Letraset Action Transfers

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You know when you see something and you’re instantly transferred to another time?

Yeah, that thing.

Rub down transfers (those of you who are young please bear with me) took many form over the years. Professional lettering, decals on models and the long-lost art of panorama rub down transfers. It sounds the most bonkers idea in the world but as kids we would get these sets of pre printed background onto which we would creatively apply transfers.

I know, mental.

All of our favourite characters were drafted into action: Captain Scarlet, Thunderbirds, Tarzan, Planet of the Apes, Space:1999 or Star Trek. Mundane commercial art-based backgrounds were provided on a fold out piece of card and it was our job to carefully apply transfers on to the background. This was fraught with difficulty of course. If you used a pencil that was too sharp it created an indent in the plastic that would result in a broken ape arm or a displaced phaser. Over time we cultivated rounded, blunt pencils that transferred the image flawlessly on to the backdrop careful not to ruin the gold dusted, magical transfer.

Brought up on comics, this gave me the freedom to imagine what it might be like to create our own stories. OK it was very limited, but we got a taste for it. Action Transfers (a Waddingtons games brand) was a birthday or Christmas staple, never the first thing to play with but always one for later, when the excitement had died down. It was odd that we could always tell they weren’t drawn by our favourite artists or even vaguely look like the characters we knew and loved but somehow it didn’t matter. The technology was rudimentary but we worked with it, there was nothing else to do.

Later when I trained as graphic designer, the technology of course had moved on and we were using transfers for high end typography using skills that have pretty much vanished.

Little did I know that as a fledgling designer I’d be using rub down skills honed under the bed covers, by torchlight, on a council estate in Leeds?

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

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My apes obsession is well documented on this blog and I make no apologies for the adulation in this post. When I first saw Planet of the Apes on TV in the seventies I was actually coming to the simian party pretty late. Little did I know at that time that there were five movies that had already preceded the television series.

Boy was I in for a treat.

The TV series was cancelled in the first season due to poor audience figures in the US although it was a smash hit in the UK. Apes mania hit the UK in the mid to late seventies. I know. That sounds like a ridiculous statement but it was true. Apes were everywhere: TV, live performances, games, models, games, clothing. It was a real teenybopper phenomenon. Or at least that the way this 12 year old remembers it.

Then came the re-runs of the movies in the cinemas. Imagine these days multiplexes running movies that were five years old?/ Of course this was just before the age of VHS and an age before streaming and on demand. It actually seems weird just writing about how antiquated and in control the film and TV studios were in those days. But the films were mind-blowing to me at once adult and violent but at the same time familiar and vivid thanks to Galen, Burke and Virdon in the TV series.

 

 

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The movies are patchy of course ranging from the taut sixties sci fi of the original with Charlton Heston to increasingly low budgets leading to diminishing returns. I read recently that each ape movie played to society’s fears in each ear and it’s true, they tackle nuclear war, racism, slavery, liberalism, vivisection and all out trepidation for our future.

Tim Burton rebooted the franchise badly a few years ago (how did one of my favourite directors get that so badly wrong) but the recent back to basics approach with the movies is golden. Rise of The Planet of the Apes just appeared with no fanfare, almost like the studio was embarrassed by it but it was a huge success, paving the way for this years’ Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Technology in movie making has meant that we now have Andy Serkis motion capture apes as opposed to John Chamber’s outstanding make up for actors. I love both and at the time we marvelled at the make up and now we don’t even notice that the apes are all CGI, which is testament to the creativity and skills at play. Incidentally, John Chambers also created disguise kits for the CIA as well as Cornelius’s muzzle, I’d like to see CGI do that…but maybe there’s an entire movie franchise in that idea.

I always think a director has you in the palm of his hand when you are rooting for the apes and not the humans and this is what happens in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. There are lots of nods and winks to the old movies (the main orang-utan is called Maurice, a loving nod to Maurice Colman who played Dr Zaius…apologies, I could go on) but the main thrust of the movie is decidedly modern and of its time. Fast, visceral, epic and engaging — this is a summer blockbuster for the masses but doesn’t flinch from delivering hefty moralistic messaging for both apes and men.

Of course the sequel is set up perfectly and I’m sure they are storyboarding as we speak and Andy Serkis is suiting up and you know what?

I can’t wait.

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Matisse Cut Outs

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Tate Modern is showing a huge Henri Matisse retrospective. I always liked his work: it appealed to the art student in me, enormous slabs of colour, cut out and pasted down with such exuberance. This show contains all his greatest hits, vibrant with flat gouache colour.

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The colours and shapes move and dazzle as you walk past them. Up close the patience of flat colour being laid down and the precision and delicate composition is evident. Each room fizzes with energy, unfolding stunning giant tableaux.

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A compilation wall where every piece talks to each other, cheerfully social. Making the most of it before they are scattered to the four corner of the earth.

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The famous blue figures are all movement and sinew. The composition is taut and balanced. Cut paper and gouache, gradient clearly seen with a softer wash.

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The simplicity of two colours, jarring against each other because they are tonally the same but because they are from different parts of the spectrum, they co-exist beautifully.

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Icarus crashes to earth, his dreams destroyed along with his wings.

The Tower of London

The Tower of London is one of those places that everyone’s been to as a kid. So when we had a request from our weekend guests Paul and Carol to go there, I couldn’t resist it!

It was bound to be super busy but what the hell, it had to be done. We were blessed with amazing weather which made everything look luminous. Of course it’s very touristy but that aside, it’s very well presented and for a history geek like me, it’s the closest thing to heaven you’ll get. Of course for some people it was the closest thing to hell.

 

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The Tower is still officially the headquarters of the Royal Armouries (with the full collection up in Leeds of course) and is chock full of impressive arms and armour, including this exquisite detailing on Henry VIII’s quite voluminous suit.
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Ancient doorways with history steeped patina lead to infamous courtyards featuring murder, torture, executions and, er, ravens.

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Breastplates a go-go. Must have been quite uncomfortable and chafed somewhat.

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This medieval stained glass is reported to be the last thing Henry VI saw before he was murdered.

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Beautiful detailing belies the true nature of the job its required to do.

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Solid gold crowns sit atop William the Conqueror’s impressive white tower, built just after the Battle of Hastings, a proto power play if ever there was one.

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Swords. Lots of swords.

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Up until relatively recently, the royal mint was based in the Tower of London harking back to times when the monarchy needed hard currency to fight wars and keep the peasants under control (a bit like these days).

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Nice art commissions dot the site too with the famous menagerie of animals that were kept there represented as chicken wires sculptures.

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Vivid cannon detail belies an energetic creative streak in the casting designers.  Who knew?

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Stunning contrast – ancient and modern in stark relief.

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If you didn’t believe me about Henry VI, here’s the proof…kind of.

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Loving the detailing and craftsmanship on another of Henry VIII’s suits.

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In many of the towers there is ancient graffiti left by prisoners awaiting their fate in either the torture chamber or the executioner’s block.
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Named after the Tower or actually its towers, mmm. Not sure, any ideas?

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Blood and the shard. There’s something poignantly beautiful happening at The Tower of London…

 

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

The evolving installation by ceramic artist Paul Cummins, with setting by stage designer Tom Piper, will be unveiled on 5 August 2014; one hundred years since the first full day of Britain’s involvement in the First World War.

Entitled ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’, the installation is being created in the Tower’s famous dry moat. It will continue to grow throughout the summer until the moat is filled with 888,246 ceramic poppies, each poppy representing a British or Colonial military fatality during the war.

The poppies will encircle the Tower, creating not only a spectacular display, but also an inspiring setting for learning activities, as well as providing a location for personal reflection. The scale of the installation reflects the magnitude of such an important centenary, creating a powerful visual commemoration.

The last poppy will symbolically be planted on 11 November 2014

- See more at: http://www.hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/stories/firstworldwar/TheTowerofLondonRemembers#sthash.hxSoeBfc.dpuf

Magic Markers saved my life

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I spent my early days as a young designer in a chemical fug. Day after day, my senses were dulled by fumes that made me light-headed and reckless. Intensified by the heat and pressure of a busy design studio, I became addicted to the mother of all creative highs.

Magic markers.

It’s incomprehensible of course these days that we would spend an entire day drawing stuff, colouring in with coloured felt tip markers, glue it to some board and then go see a client with the brand new thinking for their next campaign. But we did. In the modern age of PDF and We Transfer, sketching stuff out seems oddly quaint, although it’s not vanished entirely, it’s an affectation these days rather than the norm.

Back then markers were our expression, easy, quick tools that demanded skill to deliver ideas on the hoof. This process had its own vernacular too: markers were used to create scamps, roughs, flims or even thumbnails. As designers we were still close the commercial artists craftsmen who taught us our craft and we borrowed ancient terminology from these long-lost giants.

To someone who always loved drawing, the technical ability of these tools to deliver flat colour, crisp lines with no bleeding (here I go again) and flawless visuals was a revelation. Of course, you had to know the tricks and a scuffed drawing board could ruin work that would have to be done again. There was no Apple Save in those days. But you learnt quick. Shortcuts came thick and fast and everyone had their own armoury of kit and secret techniques to deliver the killer visual.

There was no finer sight than a full rack of juiced up markers, ready to do your bidding. I started on Magic Markers, the ad agency staple. The stubby glass bodied pens were fearsomely expensive and prone to drying out, and were soon usurped by the snazzy Pantone upstarts, who had the massive advantage of the pen colour matching the entire Pantone ink and paper family. Both co-existed with dedicated enthusiasts on both sides.

I learnt recently that the chemicals used in magic markers were very harmful to humans and even back then we’d joke lightheadedly about how these couldn’t be good for us. Of course now we can’t have a glass of wine without getting a warning so imagine spending a day intoxicated by killer toxins just to get an advert sketched out.

I love the past sometimes. That’s why I’ve just ordered a full set of greys to get cracking again.

What do you remember about magic markers?