Thursday 30 September 2010

The blog you've all been waiting for!

This blog post brings good news: as of this evening, the long-anticipated Megastropulodon Attacks! Director's Cut is available to view online, for free, complete and unabridged.

The only catch is that I had to cut the film in half to put it on YouTube, as they only allow videos up to 15 minutes long, and the film clocks in at 15 minutes and 48.48 seconds.

So, I uploaded the first half yesterday, but half-way through processing the second video the uploader crashed, and my whole web connection ground almost to a halt for the rest of the day.  So I tried again this morning and left the computer chewing over the issue while I went to Legoland for the day with Mum and my younger siblings.  And this time, it worked!  I got back to find one of those nice green notification boxes telling me that the upload was successful, etc etc.

And now, without further ado: here are the videos!  I hope you like them.

Part 1

Part 2

So, there you go.  I must say, it was nice to be able to end my month's blogging on a positive note!

- The Colclough

Monday 27 September 2010

You wait and wait and wait and then...

This one starts all computery, and then drifts into philosophy.  You have been warned.


Today seems to have gone mainly on waiting for stuff.

Our new PC was supposed to arrive this morning, but it wasn't delivered until after 4.  I think everyone got a bit tetchy waiting for the doorbell to go.  But it did arrive in the end, and now it's all set up and ready to go.

It's got Windows 7, making it the first computer in the family to move beyond the Windows XP paradigm.  Not that I have anything against XP - it still holds up remarkably well for a 9-year-old operating system.  But there is something rather shiny about 7.

I've also been waiting for an email or two which really ought to have been here a long time ago, but neither of them has arrived yet.

*Gets distracted*  I've just become aware that the several-decades-old clock in the lounge is bonging obsessively - nay, almost psychotically - I'm talking several dozen chimes in a row, which is (of course) far beyond the call of duty for any clock.  *Investigates*  Turns out someone wound up the chimes mechanism, and now Mum's winding the hands round and round in an effort to wind the chime spring down again.  But if you didn't know that and you just heard the noise, you could be forgiven for thinking that the clock had gone mad.  It's been known to happen, you know - we've got a cuckoo clock in the dining room that went mad, and once it starts cuckooing it won't stop.  It's been counted doing well over fifty cuckoos in one go.  It does stop eventually, but only when the weight on the cuckooing gizmo hits the floor, a good six feet down from the clock.

Anyway, back to the point.  The new PC - dubbed 'Bolt' for its speed - isn't a new addition to the Colclough computer fleet, it's a replacement.  Its arrival means the decommissioning of an older machine - one running Windows 98 SE - and now that the old thing is sitting on my floor with no controls or monitor attached, one side panel missing, and looking a bit sorry for itself, it's really feeling like the end of an era.  We acquired the machine in question in 2001 or early 2002, and shortly afterwards upgraded it with a video card, which was in many ways responsible for the beginning of my career as a filmmaker and animator.  Years' worth of my life history have passed through the processor of that PC, and it's put up with so much that I'm almost amazed it's still running at all.  In its later years it's been affectionately nicknamed 'Crunchy', because of the horrible noises the fan motor and hard disk make whenever it's switched on.  I've moved on - in addition to a 4-year-old laptop and my own 2-year-old 64-bit quad-core, 'Beastie', the new arrival makes three computers in the house which all easily outclass old Crunchy, and it really doesn't have any useful function any more.

I've still got an original Windows 95 installer disc (which I suppose must have arrived with one of Crunchy's two predecessors), and I'm rather tempted to format Crunchy's C drive and install Win95 on it, just for the nostalgia trip of seeing the 15-year-old OS in action one last time.  And when that's done, I'd also like to format the disk again and then see if the decrepit box will run Ubuntu.

And when I've finished playing with the corpse, there are two other things I'd like to do.  One of them, in fulfillment of a long-standing ambition, would be to take the machine to the top of a tallish building and throw it off the roof, just to watch it smash at the bottom.  I've been wanting to do that to a computer for a very long time.

But the other thing is very different: part of me wants to give it a hug before it finally meets its end.  Yeah, it's weird.  I know.  But as one of those people whose IT skills far outstrip their people skills, I don't just look at a family computer as another piece of hardware, like a washing machine or something.  It's a friend, of sorts - or at least it used to be, before it went senile and started arbitrarily destroying important files.  That's what the hug is for: not because the metal and plastic is anything special in and of itself, or because the old box is still valuable (let's face it, it isn't), but for auld lang syne.  For the dozens of films and videos which I edited there, for the hundreds of comic strips I wrote there, for all the emails written and received there - my best friends live 120 miles away, and a lot of our conversation is conducted via email - and for everything else that the machine and I did together over the last eight or nine years.

Having said what I said about people skills... I'd still hug a human friend goodbye too if I knew there was an ending in the offing.  Unless they didn't want it, of course, in which case I wouldn't.  But you don't go through the same process with humans, of deciding that their end has come, formatting C, saying a ceremonialised farewell and then throwing them off a rooftop.  Well, I don't anyhow.  I hope you don't either.  (Do you?)

Still, the point remains: it'll be sad to see the last of Crunchy.

Now, if its successor matches its longevity record, then we won't be saying goodbye to Bolt until at least 2018...


See, I told you I could blog on other days of the week besides Thursdays!

- The Colclough

Thursday 23 September 2010

Things and Stuff

No, I haven't made a conscious decision to blog only on Thursdays from now on.  It's purely coincidental.  I'm afraid the following is a rather disparate collection of mini-rants on totally unrelated subjects 8p

I've decided never to waste money on Recorded Delivery postage again.  Royal Mail have had 9 working days to get the Megastropulodon DVDs to the cast, and one of them still hasn't turned up.  Well, it hadn't last time I heard from the would-be recipient, which was on Tuesday evening.  Considering that I paid £1.70 for first-class recorded delivery, I'm getting very cheesed off with RM.

I gave up the hair experiment on Monday.  I got fed up with it being permenantly dirty, knotty and getting in my face, so I made use of some scissors.  Other people have said they like the result, but I don't like it at all.  I'm not showing you a photo.  I've been considering wearing a hat for the next six months so I don't have to see the mess every time I walk past a mirror.  I hate mirrors sometimes.  I suspect there's a happy (ish) medium somewhere between what I had on Sunday and what I've got now, so I shall be avoiding scissors for quite a while now.

On a slightly more positive note, I've finally got round to booking my funny hat and my superhero cape for my graduation ceremony at the end of August.

Which leads me straight back to the negative side of things... now that I've finished college, I don't know what I want to do with my existence for the next few decades.  It really feels like I've dropped off the end of something, and I'm sort of freefalling.  I can't even knuckle down and work on a new animation, as my various script concepts are stubbornly remaining just that - concepts, and not much more.  Anybody else got any ideas about what a super-powered granny might get up to?

The uncertainty is very depressing.

Um... what else to rant about...

Well, they say great artists steal, maybe that applies to bloggers too?  I shall go and raid someone else's blog for inspiration... *goes and raids*

Hannah (whose fault it is that I started writing this blog in the first place... at least in part) has been complaining about finding it hard to express important things verbally, about the tendency to bottle things up, about unasked and unanswered questions (,, and I'd have to say, some of it reads like a transcript of my own brain, because I don't talk about stuff either.  I've been trying to think of something encouraging to say in reply, but nothing has come to mind yet, except to say you're not alone.  There are aspects of me that nobody else knows about.  Apart from God, of course - I guess that's omniscience for you.  I suppose the first step towards being honest with other people is that we have to be honest with God first; after all there's no point trying to hide the truth from someone who already knows the truth anyway.  Once we've got to grips with talking to God, then maybe it might start getting easier to talk to other humans.  Or maybe I'm just barking up the wrong tree again.  I don't know.

Anyway, I've probably ranted enough for the time being, so I'm going to hit the 'publish' button and get on with something else.

- The Colclough

Thursday 16 September 2010

All Those Shining Gigabytes

Be ye warned: the following blog post is computery.  Except for the last paragraph, which is a mini-rant about the postal system.


The other day, I discovered that both of my hard disks were over 3/4 full.

Those of you who pay attention to your remaining HDD capacity will be familiar with the old sinking feeling that comes when you realise you're running out of space.

Well, today I went on a digital rampage through my second HDD, which is where I store most of my filmmaking and animation files.  I stuffed three years' worth of animation source files into zip archives, and threw out more than 90 GB of old video, mostly uncompressed animation renders, and a few hours' worth of bad footage of me rambling at the camera.  Don't worry, I've kept edited versions of the more interesting bits.

But suddenly, HDD 2 is more than half empty, and it'll be even emptier by the time I've finished transferring those zip archives to CDR and doing a few last bits of mucking out, which will probably have to wait until sometime next week, as I'm supposed to be building a summerhouse tomorrow (yes, in mid-September), and I'm away for the weekend.

And now that I'm rattling around inside a half-empty computer, I'm starting to wonder what to do with all the freshly-cleared space.  I've had a nagging feeling for months that I should have started on another animation project by now, but I've been struggling to get a decent script together.  I have too many fragmentary, half-baked ideas, and none that are ready to move ahead and start animating 8p


For anyone who was hoping this post might contain news of Megastropulodon: I'm just waiting until the actors have received their DVDs, and then I will post the film online.  Two down, two to go.  Considering that I sent the discs by first-class recorded delivery on Saturday, at a cost of £1.70 each (daylight robbery!), I'm a bit annoyed not to have had all four confirmed as received by now.  Darn Royal Mail and their snail-impersonating ways.  But don't worry, I haven't forgotten my promise to inflict the movie on the interwebs.

- The Colclough

Thursday 9 September 2010

The monster is nearly here!

I mentioned in my last post that I was about to put the finishing touches to Megastropulodon Attacks!

Well, I ended up going to bed a little later than I had intended, but I achieved the prime objective, i.e. completing the film.  From the start of serious pre-production work through to the end of the re-edit, it ended up taking around 7 or 8 months to make.  That's not including the earliest faffing-about stages of story development.  If you included that, the figure would go up to 9 or maybe even 10 months.

A large part of today has gone into engineering the DVD, burning copies, and designing and printing the disc labels and box sleeves.  It only took one dud test disc before I got the codecs and menu structure right, which is relatively good going for me.  Need to get the things in the post tomorrow.

I ended up with an oddly minimalist cover design, mainly because my so-called colour printer is currently only working in black-and-white mode.  Last time I bought a colour cartridge, it didn't seem to last very long at all.  Anyway, I decided to just put the top billing, the title graphic, and a stylised greyscale image of the titular mutant on the front cover, and here's what it looked like:

Mega is essentially just a gorilla suit with a home-made alternative head (cobbled together from old cardboard boxes and some jacket-making leftovers, apparently), with Jonny Wells stuck inside.  The weird thing is, though, when I was on the bluescreen stage directing the VFX shots, it didn't take me very long to get used to addressing the mutant as an entity in its own right.  I must admit that for maybe half of the FX shoot on that eventful Tuesday morning, I almost forgot that Jonny was inside there at all, and I found myself talking to Megastropulodon as though it really existed.  I'm not too sure what that says about the state of my head.

But anyway, historical notes aside, the monster has now found its way onto the front cover of the DVD, which seems appropriate enough considering that its name makes up around three quarters of the film's title.

Having said the cover is a bit minimalist, I suppose the disc menu is too (in a less bloggable way), but it came out nicely enough in the end, after two or three rounds of metaphorical punches were exchanged between myself and the computer.

In case you're the sort of person who enjoys nerdy statistics:
  • The finished film runs for 15 minutes 48.48 seconds (or 48 seconds and 12 frames, if you prefer it in those terms).  That's 23712 individual frames.
  • At 720p resolution (1280 x 720 pixels per frame), that works out at 21841920000 pixels across the whole film.  That is, of course, rather a lot of pixels.
  • I think about three-quarters of the shots have some sort of colour grading and/or VFX.
  • I haven't got round to counting the VFX shots yet, but at a very rough guess I might say there are 20 or 30.
  • The MPEG-2 master takes up about 2.17 GiB of disk space.
  • The total budget was £181.95.
  • This works out at £11.51 per minute of runtime, or 19.18 pence per second.
So, uh... there you go.  Keep watching this space, and hopefully in a week or so I'll be posting another blog with a link to (um... make that an embed of) the finished film, so you can all see what I've been up to and what I've been on about 8)

- The Colclough

    Wednesday 8 September 2010

    Well, that answers that question...

    I was wondering the other day whether anyone else would notice the passing of Grace and Caffeine.

    Someone did.  Feedback like this - and makes it all seem worthwhile.

    Can't let that pass without saying thank you, Hannah :)

    And thanks also to Tim for the rather prominent G&C link graphic at his Sidewards webcomic site :)

    On a totally unrelated note, I'm about to go and put the finishing touches to Megastropulodon Attacks!  Watch this space for news on the film's online release...

    - The Colclough

    Saturday 4 September 2010

    Rest in peace, Grace and Caffeine

    So, it's all over.

    I began writing Grace and Caffeine more than three and a half years ago.  It's been with me since before I started my degree.  It's been a major element of my life for what feels like forever.

    Back at the beginning of August, I wrote the 178th and last strip.

    And this afternoon, I completed and uploaded the new-look archive site, containing every single strip ever written, along with colour versions, development sketches, cartoonist's commentaries, a brief guide to the characters, a revised and expanded FAQ, and the 20-episode run of Grace and Caffeine's precursor Games Baptists Play.

    Thing is, there is now absolutely no work of any description left to do on the whole 45-month-long project.  And it feels really weird trying to get my head around the fact that one of the two longest-running creative projects I've ever undertaken is now done and gone.  It hasn't really sunk in yet.  It might take days, maybe even weeks or months, before I really get a grip on the fact that my pet project isn't there any more.

    It didn't really end very spectacularly.  You always want these things to end in a blaze of glory, with fireworks and trumpets and one last massive achievement.  But it didn't.  It all ended with a tiny - almost insignificant - fix to the HTML code on one of the new pages.  It was a very small glitch that had snuck in ages ago and I'd forgotten to change at the time, so after making all the dramatic moves (logging in to the server, wiping out the whole of the old site and uploading the 388 files which constitute the new one), I then found myself going back into the abandoned house for a few moments to tweak a few characters of the source code, re-save the page... and with that tiny little gesture, it was all over.

    I'm nearly finished with Megastropulodon Attacks! and The Making of "Intergalactic Hamsters" too.  Once they're done, nearly all of the old threads will have been severed, and I'll be well and truly off the end of the map and wandering out into the post-college-era void, trying to pick up the threads of whatever new tapestry is heading my way.

    The other thing is, I'm left wondering if anyone besides me actually cares.  I made it known a month ago that the project was coming to a close, and nobody's said a thing.  No "Do you really have to stop?", no "So why've you decided to pack it in now?", no "Well, it's been an interesting three years"... not even "Thank goodness you're giving it up at last you miserable *beep*!"  Is there a single other human being on the surface of this planet who is remotely interested by the fact that I won't be restarting Grace and Caffeine this month as I have the last three Septembers?  I don't know.  I hope there is, but if they're out there then they're keeping really, really quiet about it.

    Anyway, enough self-pitying rambling.  If you are one of the minority who are at all interested, the shiny new archives are now open at the usual URL, - feel free to take a look around and offer any feedback that might come into your head.

    Now, what's the next project going to be...

    - The Colclough

    New Megastropulodon Trailers

    Here we go: three new mini teaser trailers introducing the principal cast of Megastropulodon Attacks!

    Jason Meddings, the Chosen One :

    Ron Haggard, the Lovable Sidekick:

    Doctor Shaughnessy, the Mad Scientist:

    Enjoy 8]

    And of course, watch this space for the finished film, which will hopefully be gracing the Interwebs very, very soon...

    See, I told you my posts here wouldn't all be deep and angsty, didn't I?

    - The Colclough

    Wednesday 1 September 2010

    Vision from the Edge of the World

    I only left the group around the barbecues to get away from the smoke.  I'd been queueing for ages, right next to one of the disposable charcoal trays, and getting gassed.  I wandered off down the beach, not really planning to go very far, but the tide was out - a long, long way out - and I just kept plodding.  Don't really know why.

    Quarter of a mile later, I finally came to a standstill a few yards into the water.  Nothing left, just the ripples on the water, and the sky coloured by the sunset behind me.  No sounds worth speaking of.

    And then I realised what I was looking at.  You might not think a simple, flat line could be so profound, but I realised that when you live inland, you never really see the horizon.  It's always hidden behind buildings, fences, cars, wheelie bins, blah de blah de blah.  So much clutter obscuring the view.  But out here in the edge of the tide, there was nothing left to get in the way, and the crystal-sharp boundary between the end of the world and the start of the sky stretched on and on and on all around.

    And then came one of those odd little moments, when some little snippet of fiction takes on a whole new layer of meaning which the original writers probably never intended.

    I've never played Portal, but I've heard the end credits song Still Alive a few times, and as I stood in the shallows at Littlehampton the line came to mind, "Now these points of data make a beautiful line".  So?  Life, as perceived from this side of eternity, often seems to consist of a long and convoluted string of random events - points of data, one could call them.  Meanwhile, in another train of thought, it is an important component of Christian belief that God has a plan for the whole of history - past, present and future, and that when we reach heaven (i.e. upon arrival on the other side of death) our own place in this plan will become clear, if we hadn't realised it already.

    And then, the two ideas came together, and I realised that this little snippet of fiction is actually a near-perfect parallel to what I expected death to be like.  All the clutter will fall away from view, the horizon will be cleared, and my points of data - currently so strange and incomprehensible - will form a beautiful line, just like the song says, and I will be able to understand what I was actually doing on this planet for all of these years.

    This new clarity came a few days after I had sat on a pile of wood chippings back at the campsite late in the evening, while everyone else was in the barn, talking, drinking, playing games.  I had sat on the top of the pile, stared up at the majesty of the clear sky, and asked what I was here for.  Then, on the thin end of the tide at Littlehampton, I was shown something amounting to an answer: "It's not time for you to know yet.  But there will be light and clarity in the end."

    In a way, I'm rather looking forward to being dead.  Not to dying, mind you - I've never coped well with pain, and I'm happy to keep putting off the process of death for the time being.  But as for what comes beyond?  In another snippet of fiction, in The Return of the King, Gandalf describes death to Pippin during the siege of Minas Tirith, and says something about "white shores, and a swift sunrise".  And there I had it, painted for me in the water and the air: a foretaste of the light, beauty and clarity that will follow hard on the heels of my last mortal breath.  And there, enthroned above the circle of the earth, I will be able to look on the face of God.  Not because I am good enough for him - far from it, so very, very far from it - but because he has chosen to pay my debt for me and forgive me everything.  I will be able to stand before his radiant purity, clothed in his grace, and belong.

    And then, I doubt I will ever want to move again.

    I can't show you a photo of myself standing in the waves that night, because there was nobody else there to hold the camera.  And even if there had been, the picture wouldn't fill the purpose anyway, because my outside shell has never even begun to approach the profundity and beauty to which my soul aspires.  For once in my largely vision-orientated life, I find words are the better medium.

    I came within inches of death later that night.  But it was not my time, and I was left to live again, to find more points of data to add to the eventual line.

    I've felt a little hollow in the two days since coming home from Root Hill, and now I've realised what's wrong with me: what I'm missing is the sense of engagement with reality which I felt during those nine days in the field on the other side of Surrey.  I'm back at home, back within earshot of two constantly-grumbling smaller siblings, back in the banal rut of day-to-day existence, back with the nagging feeling that I ought to be doing something that I'm currently not doing, but not having a clue what that something might be.

    But I intend to remember that horizon, and to find out what that something is that I need to do.

    Don't expect everything I post on here to be all profound and angsty.  It almost definitely won't be.  I often resort to flippancy, mainly as a survival mechanism, and a lot of that will probably emerge here.

    But there you have it.  That evening in the fringes of the sea functioned, ironically, as a sort of new dawn in terms of my perception of the world, and now I need to go away and make something of the new day.

    I shall start by throwing away some of the clutter from my cupboards, my desk and - I hope - my brain.

    Watch this space.

    - The Colclough