Thursday 30 December 2010

Ends and Beginnings

Don't panic, this post won't be as deep and angsty as its title might imply.

First off, the Binary Advent Candle experiment is over, for this year at least.  I already knew most of the candles were too small, and yesterday numbers 8, 4 and 1 all burnt themselves out.  8 and 4 not only finished themselves off, but also made heroic last-ditch attempts to set the entire five-candle block on fire too.  Fortunately we caught them before they sent the dining room up in smoke.  And since I could see that the end was coming, I lit number 2 half-way through dinner and let it expire in company with its comrades, even though it shouldn't have been lit for the correct binary formation on the 29th.

To be honest, I didn't think the setup would last as long as it did.  Even with several days missed, I was pleasantly surprised that it was still workable as late as the 29th despite the woefully inadequate choice of candles.

So now, the Mk. I is scorched, covered in wax in places where it shouldn't be, and has the remains of the number 8 candle embedded in its hole, where I won't be able to get it out without using sharp objects or something rather hot.  Here's a photo of the wreckage:

...but for all that, I think the experiment was a success.  People liked it (not least myself), and the principle has been proven.  I'll build a better Mk. II version next year with bigger candles.  And hopefully a better way of containing any escapee molten-wax molecules.

At the other end of the starting-and-ending spectrum, I've just done my first non-watercolour painting in a few years.  I did some work in acrylics at sixth form, but it's been a while since I took up a paintbrush for its own sake, and after three years of largely computer-based study I've started missing the analogue joi d'vivre of paints.  So I asked if I could have some paints and things for Christmas, and it was so.  So this morning, over breakfast, I did a painting of... breakfast.  Logical enough, I think, for the first painting of a new era.  It's acrylic on canvas, ~30x40 cm portrait, if you want to know.  Photo to follow once the thing's dried out and I've picked a title for it, if I remember (which I might not, but I'll try).

Speaking of new beginnings: only 4 days until all my webcomic postings resume for the new year.  The two-week hiatus is going by pretty quick, from my POV.

Umm... that's all for now, I think...

- The Colclough

Wednesday 15 December 2010

We Got Clock

Today, for the purposes of my arcane webcomic project Alien President, I had to do a couple of drawings of the United States Capitol building.  It was a pain in the neck trying to get all that neoclassical geometry right.

I ended up asking myself "Okay, so I'm complaining about having to draw the Capitol.  Would I rather be drawing the New Palace of Westminster?"

My sense of patriotism said "Yes", but my pragmatic side said "No" - Westminster Palace is even more geometrically confusing than the Washington DC Capitol.  But this little exchange led onto another question: "Which is the cooler building?"

Of course, I'm not trying to compare the governments that lurk inside the buildings.  I'm trying to compare the buildings themselves.  So, which is better?  Naturally, I concluded that the New Palace of Westminster is much cooler than the United States Capitol, for four very important reasons:

(Apologies to any Americans who might have stumbled across this blog, by the way.  I'm just saying it like it is.)

Reason the first: a sense of geographical and historical context.  The Houses of Parliament (as you should know by now) are situated on a plot of land in London bordered by the river Thames on one side, and roads on another two.  The building is asymetrical, designed to fit the specific shape of its site, and it even incorporates the one surviving chunk of the previous Palace, the rest of which burnt to the ground in the first half of the 19th Century.  Said chunk is at a funny angle to the rest of the edifice, but that didn't stop the architects using it.  The Palace's concessions to its surroundings and to its past help it to feel organically rooted to its spot: a building not just in London, but for and of London.  The Capitol, by comparison, is a rather generic shape that could be uprooted, plonked down again almost anywhere else on the planet, and still make just as much sense.  Which is boring.

Reason the second: colour.  Now don't get me wrong, I do like the colour white, but I think it's deeply inappropriate for a government building.  The implications of purity, innocence and whatnot are totally misleading.  Everyone knows that politicians are lying scumbags (well, a lot of them anyway), as demonstrated by the recent Expenses Scandal.  Westminster's brown exterior gives a much more honest impression about the dodgy occupants, compared to the Capitol's somewhat hypocritical whiteness.

Reason the third: the royal connection.  Parliament has ceremonial features relating to the fact that it gets officially reopened every year by the Queen.  The Capitol doesn't.  Long live the Queen.

Reason the fourth (and perhaps the most important): that clock.  By far the biggest blunder made by the architects of the US Capitol is that they forgot to include a clocktower.  Whereas, the New Palace of Westminster is defined in the public eye by its enormous clock, as much as by the scandalous politicians underneath it.  Even without the other three points, the clocktower alone is enough to make the Houses of Parliament the cooler of the two structures, hands down.  Who doesn't like a good clock?

QED.  Just thought I'd share those helpful insights with you.  B]

- The Colclough

Saturday 11 December 2010

Don't Flush

I've just completed a new animated short.  It's my first attempt at a paper cutout technique, and it clocks in at two minutes in length.  The characters are borrowed (with permission) from the webcomic Brothers in Shells, by my bestest amigo Tim.  Production time approx. 48 hours.

Here's the finished product:

- The Colclough

Friday 10 December 2010

Christmas with the Geeks

We forgot to get an advent candle this year.  And we didn't even realise until the 3rd, when it would have been a bit too late to start burning a conventional candle.

Fortunately, the nerd in the household (me) had a brilliant idea: I invented the binary advent candle.  A quick Google search didn't turn up a single instance of the phrase 'binary advent candle', so I think I can actually claim it as an all-new, previously-unheard-of concept.  I made my first BAC and started using it on the 4th.

The BAC is a bit of a misnomer really, because it isn't one candle, but five, numbered 1, 2, 4, 8 and 16, and instead of having to burn a specific bit of candle each day, you burn a specific combination of candles.  The system is capable of displaying any integer value from 0 (no candles lit) to 31 (all of them lit) - which has the added advantage that you don't have to stop on Christmas Day; you can keep going right up to New Year's Eve if you want to.

And here it is:
As you can see, this is 8+1=9, i.e. last night's combination.

The current setup is serving as a prototype, and has already revealed one major design flaw: we really should have used bigger candles.  I made Mk. I with whatever candles I could get my hands on, and it turns out they weren't the best choices: each candle should, in theory, be burnt 16 times over the course of the month, but those 4 little red ones just don't have a long enough burn time to see out Advent, never mind the whole of December.

But in principle, it works!  I'm already planning a new and improved Mk. II for next year.

Isn't that geeky?

- The Colclough

Thursday 9 December 2010

Alpha One's Winter Wonderland: the first preview

Among the many films, comics and other things mentioned in "How much have I told you?" and "The Answers!", you might have spotted my mention of Alpha One's Megalomaniac Quadrilogy.  The Quadrilogy is a series of 4 stopmotion films which I am helping to make, along with Tim and Sarah Johnston, revolving around the misadventures and failed world-domination schemes of a chap who calls himself Alpha One, and his long-suffering assistant Hooper.

I wrote the first film, Alpha One's Laser Cafe, on a whim in September 2007 and helped film it in late October, and it was finished in early 2008.  Like all of the films so far, it was produced by Sarah and directed by Tim.  Tim then said he'd like to make a sequel, and although he didn't have any story plans he suggested 'Hostage at the Hairdressers' as a provisional working title.  This phrase triggered strange events inside my twisted brain, which led to the script for Alpha One's Quantum Shampoo.  We shot the opening two or three times in late 2008, and then in summer 2009 we threw it out again and re-shot the whole film from scratch.

S&T then cooked up the first draft of the storyline for the threequel, before handing it over to me to be turned into a screenplay, which I eventually did after quite a lot of revisions.  Some of the early drafts featured a new character, but I got rid of him and gave his narrative function to the recurring character French instead, which helped to streamline the plot.  After numerous other tweaks to improve the action:dialogue ratio and to condense the script to a manageable length, we finally agreed that we were all happy with Version 4.1.

Back in October, we shot the opening and closing scenes for the new film, entitled Alpha One's Winter Wonderland, and after making the Root Hill trailer the other day I decided to cut together a little preview of A1WW as well.  A lot of the footage is from QS, to set the scene, but there is a snippet or three of the new WW material in the second half.

So here you go: your first look at the upcoming high-definition stopframe comedy epic from the team that brought you Fort Paradox!  Enjoy...

Also (totally unrelated), you can now see the first two episodes of my eccentric comic-strip project Alien President online at

- The Colclough

Monday 6 December 2010

Friday 3 December 2010

The Answers!

Last week, I did a little research project in which I tried to work out what proportion of my creative output I've actually got round to sharing with people.  The average answer, from four responses, was 51.25% - which has the interesting implication that I've only shared about half of the things I've ever created.

Anywho, for the benefit of anyone who found themself staring at that list and wondering what on earth I was yakking about, I shall now divulge The Answers, i.e. a new version of the list featuring the same 50 names, but now with added notes and things to explain who/what those 50 entities are.

The Primary Culprits

Before going onto the list itself, here's a brief(ish) overview of the major groups:

Universe XGT – a collective handle for a huge continuity co-created with my best friends Tim and Sarah.  Some of the more important bits of it have emerged into the public view in the form of stopmotion short films, including Alpha One’s Megalomaniac Quadrilogy, X-Battles GT, and The Probe Has Succeeded, but there’s also a big sprawling mass of largely unpublished back-story, most of which would be bad for your head.  Accounts for 10 of the 50 names on the list.

Cylinder and Miserable – my main webcomic; updated five or six times per week from late 2006.  Features lots of random weirdness.  Accounts for 7 of the 50 names on the list.

Grace and Caffeine – the weekly Christian comic strip which I produced for my church from late 2006 to summer 2010.  The principal cast had all appeared in other places first, but Grace and Caffeine was their biggest starring role.  Along with some smaller related projects, accounts for 5 of the 50 names on the list.

The Martian Ballet Trilogy – a series of computer-animated films, co-created with David Allwright, and revolving around the career misadventures of an inept Martian called Mike Half-Left.  We planned to make a fourth film, but it all seems to have ground to a halt, so I’ve taken to referring to the existing films as a trilogy.  Accounts for 4 of the 50 names on the list.

Megastropulodon – a short live-action film made for the final year of my BSc in Media Production, and a TV mini-series which I’m currently writing based on the same concept.  The name is borrowed from the big ugly mutant creature at the centre of the story.  Accounts for 3 of the 50 names on the list.

Intergalactic Hamsters - my BSc Media Production dissertation film.  Well, technically, Intergalactic Hamsters is the film within the film, and my dissertation (full title The Making of "Intergalactic Hamsters") is a spoof behind-the-scenes documentary chronicling the collapse of the Intergalactic Hamsters project.  Accounts for 2 of the 50 names on the list.

The List Explained

...and here are the notes!

  1. Acid Gulps: a dodgy but popular soft drink from the Martian Ballet Trilogy (first appears in Martian Olympics, 2006).
  2. Albert S. Broccoli: an artificially-sentient broccoli from Cylinder and Miserable (first appears in Series 2, 2008), who acts as manager/butler/chauffeur/whatever to Cylinder the Cylinder.
  3. Alex Lanning: a biologist from Intergalactic Hamsters (2010); in the original story plan, Alex was supposed to be brilliant, but lacking in dress sense and other social graces, although this didn’t come out very much in the finished film.
  4. Arthur the Pensioner: a nice little old man, whose only appearance to date was in Arthur & the Punk (2006).
  5. The Blue Danube, with Walnuts: a random video I made back in 2007, which features me smashing up a tableful of small semi-edible walnuts with a claw hammer, in time to the closing couple of minutes of Strauss’ The Blue Danube waltz.  It wasn’t as wasteful as it might seem – we salvaged and ate most of the walnuts afterwards.
  6. The Binary Triumvirate: an alternative/experimental electronic music trio from Cylinder and Miserable Series 2 (2009).
  7. Black Antarctic Cryogenics: a huge cryogenics plant located underground in the middle of a desert, from Cylinder and Miserable (first appears at the end of Series 1, 2007).
  8. Bradley Stanton Park: a blindly patriotic American mountaineer, from a little animation project called Frozen Bones that’s been languishing in ‘development hell’ for quite a while.
  9. Cylinder the Cylinder: the ‘alpha protagonist’ of Cylinder and Miserable (first appearance 2006); also stars in Fort Paradox (2010 onwards).
  10. Distant Prayer – Fragment III: one of my very few musical compositions (circa 2005 ish).
  11. Deep Glass: sculptural work, made from stoneware clay with a hotter-than-usual biscuit firing, and the crushed remains of a Shloer bottle (circa 2006).
  12. Doctor Murkum: cyborg, drug-addled, hopelessly incompetent wannabe antagonist from Universe XGT, easily identified by his grey environment suit and its bulky helmet and breathing apparatus (first appearance circa 1998).
  13. Dyngaria: the name of two almost-but-not-quite unrelated stories that I’ve started writing.  The first incarnation was years and years ago, and unspeakably bad.  The new one is still in its infancy, but much more promising.  'Dyngaria' is also the name of one of the main settings of the newer book.
  14. Edwin (full name Edwin Leonard Hall): the thin, grumpy old chap with the white hair and the gardening skills, from Grace and Caffeine (2006, first appearance in other stories 2003); also stars in Fort Paradox (2010 onwards).
  15. The Essence of Fandom: a mixed-media drawing/painting thing I did a couple of years back.
  16. Emily Arkley: the purple one with the Vespa, from Day-Glo! (2007).
  17. Empire Theatre, Mars City: the theatre where Mike Half-Left’s troubles began, in the Martian Ballet Trilogy (first appears in the original version of Martian Ballet, 2003).
  18. Establisher II: the unmanned titular space probe from The Probe Has Succeeded (2009).
  19. The Fifty-Seven Meme: myself and certain friends of mine have noticed that the number 57 appears more often than most others, sometimes in the most unexpected places, leading to the theory that it is in fact woven into the very fabric of the spacetime continuum, and/or is deliberately stalking us around the universe.  I’ve made several intentional ‘57’ references in various media, in a tacit acknowledgement of its presumed metaphysical importance.
  20. First Dabox: the homeworld of the pragmatically-minded Grud race, in Universe XGT.  The orange chap with the five eyes in The Probe Has Succeeded (2009) is a Grud.
  21. Forkley: a fork-lift-truck type individual, from the ‘Ganaraner’ race of sentient machines in Universe XGT (first appearance circa 1998); also appears in Fort Paradox (2010 onwards).
  22. Fort Paradox: the name of both a recently-started cross-continuity webcomic, and its principal location.  I won’t tell you what the Fort actually is, as that would spoil the surprise for when we reveal it in the comic strip B]
  23. Gastropo Thrush: a molluscoid athlete from the Martian Ballet Trilogy (first appears in Martian Olympics, 2006).
  24. Gavin the Head: you don’t want to know.  Suffice to say it’s from Universe XGT, and if you’re going to try and comprehend Universe XGT, Gavin the Head is a very bad place to start!
  25. Greenchester: a little game I wrote in Visual Basic 6 in 2008.  Windows only.
  26. Harry Dixon: sort of cheating, this one: Harry was the main character from the short student film One in a Million, which I directed, from a script by course mate Stephen Boulter (2009).
  27. Hooper (full name James Richard Boris Montgomery Hooper): long-suffering assistant to the failed megalomaniac villain Alpha One, from Universe XGT.  Unlike most of UXGT, Hooper and Alpha’s misadventures have been published: in the stopmotion films Alpha One’s Laser Cafe (2008) and Alpha One’s Quantum Shampoo (2009).  A threequel is in production.
  28. The iKon Cinema: many years ago, back in the days when I used to make towns out of Lego and cereal packets, I decided I wanted to build a cinema.  It worked too, sort of, thanks to a system of paper strips with different scenes on them, which could be fed through a little ‘gate’ setup to emulate a screen.  The films were a bit rubbish, but it was an achievement at the time.  I could show you a picture of the remains, but they're really dilapidated, so it'd be a bit embarrassing.
  29. I See the Light at the End: my last and greatest sculptural work (to date, anyway… never say never): a 5 x 7 foot mosaic (btw, there’s that number 57 again, see?), built from over 400 custom-designed and hand-made tiles, at Farnborough Sixth Form College (2007).
  30. Jason Meddings: the reluctant ‘Chosen One’ from Megastropulodon Attacks! (2010).
  31. Lost in Minehead 2006: the official video from one of our church youth holidays.  I didn’t do the camerawork, but the project was turned over to me for post-production.
  32. Mark Coleridge: student filmmaker protagonist of The Making of “Intergalactic Hamsters” (2010).
  33. Matilda Ferguson: from a not-yet-published storyline in Cylinder and Miserable (due to appear online in 2011).
  34. Metaphysical Violation Drive: a type of airship propulsion technology from Cylinder and Miserable (first appears in Series 2, 2008, as part of Cylinder the Cylinder’s new vessel the Excylindrical).
  35. Mike Half-Left: ill-fated protagonist of the Martian Ballet Trilogy.  The serial job-failer first appears in the original version of Martian Ballet, 2003).
  36. Pascal Davis: a computer-nerd character who first appeared in his own strip, Pascal Davis and the Machines (2005), and then made a few guest appearances in Grace and Caffeine (2007 – 2010).
  37. The Prayers of Thousands: sculptural work, featuring plaster casts of people’s hands (2005).
  38. Quantum Shampoo: the titular substance from Alpha One’s Quantum Shampoo (2009) – I won’t tell you what it is here.  You should go and watch the movie!
  39. Redwood 257: one of the locations from a fragmentary script which I’ve been picking at on and off for four-and-a-half years.
  40. Rhugestian Swamp Dog: an omnivorous egg-laying mammalian creature, the size of a large dog or a small pig, with a long prehensile nose.  Those who recognise the species will probably know them as the green thing from The Probe Has Succeeded (2009), but in the wider context of Universe XGT, they are said to hail from the planet Rhugestis, not from Harcom-1, the setting of the stopmotion short.
  41. Ron Haggard: the self-proclaimed ‘Sidekick’ from Megastropulodon Attacks! (2010).
  42. The Square: a new-but-unwanted cargo ship surreptitiously rescued from the scrapyard and transformed into a notorious guerrilla warship, in Universe XGT.
  43. The Suitcase: the favourite biological weapon of the so-called ‘Evil Terrorists of Doom’, from Cylinder and Miserable (first appears in Series 1, 2007).
  44. Tarberford: setting of the very short-lived comic where most of the main cast of Grace and Caffeine began their existences.
  45. Tasmin (full name Anna-Beth Tasmin Linden): a new character who I’ve added to the in-development TV-series version of Megastropulodon.
  46. Tharryk: a massive and impenetrable prison galaxy in Universe XGT.
  47. Tom (full name Tom Thomason): the nice chap with the hooked nose, the bald scalp, and the liking for tea, often found behind the pulpit of Volesford Free Church in Grace and Caffeine (2006, first appearance in other stories 2003).  Also stars in the animated short film Goin’ Teapotty (2009).
  48. Turbo Gran: aged but invincible protagonist of the interactive short film of the same name (2008).
  49. TW-A42: a subcategory of the Doorwarden-series robots.  The A42 itself hasn’t yet made any public appearance, but it will soon enough, and one of its successors, the TW-C75, appeared in Vs. Doorwarden (2003) and its sequel (2005).
  50. West Spottlington: a largeish fictional town fifteen miles from Volesford, which is mentioned a few times in Grace and Caffeine (2008-ish onwards), and is also the setting of Megastropulodon Attacks! (2010) – although I couldn’t really say whether or not these two stories both take place in the same version of the town, or if they just happen to share the same name.  It’s never been stated in any published film or comic strip, but I've also decided that West Spottlington is the home of Pascal Davis.

So, there you have it.  I hope you feel all enlightened and stuff.  And for those who've got catch-up to do, happy reading!


- The Colclough

Thursday 2 December 2010

Writing, Drawing, and Both

This post is basically a collection of little updates on different projects I've got on the go.

Megastropulodon, the TV Series version: I've hit writer's block with the first draft for the closing episode.  Written a couple of dozen words in the last fortnight, if that.  Getting annoying.  It's not that I don't know what I want to happen, it's just that it doesn't want to happen on the page.

The Root Hill video: I re-did the intertitle graphics this morning, as I wasn't happy with the way they'd turned out when I did them the first time a few days ago.  New version is much better.  Video definitely getting there now.

My surreal semi-untitled story about a failed packet-mix salesman: going well, albeit sporadically.  Wrote chapters 7 and 8 on Tuesday, which took the word count into five figures.  Chapter 8 ends with one of the most random sentences ever - and it's only 3 words long, so its randomness-per-word ratio is through the roof.  I do have a plan for how to start Chapter 9, which will make some sense of that random sentence, and I'm looking forward to penning it.  Just haven't got round to it yet.  I could email you the book so far if you ask nicely =]

Alien President: most of you probably haven't heard of this one yet.  Last time I saw Tim, back in October, I asked the random question (probably influenced by sleep deprivation): "What if George Darlan became the next president of the USA?"  Darlan, for those not in the know, is a notorious extraterrestrial inventor and self-proclaimed philanthropist, from Tim's webcomic Brothers in Shells.  Tim seemed rather taken with the suggestion, and I've started writing a short webcomic series dealing with this bizarre hypothetical scenario.  I've finished 8 episodes so far, with scripts written for quite a few more, and I'm planning to start posting the series online next week.

'The Answers': coming along nicely.  Will hopefully be on here by the end of the week.

Um... yeah.  I think that just about covers everything!

- The Colclough