Saturday, 19 September 2009

Spectre of the Subway

Many, many years ago, I had a dream that I and the rest of the family were waiting for a train at Edinburgh Waverley station.

That's Waverley station there.

The train was sitting there in the station all right, but it wasn't doing anything.

Actually, it's only when I'm typing this post that I realise how silly an idea it is... sitting outside the train, waiting for it to move... so we can leave on it? Shouldn't we have been waiting on the train?

Oh well, maybe the doors hadn't opened or something.

Anyway, we were standing around, waiting for the train to move, and we had been doing that for ages, when I suddenly realised that the reason the train wasn't moving because it had nowhere to move. The track was only as long as the train was, and it was blocked off by solid wall at either end.

It also seemed after a while that the train was just a sort of orange pattern on the wall and/or floor, but that's kind of the way dreams work.

Well, this dream kind of stuck with me. Maybe it was the eerie silence of a station where the train didn't move. But it started to become a recurring dream, that of a train station where the trains were blocked off at either end.

It was only a couple of months ago, when I decided to visit the Glasgow Museum of Transport for the first time in over ten, maybe over fifteen years, that I finally discovered where the original dream must have come from:

This is part of the Museum's "Kelvin Street" display, which is a reconstruction of a hypothetical street in Glasgow in the... um... past. (Unfortunately I can't seem to get any images of the other parts of the display. I just have to recommend you visit it, if, like me, you like the uncanny feeling of being in a film noir, and cinemas which show cartoons like "Mr Duck Steps Out") It contains a replica of an underground station, with stationery old-fashioned train carriages sitting in it. Of course, the station doesn't have real tunnels on each side of it, it just has black tunnel-shapes painted on the walls... and compared to a real underground station, it is eerily quiet.

It's almost like the vision of Tombstone from the Star Trek episode "Spectre of the Gun." Dreamlike in itself... and most definitely the inspiration for a dream.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Can you dig it? I mean... You've got to dig!

This is one of the series which was still there on the video when I found it in summer 2002, and, indeed, which I went on to make the website about. Educational kids' TV at its best. A series about everyday events which kids can learn basic scientific facts from. Animated fantasy sequences illustrating characters' thoughts. Songs which are outside the story's continuity which may or may not have been sung by members of the cast. Dialogue which doesn't patronize the five-or-six-year-old kids in the audience but which doesn't aim too far over their heads either... (Actually, one of Charles Way's episodes would have illustrated this point a bit better) in particular, no smirking innuendo. You can read what I thought about the series back in Ought Two here.

Oh, and those shots of flowers opening up seemed to be in every schools TV programme back in the early 90s.

It's just another parcel!

Well... here he is! Check him out in all his lampshade-headed glory! It's Mr Boom! (or "Mr Boon" as continuity announcers would sometimes call him, presumably expecting a full rhyme with "Moon".) I don't remember this one (obviously, since it doesn't involve building a house) and you might notice the watching Earth bit actually comes *after* the guest... but before Mr Boo[m/n] gives us a song.

I'm not too impressed that the opening sequence seems to have been cut off, but I'm glad to see the complete (and rarely-shown IIRC) closing sequence on the end. Notice the date is 1990, so I'd have been 4 or 5 years old at the time... so I guess it could have been one of the episodes I saw. I don't remember that smiley face which sounds like a Cyberman kid though.

Hey, there's one notable fact about Mr Boom's physiology which I totally forgot to mention last time. His nose makes a squeak sound if you touch it. That was what really put him on the map for me as a kid so I'm at a loss to explain why I forgot it when I made the earlier post. And there's the name, Andy Munro. Guess it's the same guy then. I'm glad about that.

Other great things about this video include Mr Boom's use of the word "wheech" (or however you spell it), and the fact that the storyteller wears a spacesuit when he's outside, but the entrance to the Dome is just a cardboard door that won't shut properly.

So, in conclusion... thank you TributeToThePast... whoever you are!

The Pinocchio craze of Ought Seven

When I look back fondly on my days at University, somehow it's the Spring 2007 semester that gives me the most nostalgic glow. However, one of the things about that time which really put it on the map had nothing to do with University life. I refer to when Hans Perk posted the animator drafts for Pinocchio!

In order to understand why that was so great, I need to take you back to the summer of 2002. Some piece of stimulus -- probably the Rankin-Bass animated versions of The Hobbit and The Return of the King -- gave me a renewed interest in some of the old animated films - especially the ones from the late '30s and very early '40s: Snow White, Gulliver's Travels, Pinocchio and Hoppity (aka Mr Bug) Goes To Town.

I do remember having that kidhood feeling of fascination/terror regarding Pinocchio. It was probably the one of those films which I had seen the least often... and perhaps that was why it was the one which caught my interest the most, although it would be almost a year before I saw it again. I did read about it, though, in a book that had been in the house a long time, which I had also not looked at for many years: Christopher Finch's The Art of Walt Disney.

In this book I discovered some information about the making of Pinocchio which I probably hadn't paid attention to when I looked in the book before. I learned that different animators were assigned to different characters: for example, Jiminy Cricket's animators included Ward Kimball, Woolie Reitherman and Don Towsley, and Lampwick was animated by Fred Moore. I recognised the names of many animators, and had long been able to distinguish the directors of Warner Brothers cartoons (I could tell a Chuck Jones cartoon from a Bob Clampett cartoon, for example), but this was the first time I had really learned anything about what the actual animators did.

In summer 2003 I had rediscovered "golden age" animation, and I found the Termite Terrace Trading Post on the ToonZone forums. (If those links are confusing you, this was before the TTTP moved to the Golden Age Cartoons forums) And there I was in contact with people who were able to tell you which person was responsible for which character or which scene in almost any cartoon - usually the Tom and Jerry and Warner Bros. shorts. I did hear (read, that is) vague talk about how the Disney studio always kept meticulous animation records, but I knew that if I ever asked the simple question "Who animated what in Pinocchio", even if anyone knew the answer it would be far to big and complicated for them to post.

Then in summer 2006, I saw that some animation historians had set up blogs where they were posting old studio records - animation drafts which listed each individual scene (what we would usually call a "shot") and who animated it. One blogger, Michael Sporn, had even posted up the first few scenes of the Pinocchio draft! But those were the only pages he had. And thus, it wasn't until February 2007 that I was able to finally see that which I had hoped for all those years.

So, over the next few weeks, as Hans posted more and more pages of the animation draft, I would learn the answer to "who animated what." In fact, at the time part of my University work actually involved studying old censuses which had been put onto computer databases and learning what conlusions could be reached from them. So after each of those classes on Tuesday mornings, I'd put aside one set of historical records and check the A. Film L.A. blog to see if a different type of historical records had been posted.

It was the start of a kind of Pinocchio craze among animation bloggers, but that will have to wait for another post...

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Use your imagination!

Some seven years ago I found a bunch of videotapes which had been hidden away in a cupboard. The videos contained educational kids TV programmes from about ten years earlier. Some of them were from the famous "Look and Read" series, which inspired me to discover Ben Clarke's site devoted to the "Look and Read" stories (at the time it was not part of the Broadcast for Schools site, which didn't exist back then) and create my own (much more simple-looking) website about two of the other "schools progs" from my kidhood - "Thinkabout Science" and "Science Challenge" -- with a LOT of help from Ben Clarke!

One series, however, I did not find any of was "Over the Moon". This was a Scottish show, starring a one-man-band who went by the name of "Mr Boom", which sort of rhymes with the name of the show. I didn't find any episodes because they were all on one video, and we taped over that video long ago, with some other educational stuff (including, I think, some "Look and Read") and then partly with "The Simpsons" until I discovered there was some "Look and Read" on it.

It's a shame that "Over the Moon" has been lost to the ages, though. What I remember is this:

It took place in a glass dome, purportedly on the surface of the Moon.
Mr Boom looked through a telescope to watch people on Earth, doing some sort of activity. The only one I remember was building a house, specifically the roof of a house, and Mr Boom explaining that this was to stop all the rain from getting in.
The second part of each episode involved some sort of guest, visiting him on the moon, and singing a song or reading a story. Actually, this may have only happened once, and I could be wrong about the song or story, except that most TV programmes for kids of that age tended to end with a song or a story.
The theme song included the lines: "Use your imagination, to jump over the moon, over the moon" and a harmonica solo. When they broadcast closing credits, it included the lines "You have used your imagination to jump over the moon, over the moon, return to your Earth location..."

I never really paid attention to the name of the guy playing Mr Boom. I guess I just assumed Boom was his real surname. I did realise that it wasn't really filmed on the Moon, though. And you know how I knew? When Mr Boom looked at the Earth, he looked through a telescope that pointed up the way. But everyone knows the Moon is *above* the Earth. So surely his telescope should be pointing down!