Last Week, I Went Back to School

Even though I’ve now been to University and had the experience of schooling which has more more in common with the ‘real world’, many of my old teachers from my secondary school remain to be my favourites. After all, I still write Christmas Letters to them each year (which reminds me…)

So, knowing that I still had some connections to Queen Elizabeth High School, I wrote an e-mail to Jason “Mr. K” Killingsworth and asked if I was able to come by for a few days and represent a former pupil who’s gone on to do their own freelance work. It didn’t take long for him to write back, and for us to start planning ideas of what I could do for my short time back at school.

What’s Changed About the School?

Not much, in all honesty. There was a slightly creepy feeling as I walked through my old corridors and the layout started coming back to me. With that said, some of the paintwork has been redone with a new colour scheme, and I could have sworn that the roofs were taller when I first started.

The only major difference there, as far as I was concerned, was that the 6th Form Common Room now had its own fully-functioning cafe. Back in my day, all we had was a microwave and a sink filled with a mountain of mugs taller than the nearby sign which read “Anyone who doesn’t wash their cups up gets a £1 fine”.

Regardless, it did feel good to be back in school, especially with the added bonus of now being a grown-up. The teachers and I could talk to one another like real adults, now, and believe me, that was a wonderful feeling to be able to talk to them in that way.

Day 1: The Presentation

On Wednesday, I gave a presentation to some of the 6th Formers who were considering having a career in a similar field. It was based on the pros and cons of going to university, as well as a way to offer some general tips on how to succeed in the creative industry.

There was a slight technical blip when my recording device unexpectedly ran out of memory, yet the day was saved when my friend whipped out her iPad and did the rest of the recording on that (I owe her one!)

Other than that, the presentation itself went really well. Feel free to watch the video below and see for yourself.

I also gave a small lecture to the pupils about how to use Adobe Flash. And you know what? This experience gives me a whole lot more respect for my teachers. Knowing a subject is one matter, being able to teach it is another. If you ever wonder why teachers get paid as much as they do, I can tell you from that little bit of experience that they deserve their pay cheques at the end of the day!

Day 2: The Open Evening

The next day, I returned to the school and took part in their open evening, when potential pupils and their parents came around to see if the school was the right one for them. And, it was a good thing that I returned, as Mr. K was unexpectedly dragged away from the D.T. room for a meeting, and I had to take the reigns for an entire hour.

It was great being able to talk to some of the parents and tell them about the sort of things I learnt from school. Furthermore, it was great to see some of the things the pupils had made and put on display for us all to see. What they had on show was more focused on product design than on marketing, yet I could still tell that some of his pupils have outstanding creative skills, and great futures ahead of them.

Once Mr. K had returned, I was able to show him some of the physical products I’d designed. Amazingly, I managed to teach him about some of the websites and companies I use for my printing services, too. They may be expensive, but they’re worth it!

Soon, it was dark, and we had to call it a night, but not before a few book recommendations and a photograph of the two of us together, holding what was easily my favourite of the products they had on show.

mrk Continue reading Last Week, I Went Back to School

What Makes ‘Thunderbirds Are Go!’ a Practically Perfect Reboot?

I would start this post by telling you when the release date for the second half of Series 1 of ‘Thunderbirds Are Go!’ is, except ITV seem to be keeping it a tightly graded secret. They’ve said it’s supposed to be sometime this month, yet exactly when this month they plan to release it is a mystery.

Nevertheless, there’s never a bad time to tell my watchers just how good this show is, especially since it’s one of my favourite shows. It shouldn’t be long before they announce the release date, so let’s take an in-depth look at what makes this show F.A.B.

It Knows What to Update…

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As with any adaptation, there are countless changes which need to me made. One of the most notable updates in ‘Thunderbirds Are Go!’ is that there are far more stronger female characters than before. The original did have the smart and elegant Lady Penelope, but it also had Tin Tin. Although far from a bad character, in the end, she was little more than a damsel in distress. She’s since been replaced by Kayo, whose got 100 times more spirit than her predecessor, as well as a genuinely interesting back-story relating to the shows main villain, The Hood.

There are other things which have been updated too. The island looks a little less 60’s, the FaceTime screens have been replaced with holograms, the Thunderbirds themselves have updated looks and functionalities, and Brains has become British-Indian. All of these little changes help to not only make the show individual, but also make it better.

…But It Doesn’t Lose Its Nostalgia.

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There are some things from the original show which simply can’t be replaced (some would argue that puppets should have still been used, but we’ll get to that later). From the opening “5…4…3…2…1…” titles, to the enhanced launch sequences of each Thunderbird, to the catchphrases and technical jargon, just about everything which fans of the old show love shows up in some way, shape or fom in the reboot, as well as a few sneaky Easter eggs from other Gery Anderson productions (hence ‘Stingray’ being John’s favourite TV show).

The writers clearly did their homework on the old series too. They might have made some changes to the plot, the most notable one being Jeff Tracy being a missing person instead of the leader of I.R. But, on the whole, the story, characters and format take clear influence from the original show. Perhaps the makers of ‘Catwoman’ (2004) should take notes.

It’s a Case-Study for When Practical and C.G.I. Effects Should be Used.

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It’s ironic that arguably the most iconic thing about the original series was the thing it’s creator hated the most; the puppets. Gery Anderson mastered the scale models with impressive designs and even more impressive destructions. When they were destroyed, they had a genuine impact on the sheer basis that you could feel the weight and scale of these explosions.

The same can’t really be said for the puppets, since Anderson himself hated how stiff and clumsily handled they were. That’s the advantage that C.G.I. has, especially when motion capture is used. Body parts which move more swiftly than before, faces with added emotion, and taking away the need to film real hands for close-up shots add life to the characters.

Furthermore, when you have Weta, the team behind the effects in the ‘Lord of the Rings’ franchise, taking charge if the effects, you can bet that the balance of practical and computer effects will be done to the highest possible standard. Seriously the characters look like puppets with added life!

It Takes a Few Risks.

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When a creative is willing to break a few rules, it makes their project far more exciting to create, purely because no one knows whether or not it would pay off. It was a risk for the crew to re-design all of the machines, especially Thunderbird 5 which looks practically nothing like the original. It was a risk for them to introduce Grandma Tracy, whose most memorable feature is being a dreadful cook. It was a risk for them to make Alan a 16-year-old who rides a space-board as opposed to your usual jet-pack.

Yet, if you ask me, all of these risks do in fact pay off. They give us viewers something new to chew on whilst watching the show, and make us look at the franchise in a different light. I adore the new look of T5, I find it hilarious how oblivious Grandma is to how terrible she actually is at cooking, and, good lord, I want to ride a surf-board in space!

It’s More Merchendisable Than Before.

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When I first saw the new logo, I practically fell in love with it! The diagonal type and enlarged ‘Thunderbirds’ felt reminiscent of the original logo, yet the sans-serif font and sneaky ligature which creates the ‘I.R.’ initials within the same logo made me know instantly that the adaptability of this logo was going to make way for great branding.

You have your classic costumes, figurines and model Tracy Island, but it’s the packaging design which is what makes these toys so inviting. The logo can be used on the packaging in a more vectorised way than in the opening titles, and yet still clearly represent the franchise. Plus, the bold colour palette of night blue and the 5 key colours of the Thunderbirds, as well as the more print-friendly profile images of the Tracy’s (as opposed to the seperstely illustrated profiles used in the 1960’s) make the brand look ready for the toy shop!

Isn’t There Anything Wrong With It?

If I did have to nit-pick, I would say that I’d prefer it if each episode was a tad longer. I think it was right for the team to shorten the episodes since the music is suspenseful and children generally enjoy shorter shows. Yet, at the same time, each episode does seem to go in the blink of an eye, and I find myself at the end of most episodes crying “is it over already?!” With that said, I suppose that’s a good complaint to have. It just shows you how much I enjoy the show whilst watching it!

Summary

On the whole, though, this show is a my prime example of how to make a reboot the right way. It’s got a style which brings in the best of both worlds, it keeps me on the edge of my seat from start to finish, and it’s genuinely well-written stories make me excited to tune in every morning for the next episode.

‘Thunderbirds Are Go!’? I couldn’t have put it better myself!

My Work Experience at ‘Elvet Woollen Mill’

Last week, I gave you a round-up of what it was like to complete my work experience at ‘Bay Studios’ in Swansea. Well, now that that’s ended, I’ve moved straight onto another round of work experience, this time travelling in the opposite direction.

What It’s Like

About half-an-hours bus ride from my home town, hidden behind some fields and forest in the middle of nowhere (otherwise known as Cynwyl Elfed) is ‘Elvet Woollen Mill’. It’s actually quite surprising to find this mill secluded amongst the trees and hedges. The owners, Alison Thomas and Mike Tolputt, told me that most of the villagers don’t even realise the mill is there, especially since it’s an old building at the end of a narrow lane which most probably wouldn’t realise is still manufacturing. Once, they even had some strangers turn up mistaking the place for a village museum!

Despite this, my time working there has been a pleasant time. Much like with my previous experience, I got to get a closer look at the manufacturing side of the business.

How It Works

There are a dozen or so machines which I need to remember how to use, of which rely on a system of transforming individual threads of wool to elaborate fabrics. After that, some of the giant rolls of fabric are taken to the finishers to make the fabrics soft and comfortable to use, whilst others are ready to use immediately.

Once they’ve returned, it’s a case of cutting the fabrics up and, if need be, sewing them into a variety of different woollen products. From coats to cushions, and from tapestries to teacosies, just about anything woollen can be made at this Mill. Oh, and we have to attach labels and package all of these products by hand too.

How’s This Related to Design?

I suppose what’s fascinated me most with this work experience is seeing how similar some of the criteria are in both creative industries. Many of the things which need to be considered when manufacturing woollen products also need to be considered when creating graphic products.

For example, I was shown how by adding a single colour to one of their patterns, the whole look of the fabric seems to completely change appeal. The same can be said in graphic design, as to how a single colour can make an entire brand feel different and give it a new appeal.

Furthermore, when looking at both fabrics from a distance, the colours merged together into a new, seemingly solid colour. This reminded me a lot of spot colour printing, a process commonly used in magazines where the four key colours, cyan, magneta, yellow and black, are printed with thousends of tiny dots. Once looked at from a distance, those dots blur together to create the illusion of a solid colour and shading.

There was even the fact that when these fabrics were sent to the finishers to be softened, the colours of the fabrics changed slightly upon return. The same can be said for graphic design, as colours generally darken when being transferred from digital to print (which is why a good designer will always test their designs in print as well as digitally), and change colour yet again when the printed material is finished in some way (e.g. glossing )

Summary

Once again, I suppose what you can learn from this is that just because your skills lie in one career, that doesn’t mean those skills can’t be adapted for something else. So long as you’re able to recognise the simularities of both industries, you can, with training, convert those skills to change from one industry to the next.

And I get to expand my skills further,this time around, because my work experience here is far from over!