damaged, repaired... I don't even know if it still exists, to be honest; Portal and its sequel got released, I got into them, and I found my other niche in life as a Portal 2 test chamber architect; The Probe Has Succeeded is very old news indeed, and my animation efforts have more recently been focussed on the likes of Papercuts and The Murkum Show.  What's next?  Who knows.

I probably missed a lot of stuff.  But you'd get bored if I went over everything.

Sam: thanks for the suggestion.

- The Colclough

Friday, 23 August 2013

Theoretical, Practical... and Useless

"Bicarb for Bees, Vinegar for Vasps".

So goes the mnemonic for what you should put on an insect sting.  Bee stings are acidic and should be neutralised with an alkali - the typical household example being bicarbonate of soda - while wasp stings are the other way round, i.e. they're alkaline, and should be neutralised with vinegar.

Also of note: bee stings are barbed, and will stay behind in your skin - which has the side effect of killing the bee shortly afterwards - while wasp stings aren't barbed, and stay attached to the wasp instead of to the victim, leaving the insect free to fly off and re-offend.

I've known all of that for years, but it's always been a hypothetical bit of information, as I've never been stung by either... until now.  Went to pick up a box outside the shop today, and next thing I knew there was a barbed sting stuck into my left hand around the area where the thumb joins on.

Fat lot of good all my theoretical knowledge of insect stings did me, though, when the opportunity arose: what's the point in being able to identify it as a bee sting, and knowing that the correct antidote would be an alkali, if there's no alkali available, hm?  Answer: not much point at all.  Just had to suffer.

To be honest, I was surprised to discover it'd been a bee because I'd always thought insect stings were supposed to hurt a lot worse than it did.  Not saying it didn't hurt, just that I would have expected it to hurt more.  Not complaining though.  Not about that, anyway - in retrospect, I was rather more put out about not being able to make use of my knowledge on the subject than I was about having been stung in the first place!

No, I'm not asking for another round so I can have another shot at putting baking powder on myself.  Just for the record.

- The Colclough

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

What You're Not Reading This Year

Any of you who've kept an eye on my DeviantArt page might have arrived at the conclusion that this is the time of year when you could expect another round of blue-pencilled introspection in the form of some Knowing It's Called Aspergers drawings.  You would have been right.  But you may also have noticed that said drawings haven't happened.

Well, it's been five years now.  As of the 6th of July this year, I've lived for half a decade with the notion that it isn't just me being an unfortunate and inexplicable freak of nature, it's part of the autistic spectrum and as such is a known and documented phenomenon and not a unique failing on my part - and after half a decade of chewing over the idea and figuring out how it fits in with everything else, it finally seems to have normalised.  The drawings were, in essence, about how I felt on the subject, but now I seem to have assimilated it into my status quo and no longer feel much about it at all: "ah, that time of year.  How do I feel?  Um... no different to how I felt when I wasn't thinking about it."  Hence no drawings; there's nothing to draw this year.

I thought it might have been nice to have one or two "I think things are winding down, so here's a little coda"-type drawings to conclude the series, but I spent most of July (on and off) thinking about the question, and couldn't come up with anything to draw as a coda that wouldn't have felt like a tired re-tread of the previous 44 pictures.  And in retrospect, I think the 44th - Day 1475 - serves well enough as a finale to the project.

I'm going to have to start putting something else on my DA page, aren't I?

- The Colclough

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Ways to Pickle Your Brain

What the title says... here's a few thoughts on the subject, based on stuff that's been going on recently:

Have a heatwave.  I can usually keep functioning until 11pm quite happily, but I've struggled lately.  It's been particularly awkward at work - I seem to have spent several hours feeling like I'm wilting all over the till.

Play Antichamber.  Acquired recently when it came up on a Steam sale, taken more than 5 hours so far... and I don't even know how much of it I've solved.  It's unspeakably confusing.  Non-euclidean geometry, things changing behind your back (which often happens in my dreams, but now it's happening on my PC monitor too!), and sundry other very odd game mechanics.  Makes you miss the comparative linearity of Portal.

Change all the windows in your house and get paranoid that something's missing.  It's especially confusing in the porch, because the new front door has a lot more glazing than the old one, and lets in a lot more light, generating the subconscious assumption that it must have been left open by mistake.  Which is confusing when the door's actually shut.  Still, the new windows are, in themselves, very nice, and the new front door key has the added bonus of looking not so much like a key as we know it, Jim, but more like some fragment of the Enterprise which has gotten lost in time.

Get your new hamster to eat something which you don't know isn't poisonous.  After a longish period without any hamsters, we've had two new ones in the last week: Smokey (Ben's fourth), and Muffy (Sophie's fifth).  I went to clean my teeth last night, and found Muffy's cage temporarily sited on the kitchen table, and the rodent busy munching on a bit of christmas cactus which was accidentally poking through the bars.  I had no idea whether or not christmas cacti are toxic, so I pulled the plant out of reach (which left the hamster looking a bit confused!), and scuttled off to google the thing.  The internet seemed to concur that christmas cacti aren't poisonous - the worst that might happen is a bit of gastric upset and vomiting, but nothing life-threatening - so I could sleep easy.  But still, while it lasted, one more thing to help fry my brain cells...

Any other suggestions?

- The Colclough

Saturday, 8 June 2013

Faster than a Speeding Camera Shutter

You know how they say animation is usually a slow process?

In my last post, about two-and-a-half weeks ago, I introduced you to a little project called The Murkum Show.  At that point, I had finished Episodes 1 to 3, got Episodes 4 to 6 in pre-production, and written Episode 7, and I had no real idea of how long the series would continue.

Well, in the world of The Murkum Show, it seems that two-and-a-half weeks can be quite a long time.  I've now finished Episodes 1 to 9 and got Episodes 10 to 15 either written or mostly-written, with various contributions from Tim, Sarah and Sam - and we'd got ahead of ourselves a bit, and started writing material for Series 2 already, so I've decided that it's time to close script submissions and lock down the episode lineup for Series 1.

I admit that I might have cheated a little by having the episodes be so short, but it's rather gratifying to have a series progressing so fast for once, instead of the snail-esque crawl that my animation work usually moves at.

There's a huge amount of Murk Army back-story which would be very hard to publish due to its rambling nature and the disparate formats it's been written in, but there are certain frequently-revisited elements which have found their way into The Murkum Show - one example being Murkum's hopeless attempts at motivational speeches, like the one in Episode 3 Headlong Dash ("War is... um... war!"); various others will be cropping up in later episodes, and although their in-joke nature might not be apparent to the casual viewer, it's rather satisfying for me (and I think for Tim and Sarah as well) to have them in there.

Here are Episodes 2 to 4.  Enjoy - and tune back in next Saturday for Episode 5 I Want the Droids!

- The Colclough

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

A Show of His Own

Back in 2011, in the days of Arbitrary Stopframe Series 1, one character emerged as the clear favourite out of the eleven who had appeared in the show.  Everybody else got just one appearance, or at best two, but Doctor Murkum (one of the many denizens of Universe XGT) got three episodes to himself - well, two-and-a-half if you take into account that he had to share the last one with an angry DVD copy of a South Korean monster flick.  And somebody - I think it was Tim - suggested that perhaps Murkum should get a show of his own.

Well, he's got it.  Tim's suggestion rankled away throughout 2012 - if I gave Murkum his own show, what sort of show would it be?  I considered making it a chat show, but that one fell by the wayside; I could never come up with a workable answer to the questions of who he would talk to, about what, and why.  I briefly considered having a split-timeframe format, intercutting footage that was meant to have come from Murkum's first camcorder back in the 1980s with other footage of him in the present day reviewing his past escapades on tape and trying to deny or explain away the more embarrassing bits; that one floundered due to its technical over-complication.

Eventually, I settled on a less-is-more approach, and decided that each episode should be a short stand-alone sketch, set at Fort Murk in the present day, in which Murkum brings injury and/or embarrassment upon himself.  He does that a lot anyway, so it made sense that The Murkum Show should bring it to the screen.  The fun thing about writing for Murkum is that he's numb-skulled, arrogant, violent, a kleptomaniac and a pathological liar, so I can write/animate him suffering all sorts of indignities without having to feel even remotely sorry for him - he deserves every indignity that comes his way.

So, with that premise in mind, I built a set out of Lego, scribbled down a trio of short episode scripts (half a side of A4 each, if that), and sent them to Tim for appraisal.  It's worth mentioning at this point, for those who don't know already, that I've known Tim for a very long time, and Murkum is almost as much his fault as he is mine.  So that's why he gets to read the scripts before anybody else.  Basically he agreed with my own assessment, which was that Episodes 2 and 3 worked, but 1 felt unfinished; combined with the fact that I'd decided I wanted the series opener to feature some of Murkum's highest-ranking employees, it seemed like the logical thing to leave Episodes 2 and 3 as Episodes 2 and 3, but push back the previous 'Episode 1' to become Episode 4, pending a rewrite, and pen a new episode to begin the series.  Which I did shortly afterwards.

The next step was dialogue recording and processing - it took a lot of faffing about with a constricted throat and a pile of audio filters to make Murkum-on-speakers sound like Murkum-in-my-head.  The job was made more complex due to Murkum being a cyborg (with an artificial voicebox, mechanical components in his chest to keep his respiration and circulation going, and all of his limbs at least partially cybernetic), and I needed to try and make his voice sound like it was being electronically generated, but without ending up as a clone of Microsoft Sam.  Got there in the end, though, with some more assistance from T.

The actual animation process was relatively short and painless, with the first three episodes (collectively 'Production Block A') shot back-to-back over the course of last Thursday, and I then completed sound editing for the trio and released Episode 1 Elite Class on Saturday.  As you can see right here:

Ta-da!  The Murkum Show has landed.

I've already finished dialogue recordings for 'Production Block B' (Episodes 4 to 6), and am aiming to film the visual components in the next few days.  The plan is to release one episode every Saturday while stocks last, so come back on the 25th for Episode 2 Drinkies...

- The Colclough

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

End of a Pixellated Era

I actually did it.  After the best part of 2 years' on-and-off work in the current phase, and nearly 7 years after starting the project overall, I finally wrote the 2126th episode of Cylinder and Miserable this afternoon, completing Series 3.

I have to admit, at this point, to a strange act of... well, unwarranted strangeness.  I actually picked episode 2126 as the end-point for Series 3 several years ago - at the same time (I think) that I picked 1448 as the end-point for Series 2.  Which was before I'd written very much of Series 2.  And for no objective reason that I can put a finger on, I actually stuck with those two completely arbitrary numbers, ending Series 2 on Episode 1448 nearly three years ago, and Series 3 on Episode 2126 today.  It must be getting on for half a decade that 'Episode 2126' has been lurking at the back of my mind as a semi-mythical future event - much like 'Star Wars: Episode I' must have been to many moviegoers up until about 1997, before The Phantom Menace got released - but now it's an actual, honest-to-goodness fact, sitting on my hard disk as a .gif file.  The long-gestating third phase of my huge, unwieldy and frequently bizarre webcomic project is finally over.

It hasn't always been easy - the finished article bears a scar or two from the processes of its own creation, and I owe Tim a debt of thanks for getting me to let go of some elements which (without my realising it) were dragging the comic down - but on the whole I'm pleased with the outcome.  It ended rather well, if I say so myself - I'll be interested to see whether you agree with me on that point, when the newly-minted episodes get published around this time next year.

I want, and need, a break.  I've got a narrative masterplan for Series 4, but I won't start writing that for at least another year, simply because it's hard work writing such a big project, and I can't keep it up continuously.  So don't go expecting news of work on Series 4 in a hurry.  In fact, if I've got the maths right, I think I might end up finishing publishing Series 3 before I've had as long a break as I want or started writing Series 4, which would be the first time since writing Episode 0001 that I completely run out of unpublished strips.  But we'll have to wait and see on that front.

In the meantime, if you're not doing so already, you can find Series 3 still publishing over at

- The Colclough

Thursday, 28 March 2013

Videos from March

I've uploaded a couple of videos this month, and forgotten to put them on here at the time, so this post is a little end-of-month roundup of videos that should have been on here earlier...

Made second but posted first: The Fifteen-Minute Fortress, in which I do some rambly bloggy stuff, intercut with footage of me trying to build a Lego castle thing (of sorts) in 15 minutes flat.  Watch below, and judge for yourself whether or not it was any kind of success - and what the answer might be to the question about a sequel which I pose at the end...

Made first (shot in October, in fact, and finished in February) but posted second: X-Battles GT5: Exploding, in which some Lego (wait, thematic connection going on here!) characters have a fight with laser weapons.  Produced in conjunction with Tim and Sarah, and all rather fun to make.

- The Colclough