‘The Rack Pack’ Review

Well, here’s a first. I’m actually going to do a review of a TV Movie which has been exclusively released on BBC iPlayer, The Rack Pack!

Why am I doing this instead of something more graphic design related? Well… I actually designed some of the props for this film. Specifically, I designed these drinks-labels…

drinks labels
The labels I designed for this movie.

There’s even an old blog-post about the time I spent designing them, and watching the show be filmed. So, it only seemed right for me to review the show I helped created (if only by around 0.2%).

Synopsis

Based on true events in the early 80’s, Alex “Hurricane” Davies is a bombastic, alcoholic snooker-player whose just too good at his craft for anyone to criticise. That is until Steve “The Nugget” Davis comes along, a nerdy, ginger-haired newbie to the sport who spends his spare time playing arcade games and staying clear of the booze.

Steve’s manager, Barry Hearn, knows he has the skills, but not so much the personality for being in the limelight. So, he gives the lad a new haircut, a new suit, and trains him to be the well-manored yet startling snooker-professional we all associate with the sport today. But as Steve gets more positive publicity throughout the tournament, it looks like it may be more than Alex’s championship that’s on the line here.

Davis made to look threatening.
Davis made to look threatening.

The Good Points

Let’s start with the actors in this film, because they all did wonderful jobs. Luke Treadway did really well as Higgins, especially as we watched his life go down the pan. Will Merrick was really good as Davis, too, and it was fun to watch him grow from being the underdog to the quasi-nemesis. Kevin Bishop was spot on with his voice when playing Hearn, as well. Honestly, there isn’t really an actor or actress in this movie who I was swap. They were all right on the money.

Higgins and Davis prepare to lay against each other.
Higgins and Davis prepare to lay against each other.

I also thought this was written especially well, not only for the memorable characters and sequences, but also because it managed to cater to both sports-fans and the general audience. I’m saying this, because even though I’m not into snooker by any stretch of the imagination, I still felt as if I could grasp how rules of the sport worked simply by watching the film. I didn’t have to think too hard about what they were, I could just watch them play and grasp if they were doing well or not.

By the way, were these actors really playing with real balls? There’s one continuous shot I remember in which we see Higgins pot them all one after the other, and I was trying to figure out whether or not this was really him doing it, or whether there were some very clever effects being used in post-production. Either way, it was still very impressive.

Was this moment real, or some very clever movie magic?
Was this moment real, or some very clever movie magic?

Speaking of which, I loved it how cinematic this movie felt. It didn’t feel like the director shrugged his shoulders and said “oh well, it’s only going to be on iPlayer, so we don’t have to work as hard on it”. No, I actually felt as if I could watch this on the silver-screen and be very satisfied with what I saw. I loved the desaturated colour-palette, I loved how the editing flowed seamlessly between all of the different camera angles, and admittedly, I’m a sucker for the 2.39:1 aspect ratio. There’s just something about wide-screen that I fall for every time.

I realised this back when I saw this movie being filmed, but what I didn’t realise was that what I actually saw was the movies ending. And I have to say, there’s something really chilling about this. Despite all of the editing in the finished product, I can tell you from personal experience that this scene was actually acted and filmed in one continuous shot (albeit multiple takes), and it really felt like these two characters had been in this mad journey this entire time. They had their highs, and they had their lows, and with the way they were talking to one another and saying their farewells, it actually kind of left an impact on me.

A still from the very shot I got to see being filmed.
A still from the very shot I got to see being filmed.

My Little Criticisms

What, you didn’t think I was just going to be calling this movie perfect on the pure basis I had some involvement in it, did you?!

Well, I for one think honesty is the best policy, and I think it’s only respectful to be honest with the crew of this movie about the little problems I had in order to know what improvements could be made in the future. And besides, it really was only minor problems I had with the show.

Most notably, it was simply that I noticed a few details in the props they used which gave the game away that they weren’t real. For example, when one character stuck a cigarette in his mouth, I could see the indentation of where the fake logo was glued over. I can’t really criticise the show for that, though, because the naked eye wouldn’t have noticed. You’ve got to really know what you’re looking for to spot these errors.

Also, the soundtrack could have perhaps been worked on. Don’t get me wrong, the actual playlist is fantastic. One of the songs they used, Baba o’Riley from The Who, is actually my favourite song (I love songs with a strong build-up). But whenever a song started playing, it seemed to come out of nowhere. Once again, perhaps that’s simply a case of me being farmiliar with the material.

Overall Opinion

On the whole, I found this to be a really well-produced, cared-for, enjoyable TV movie, and surprisingly enjoyable for those not into Snooker. If it comes out on DVD sometime soon, nothing’s going to stop me from buying a copy.

Now, I’m not exactly the best person for making predictions for award-season. I thought Inside Out might have been a contender for Best Picture at the Oscars this year, and it wasn’t (good grief, will an animated movie EVER win Best Picture?!) With that said, this did remind me quite a bit of another TV movie I found to be exceptional, Murdered by my Boyfriend, and that had its fair share of BAFTA nominations.

So, keep your eyes peeled, folks, because this might be a BAFTA contender.

Keep your eyes on this, Higgins!
You heard me, Higgins!

If you fancy watching this movie, feel free to click here and experience the rack pack play the game the only way they know how!

Top 10 Iconic Adobe Creative Cloud Apps

It shouldn’t be surprising to any of my friends that the highest standard in creative software packages is Adobe Creative Cloud. However, one thing I did find surprising was that when I searched for a list of the top 10 most iconic Creative Cloud Apps, I got no results.

So I thought, “what the hey”, and decided to write one myself.

I’m basing my list more on how well known they are outside of the design community than I am on how useful they actually are for the wide variety of creative products out there. With that said, their functionality will also play a big role in my decision-making, both individually and as part of the overall usage as part of the Adobe CC package.

No.10 – Muse

adobecc-muse
Personally speaking, I’m not a huge fan of WYSIWYG website builders, mainly because I think they’re not everything they crack themselves up to be. With that said, the key reason I think this way is because most people are either frightened of code, or simply don’t know how to do it!

That’s why Muse is such a good software for anyone who wants to build a website without any knowledge of HTML or CSS. Unlike a software I’ll mention later in this list, this is the go-to app for anyone looking to get started on designing websites, putting their look before their practicality.

No.9 – Lightroom

adobecc-lightroom
I’ve personally tried using Lightroom a handful of times, and I have to be honest, I can’t work it out for love or money. However, this is a software designed for photographers, as opposed to graphic designers, and most of the friends I have in the photography business wouldn’t know how to cope without this app.

From what I’ve seen, it’s a great tool for cropping and colourising multiple photos, as well as organising groups of similar photos into catalogues.

It might not be the most well-known of softwares, but if you’ve ever looked at a photo collection, don’t be surprised if Lightroom was a key tool used in choosing and refining those pictures you love.

No.8 – Audition

adobecc-audition
This is the only one of Adobe CC’s softwares to be designed exclusively for sound-design, making this the primary software for musicians and sound-effects artists.

I’d love to brag about what wonderful things Audition can do, but seeing as the most I’ve ever done on it is an attempt to remove the background music from one song, I’m certainly not the person to ask.

Just be rest-assured that if you’re into the art of sound, Audition is a good software too pick.

No.7 – After Effects

adobecc-aftereffects
After Effects is the best place to go for special-effects when using the Adobe CC package, especially those which involve using 2 pieces of footage in one shot. Therefore, just about any hologram, motion-graphic, or chroma-key (i.e. blue/green screen) effect you see in a movie or TV show today would have been achieved using After Effects.

Some advanced examples of how After Effects can be used include the ‘helmet’ shots in the Iron Man films, and the fan-made opening titles to The Walking Dead. But some more subtle uses of After Effects include the Idents and used by news-corporations, such as the BBC and Sky News.

Really, all you need to do to see what great work can come from After Effects is turn the TV on.

No.6 – InDesign

adobecc-indesign
You’d be hard-pressed to find a design company these days that doesn’t use InDesign. Much like Microsoft Word, this software is designed for text-editing and publishing. Despite the fact that Word is cheeper and more functional for the everyman, InDesign is easily the industry standard in publishing design.

Not only does InDesign it easier to control the leading, tracking, indents, paragraph spaces, etc. which make typography work, but it’s also easier to create drop-caps, create page spreads, and seamlessly combine multiple documents into a whole book.

It can also be good for website design, but if you ask me, there’s still one software more iconic and capable for designing websites to wait for…

No.5 – Illustrator

adobecc-illustrator
Contrary to what you might think from the software’s name, Illustrator is in fact a highly adaptable software for any creative working in the digital arts. In many respects, Illustrator is a superior software to the number one on this list, since it allows someone to design using vectors (solid shapes) as opposed to bitmaps (pixels). This allows for shapes to be more adaptable, curvatures to be smoother, and outlines to look crisper.

From t-shirts to typefaces, from leaflets to logos, and from maps to mascots, there’s an awful lot one can design simply using Illustrator.

It might take some time for someone to get used to bezier arms and the pen tool. Yet personally, this is my favourite of the Adobe CC Package, and I won’t stop using it anytime soon.

No.4 – Premiere Pro

adobecc-premiere
One of the problems with After Effects is that it takes a long time to load each one of its frames as you test your footage, making it painful for basic video editing. This is why Premiere pro is there better software to use for editing.

I have to be honest and say that I’ve never used this software myself, but from what I can tell, it’s more stripped down than After Effects is, and capable of loading its clips faster. This allows editors to slice away all they like, often creating masterpieces of film.

And if you think this is a software just for the general public, think again. The Sundance Film Festival saw a 130% rise in entries that were cut using Premiere Pro in 2015. Gone Girl, the first ever movie to be edited entirely with Premiere Pro, would not be the same if it weren’t for the Creative Cloud!

No.3 – Dreamweaver

adobecc-dreamweaver
This software is designed with one thing in mind… development. Whether that be a website, a software, or an app, this is the go-to software for coders.

One part WYSIWYG, one part text-editor, it makes it easier than ever for developers to create sites using this software. Not only can the developer see a near-perfect replica of what they’re creating as they build it, but pre-built templates and segments help the professionals get the divs they want in their sites, and then use their knowledge of code to tweak their sites to be just the way they want them!

For every website created with WordPress, just about every other website would have been created with Dreamweaver. And once you get the hang of it, you can certainly tell why.

No.2 Flash (soon to be re-named ‘Animate’)

adobecc-flash
Web-designers typically hate this software, because it’s tendency for slow loading times-and overly complicated UI’s meant hundreds of websites created in the early naughties were butchered.

On the other hand, this is the ideal software for animators and game-designers, especially those who like to keep their work 2D. Not only are the transitions crisp and smooth due to easing, but by adding some ActionScript, it can become entertainingly interactive.

Even if Flash games have fallen out of popularity with the rise of Apple devices, it’s popularity in cartoons like The Tom and Jerry Show show that Flash still has a bright, animated future.

Now, I would usually write a list of honourable mentions for this segment. However, since the majority of apps left in the Adobe CC package are used in the background, it seems rather pointless to make a huge fuss about them. So, let’s just skip to my number one pick…

No.1 – Photoshop

adobecc-photoshop
Sure, InDesign and Illustrator might be the better softwares for graphic designers like myself. But seriously, how can anybody deny the sheer influence that Photoshop has had on both the creative and technological industries?!

Designed especially for photo-manipulation, such as the artwork by Erik Johansson, photoshop isn’t just the software most of us digital-creatives are introduced to. It’s a trademark which has become a verb in its own right, which if you ask me, stapes this as the most iconic the Adobe Creative Suite softwares!

(Sorry, I couldn’t help but include this video too!)

But, perhaps you have a different idea of which one of the Adobe CC Apps is the most iconic. If you think this list needs a different order, feel free to comment below and let me know!

Christmas Traditions You Never Knew Were Commercialised

It’s almost become a cliche to say that Christmas has become too commercialised, that it’s all about buying expensive gifts for one another and John Lewis adverts, and not about the traditional messages of good-will for all men and women.

What you probably don’t realise, however, is that many of the things we typically call ‘traditional’ at christmastime are probably more commercialised than you originally thought. Don’t believe me? Well, just read these examples below…

Father Christmas’s Design

commercial christmas santa
(Yes, I know even British folk are calling him Santa nowadays, but screw it, I still prefer Father Christmas.)

I remember being told back in primary school that the fat man with the red suit and big, white beard was popularised by the Haddon Sundblom illustrations for Coca Cola. Heck, the company glorifies their ties with his design!

However, it isn’t actually that clear which brand made his design official. There are sources to say that Thomas Nast was the one who popularised the look with his illustrations of the Santa Suit for Harpers Weekly, whilst other sources claim the design came from wooden carvings that were handed out during a 1804 New York Historical Society meeting.

What is clear, though, is that the brands that have helped to influence the overall design of Father Christmas took great inspiration from the Clement Clarke Moore poem, ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ (1823) (better known as ‘The Night Before Christmas’).

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

commercial christmas rudolph
Yet another tradition influenced by ‘A Visit from St. Nicholas’ is the names of Father Christmas’s eight reindeer. Whilst Rudolph was invented long after the poem was written, he has pretty much become synonymous with the flying reindeer in present day. And as we all know, he was first conceived in that classic Christmas song. Right? Wrong!

Back in the 1930’s, the American retail-enterprise, Montgomery Ward, handed out free colouring books to children. However, they decided to produce their own books to save on the financial costs of buying others. And thus, they hired Robert L. May to create Rudolph as the face for their own-brand colouring books. It would be another 10 years before May allowed his brother-in-law, Johnny Marks, to convert the words of that book into the song we all know and love.

Initially, May didn’t own the copyright to Rudolph, and didn’t receive any royalties for his work. However, Montgomery Ward handed the copyright over to him, since his wife was terminally ill, and they wanted to help him pay for debt he was in from having to pay for medical bills.

Robins on Christmas Cards

commercial christmas robin
This is probably the most surprising of all Christmas traditions, in terms of which are commercialised and which aren’t. Many of us would like to believe that the distinctively British tradition of red-breasted robins as a symbol of Christmas is because of their prevalence during the winter.

Yet the reason we see robins on cards is because they were intended to be a joke. Back in the 1800’s, British postmen wore bright-red uniforms to match the branding of The Royal Mail, which gave them the nickname ‘robins’. And, of course, it was the 19th Century when some of our most familiar traditions came about, such as Mince Pies and Christmas Trees.

Therefore, illustrators caught onto the link between robins and their delivery of cards to people’s doors every winter, and out the robins on the front of Christmas Cards as a homage to the men who made card-giving possible. Thankfully, the tradition still lives on today, in large part due to the Royal Mail never losing its distinctive shade of red.

What about you? Do you think there are any Christmas traditions which are surprisingly commercial when you look into their origins? If so, let me know in the comment section below!

And regardless, have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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…

thunderbirdsarego_kayo

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.

thunderbirdsarego_stingray

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.

thunderbirdsarego_tracyisland

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.

thunderbirdsarego_grandma

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.

thunderbirdsarego_toy 2

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!

Creativity & the Queen

Today, Queen Elizabeth II will surpass her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, as Britain’s longest reigning monarch. I, for one, am humbled that we, as a country, can witness an event as rare as this. Therefore, it only seemed right to take inspiration from Her Majesty to see how the Royal Family have helped to contribute to the worlds creative industry.

The Royal Collection

queenlongestmonarch_royalcollection
By far the biggest contribution Her Majesty and her ancestors have made to the arts is the ‘Royal Collection’. One of the oldest and most historically important art collections in the world, it consists of paintings, sculptures, watercolours, sketches and jewels (including the ‘Crown Jewell’s’) that span an era of 500 years. With over 197,000 works to observe in 13 different regal locations, it’s a fascinating way to examine the tastes and ideas of our Royals, past and present.

A Family of Artists

queenlongestmonarch_charlespainting
As well as owners of multiple pieces, the Royal Family are surprisingly good artists themselves. Many of their works, old and new, were shown in a 2013 documentary series, ‘Royal Paintbox’, as well as an exhibition of the same name. Arguably, the most artistic member of the Monarchy today is Prince Charles, as he was the one who examined the artwork of his ancestors on both the TV show and the exhibition. He even had some of his watercolours put on display.

Tourism & Merchandising

queenlongestmonarch_merchandise
One of the best things about Britain’s Monarchy is that their appeal generates bucket-loads for our tourism industry; £5million a year, to be precise. £2billion was made from the wedding of William and Kate alone! Fair to say, much of that comes through the royalty-themed merchandising. Some of it is posh, and some of it is goofy. Either way, there’s always plenty of money to be made in tourist shops all around London, and the many royal properties in the rest of the U.K.. So, go ahead and raise those Union Jacks!

The Royal Variety Performance

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It’s not just paintings and sculptures that qualify as art, you know! One of the greatest honours for a performer is to visit the U.K. and put on a show for either Her Majesty, or another member of the Royal Family. Variety shows are a rarity nowadays, so the fact that this one has continued for over 100 years (and yearly for 70 years) is nothing short of a marvel. I send my thanks to ‘Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent’, one of the many charities of which the Queen is a patron, for giving us the show that us creatives a chance to truly shine.

Stamps & the Royal Mint

queenlongestmonarch_stampsandcoin
It’s fair to say that part of our culture is influenced by the very profile of Her Majesty, both in our wallets, and our letter boxes. Portraits of her are hand-drawn for British stamps and currency, by a variety of distinguished artists, all of which must have been approved by the Queen herself. Additionally, the constant influx of new designs for the tales-ends and special/commemorative stamps means that we can be guaranteed to always see a new miniature art-piece every few months.

So, what do you think? Does the Royal Family get your creative juices flowing in some way? If so, let me know how in the comments below. And, be sure to celebrate today’s event in style!