The Ages Of Mankind

I see I’ve made a slight error – that should be Ages Of Man. Not mankind. I’m in no position to decide things for other sexes.

Actually, It should read Ages Of Me, because I can’t even speak for others of my own sex. They may well have different ages in their lives. I can only tally up my own.

0-10 – Kiddyrazzi – Just a kid, doin’ what kids do. In my case doin’ what kids in western Canada in the 1950’s did and then having to strip down in the basement and take a shower afterwards. Spring in Alberta had enough mud to make another entire planet, and if you were not careful most of it stuck to your sneakers. And your hair.

10-20 – Studyrazzi – Always at school preparing for life. On television everyone was already living theirs, but I was just between school holidays and exams. This was the 1960’s minus the drugs and the music. Also minus the sex.

20-30 – Moneyrazzi – Well, add the sex. Plus the university fees, loans, commitments, fees, leases, and childbirth. They even charged for the child.

30-40 – Workerazzi – I was meant to produce so I did. And a great deal of what I produced was taken away to pay for the 20-30 period.

40-50 – Thickerazzi – How did I thicken and wrinkle at the same time? And where was the El Dorado that was promised in the 10-20 period? El Dorado was running well behind schedule. The sneaking suspicion starts to dawn upon me that I may have been hoodwinked.

50-60 – Doggerazzi – Thinking ( mistakenly ) that harder work and more spending and networking and wine evenings and investment counselling would make it all come right, I lurched onwards. It did not come right, of course, and the cynicism started to gel.

60-70 – Cooterazzi – I just started to realise that no-one was listening and no-one was watching. This made me alternately despondent and elated. It was a good time to start robbing church poor-boxes.

70-80 – Bloggerazzi – I intend to spout the most errant nonsense and the most brilliant wisdom and no-one will take the slightest notice. I’ll get ’em used to the flow of sound and then tell the truth in the middle somewhere. They may not even  notice that I cut them off at the ankles. You can preserve ankles in jars and make a rather nice collection.

I shall not presume to calculate past 80. It is a period of time that might be devoted to anything.

 

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Spitty Spitty Bang Bang

With apologies to the Disney corporation and Dick Van Dyke…

I couldn’t help myself when I saw the personal plate on the Triumph at the Hyde Park Motor Show on Monday. It is a free vintage, veteran, and whatever show to celebrate Labour Day. I much prefer the old vehicles to watching political marches.

The Spitfires were the cheaper line of sports cars from Triumph during the time when the TR4, 5, and 6 were made and seem to have been around in various forms from 1962 to 1980 – the green machine seen here is one of the last incarnations – the Spitfire 1500.

I was privileged to drive a Spit 1 in 1964 when we first lived for a few months in Australia. I think my dad was having a mechanical moment when he set out to buy a sports car from the Sunday Times newspaper. We saw a procession of MG’s – TC , TF, MGA, etc. but they were either too expensive or too chatty to consider. The Triumph must have hit the spot for him and I was delighted to get to run it. I’d just got my license and in retrospect I’m surprised at my parents’ calm attitude to a 17-year-old with a sports car. I never raced or rolled it, however, and in the end went back to North America safely.

Years later, in memory of my father, I wanted to buy another little sports car and dived into the Sunday Times again. There were fewer to choose from in 1983, but me and my Mother went out to see a number that were on offer. What a series of revelations…

Note: In the interim, my wife had once bought a brand-new MGB roadster in 1971, and had the fun of driving it for a year. She was not a sports car person but it looked beautiful to her. She had the very best of it, as it did not falter during her ownership…but I got to look carefully at the design and construction of it, and to ponder about the old technology and philosophy that MG loved…

Anyway, back to searching for a used Spitfire – or a used Austin Healey, MG, TR etc. The owners who presented their cars were mostly honest people. They all explained what repairs and restorations had been done to what they were trying to sell. Some had log books, and some had loose-leaf binders of mechanic’s invoices and parts receipts. A number of them had detailed reports from firms that had fabricated new floor pans, wheel arches, and body panels and welded them together. The accumulated histories of the various cars was probably intended to re-assure. It actually horrified. Both me and Mum agreed that buying a used sports car for nostalgia was nothing more than buying expense and trouble…

But I could not help getting a pang when I saw how nice the Spitfire 1500 looked. The colour is defiantly green, which I like, and apart from the side graphics – an affectation of the time – the rest is a delight. I should imagine that it would work, like God, in mysterious ways, and possibly perform wonders – The old Spit 1 certainly had  a multitude of things going on with the body panels whenever it went over the railway crossing. But for a drive on a warm evening after sunset, nothing could be more delightful.

 

The Little World – No, It’s The Sets

I have a confession. I build model dioramas. I build model stage sets. I build model photography layouts. I talk about them to other people, even if they patently do not want to listen. In short…

I’m a sets maniac. I setually harass people. I have a sets addiction. And I’m shameless.*

So are the Ardman people. The key to the success of all their productions may well be the milieu – the sets that surround the animated characters. And the key to the sets is the detail. The recent exhibition placed the actual layouts that had been used for production before us in plastic protective cases, but fortunately lit them well enough that the sets fiends amongst us could slaver and tremble as we looked them over.

And what a focus. As you can tell from study of the pictures, the model makers have seen a great deal of English kitchens – every detail in the thing is real. Perhaps a little rounder or a little exaggerated for effect, but the overall ensemble is completely authentic. Look at the British electricity plug – the AGA cooker – the cabinets. You could cook in this set.

You could also send out for Chinese, as the menu on the notice board indicates. You can wash up with the Furry Liquid detergent…though it looks as if there are a few things that would benefit from soaking first…and the whole ensemble is as uncomfortable and inefficient as a proper British kitchen should be.

The real pièce de resistance is the dirt and dilapidation – the whole set could have been made neater and tidier – the walls could have been flat and the door could have been freshly painted and the cooker could have been clean…and we would not have been able to connect half as much as we can to this kitchen. The great artists see the most and the greatest artists reproduce what they see remorselessly.

*Actually, I have a book of plans for small  suburban houses of the 1940’s that I only show to ” special ” visitors, and then only if the window shades are drawn. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink…

 

The Little World – Is It the Props?

Are the props on the Aardman sets that things that really make the magic? Or is it the sets themselves…or the characters? I was hard pressed to decide after I studied the exhibits in the Federation Square display recently. They were largely familiar, having been featured in the animation films, but took on a whole new dimension when seen in 3-D.

One item that was new to me was the double-barrelled cannon seen in the heading image. This was from a short that never screened here – Holiday Hot Shots seems to be part of a promotion to encourage local tourism in the UK. The twin barrels, of course, are to fire Wallace and Gromit on holiday. Simple when you think of it, and I would welcome a similar scheme here in Perth to send visitors to Rottnest Island from the mainland. Leighton Beach still has space for a gun emplacement and I’m sure that I could rustle up a crew of eager amateur artillerists – we’d even bring our own powder.

The chicken coop aircraft is from ” Chicken Run “, as is the wardrobe supposedly made from a 250 pound bomb casing. The detail is astounding, even when it is very slightly off beam or a parody of itself.

I have recently seen ” A Matter Of Loaf And Death ” so I can appreciate the forklift with the oven gloves and cosy tea towel seat. To be honest, I could not swear in a court of law that it would not work as a forklift – I know their productions are stop motion animation but still…that forklift was big enough to be run on model electric motors inside and the chain drive looks authentic.

The biggest surprise about the Austin A40 that has featured in ” Loaf And Death ” and ” Curse Of The Were-Rabbit ” was the fact that they cut it apart and reused it with a new back superstructure…and with good cause. The thing is monstrously expensive – the sign near it said all told the works on it were ten grand!

I suppose that equates to model maker’s time and operational time as well as materials, but it certainly puts the average Airfix kit price into perspective. I didn’t feel at all extravagant going into Hearn’s Hobbies and coming out with an armload of plastic kits after that. Not that a grown man of my dignity would spend hours gluing and painting plastic kits, of course…

I wonder what museums pay for architectural and vehicle models these days?

 

 

The Little World – The Big Bench

Some workbenches are sad places – people sit at them and slave away hour after hour, but never enjoy themselves. It’s the same with desks.  Steaming piles of paper in the in-tray and the telephone ringing constantly…Sometimes it is a distinct relief to slump sideways with a sudden attack…

Not for  the Aardman workers – they may have row after row of eyeballs to make, but there is always the delight of eventually having something real look back at you from the top of the table.

Look at what the workshop has been making for Shaun the Sheep. Note that the ears seem to be plugged in on brass tubing – a sensible design, when you consider what a nuisance it is to clean our own lugs. No more poking Q-tips down the hole and twirling them around – just pop the ear off the head, wash it under a tap, and pop it back on. Vincent Van Gogh was onto something after all.

Aside from the mechanic’s red tool box, plastic fishing box, and the state-of-the-art remnant trays from the English equivalent of Red Dot, I am particularly impressed with the turntable on which the  heads rest. It is sturdy, flexible, and high enough to bring the object being modelled up to the point where you can see it clearly. That, and a good strong Planet lamp is all you need to get started. I have no idea what the two white containers at the right side of the table are – perhaps they hold secret modeller’s formulae…

Note on the hand photo that the rubber moulds are made to be self-registering so that they fit back together without needing a precision box surrounding them. I take it that the square channel in the wrist area is a place where a piece of brass tubing can be laid before the clay or putty is compressed around it. I have no idea what the actual material that forms the flexible hands is made of, but logic tells me that it cannot be too soft or the surface would be a constant nightmare – at the same time it needs to bend and stay bent for the animation movements to take place.

And then it is on to the wardrobe room…and the set…and the magic begins.

Little World modellers who have fixed abodes or workplaces are very lucky indeed – if they have dedicated spaces where works can progress without having to be picked up and put away in time for tea, it is likely to foster a calm sense of achievement and artistry. If they are compelled to work in a drafty shed, or in the corner of the dining room upon sufferance the hobby will be a contest at best and a chore at worst. The milieu is as important as it would be for any artist – painter, sculptor, or chef.

But there is a special tip ‘o the hat to those modellers who are on the road. I remember reading a MODEL RAILROADER magazine in the 80’s with an article about an English pop singer who travelled the US with his band, but carried his workshop and current model project with him to the hotel rooms he stayed in and passed the odd time between shows making HO scale buildings. Very good ones, as it turned out – the article showed that he was a master builder. Sort of knocks the sex and drugs image for a burton, doesn’t it?

 

The Little World – Just Popping Down To The ( Aardman ) Shops…

It’s hard to convey the sense of wonder that a Little World enthusiast gets when they first see a master model. The museum-quality ships at Greenwich, the scratchbuilt aircraft at Duxford, the railway models in the Science Museum or York…they all have an authority and an educational value that can go far beyond even the full-size original objects on display. The great thing about these artifacts is that, unlike the famous works of art in galleries, the popular knowledge of them is limited – you do not have to breast rooms full of tourists to see the tiny little painting – you don’t have to queue for hours to file past some renaissance daub because it is the ‘ famed ‘ daub.

And yet…there can be the same artistry exhibited by modern model makers, and the impact of it can be far greater for the familiarity of it. The fact that it is in 3 dimensions just adds to the charm. Witness the corner greengrocer’s shop set from ” The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit ”

The set is about a metre and a half long on each side – roughly 1/6 to 1/8 size. Correct internal lighting – the Fujifilm X-T10 was set on the 3200 ISO and the white balance was left on auto to sort itself out. What you see is what you saw in the film, albeit in motion and for a brief periods of time. The detail that you can see bears witness to the integrity and sense of dedication for the modellers. It was impossible to look at any corner of the set – even the doorstep with the milk bottle in front of the hairdresser’s shop – without getting the feeling that you were looking at a full-size scene.

The two display cases – tools and kitchen items – are actually mouth-watering to a miniatures worker. But they, and the detail pictures, can induce a terrible feeling of inadequacy in we amateurs – particularly if we are working in smaller scales with bigger fingers – fingers that are frequently covered in glue and/or stuck to the parts that we are actually working on.

Still…If the Aardman people would like a tasty little earner, they might consider compiling  How-To-Do-It videos and discs or making a book about their techniques. I would be first in line at the bookstore for them.

The Little World – Aardman

N0te: last week was grim here on HAW. This week is not  – this week is fun.

This post and several others will be springboarding on the back of real artists – the Aardman animation studios. I’ve been to see an exhibition devoted to their work and methods and I cannot praise them too much.

The exhibition was going on in the ACMI section of the Federation Square Gallery  connected to the NGV in Melbourne. It may venture to your country or your city, and if it does, it is well worth the price of a ticket. I spent a good two hours going back and forth seeing the exhibits.

Aardman are the authors of the Wallace And Gromit series of clay animations as well a numerous advertisements in Great Britain and the Creature Comfort series. As well, they have done Chicken Run, The Pirates, and Shaun The Sheep. All well worth seeing again and again.

The amazing part of this is the scale of the planning, artistry, and props needed to do this sort of animation. It is not tabletop stuff by any means, unless you consider the sets as individual scenes. The scale of most of the models seems to be about 1:6 to 1:4 and the artistic vision and attention to detail is staggering. I don’t think there is a true Little Worlder who would not be delighted to kick over the traces and build Aardman sets for a living.

Bless them, in addition to getting a look at their artistry, the exhibition had a working animation table and lighting setup that showed me clearly how to solve one of my lighting dilemmas in the Little Studio! I could not have been more pleased.

But here is a taster for the week. All Aardman, all the time.