Sunday, January 10, 2010


I had finished creating my BSB Squarial font on December 16th. It was now the December 17th, the event was on January 9th, Rory hadn't yet received any BSB material from Kaleidoscope and time was getting short.

So, to make sure I had a fighting chance of getting an ident ready in time for Rory to use, I turned to the ever reliable TV-Ark site. I found some wonderful scans of BSB promotional material that I could use as source material. I started putting as much of this as I thought would useful into Inkscape.

The first thing I did were the channel logos - Movies, Now, Sport, Galaxy and Power Station. Due to the good quality of the source material I ended up being able to produce nice vector versions of these logos in Inkscape.

Five Inkscape BSB channel logos

I also used Google Image Search which sucessfully came up with some other source material I thought may be handy. At the fascinating Vintage Broadcasting site I found a fantastic IBA breakdown caption, which I recreated in Inkscape.

Inkscape IBA/BSB breakdown caption

...and a test card used for engineering tests. Again I recreated it in Inkscape.

Inkscape BSB Engineering Card

Another thing I found was the caption that was broadcast when BSB transmissions on the Marco Polo satellite ceased. Again here's my Inkscape recreation.

Inkscape BSB Closure caption

It was interesting that they used Friz Quadrata rather than the BSB corporate font for this. I suppose they must have been past caring by then!

Once I'd done all this I sent it all off to Rory in Inkscape SVG format so that he could use or edit any of the files I created if he needed to.

The good news was that Rory had received the BSB material from Kaleidoscope. The bad news was that it seemed to be mainly third generation VHS stuff. This is a nightmare source material for recreation because the VHS format chucks away so much picture detail and colour information that recreating anything from grabs of VHS material is slow, frustrating and largely down to guesswork.

However, Rory did send back ident grab of a BSB logo which was very handy, and which I duly recreated in Inkscape. The letters are a bolder weight of the BSB font than the one used in the caption below it, so I drew them from scratch.

Inkscape BSB logo

The coloured ring in the BSB logo is quite interesting. To do this I created a coloured background that was made of a red, yellow, green and blue fills overlayed on top of each other and grouped into a single object.

Inkscape BSB logo with the ring mask unset

Then I created the shape of the ring, and used that as a mask over the coloured background.

My final port of call was Mike Brown's excellent mb21 site. The mb21 site contains an extensive library of scans historical documents related to UK Broadcast transmission. What I was after was the famous BSB testcard complete with the girl who won the newspaper "be a the satellite test card girl" competition.

I created the testcard with a green circle in the centre in place of a photograph and a Kaleidoscope logo in place of a channel logo. The green circle was so that Rory could key in whatever he wanted.

Inkscape BSB/Kaleidoscope test card

Once I had done this, and sent it to Rory I had done about all the still images I usefully could so I couldn't delay doing the animated ident in Flash any longer. I still had no audio too, but I decided I'd start creating an ident anyway and hope for the best.

After Channel 4 burst onto the scene in 1982 with its famous CGI blocks logo there had been a glut of shiny plastic and metallic 3D shapes whizzing about the screen in television presentation. That meant that by the time BSB came along just seven years later that sort of thing was all old hat. What was now in vogue was creating lots of soft fluttery layers of images on top of each other with subtle lighting changes.

This actually suited me, as I don't have my copy of Swift 3D here in Hungary with me, so I couldn't have created something very three dimensional anyway (although if I had had Swift 3D my finished BSB ident would have been much nicer).

The brief from Kaleidoscope was to create an ident with the BSB logo and the legend "The Quest Continues..." underneath it. Obviously thoughts of space and Star Trek and Dr. Who came to mind.

"The Quest Continues..." text would be easy - I'd simply zoom it into view with a trail Tyne Tees 1979 stylee. Clichéd, naff and typical of me...

Tyne-Tees style text zoom

For the background I used a nice picture of Pleiades star cluster that I found on Wikipedia. I'd used this before for a Rediffusion Christmas ident that I'd recreated for Transdiffusion. You can see it below, behind the Rediffusion ad astral logo - you'll probably have to click on the image below to see it.

Flash 8 Rediffusion Xmas recreation

One of the things I wanted was to make a nice form-up of the diamond shape around the BSB logo that represented the BSB "squarial" receiving dish. I also wanted to make this a bit kaleidoscopic, in honour of the fact that the ident was being done for Kaleidoscope.

I decided on the simple device of making the sides of the box zoom in with coloured trails using Flash motion tweens.

I did an early test with solid colours - and this looked all wrong. It looked like a 1970s cel animated ident.

Rather 70s...

However, with some gradient fills and some alpha transparency it suddenly looked all right.

What a difference a fill makes...

Rory sent some audio and a genuine BSB Galaxy ident - this was handy because I hadn't actually seen any real BSB presentation at this point.

I realised that I needed to make the ident longer, and I also needed to add some more elements to layer it a bit more and make it a bit more "Lambie-Nairn" than "Lamey-Dave". I came up with some ribbons accompanied by Galaxy-style five-pointed stars.

Animating the ribbons in Flash

These were simply animated using shape tweens (shape morphs) in Flash. As well as tweening the shape of the ribbons, I anmated the gradient fill inside them to simulate the lighting effects. I used primary and secondary colours rather than the subtler shades that Lambie Nairn used as I wanted to get over the idea of "television".

Completed ribbons layer

Again, drawing the ribbons in Macromedia Flash 8 was a horrible job and every second of doing it made me miss Inkscape terribly. Using Bézier handles in Flash 8 is fiddly and unintuitive and I can't believe how much work I actually did using them!

I could have used Flash 8 Professional filter effects in my ident, which would have allowed Gaussian blurs, compositing effects etc. and made the end result both more pleasant to look at and created an effect more faithful to the genuine BSB idents. However I decided against this as if I had relied upon them and Rory couldn't import them his end we would have been stuck. I didn't have time to post him a DVD of an exported video file from Flash.

Rory, as always, immediately spotted what was wrong with my ident and added some beautiful stars that slowly moved towards the viewer, which made all the difference to the finished product. And here it is:

The finished BSB "Quest" ident

I'm really, really pleased with the way the finished ident turned out. My comfort zone is doing material from the 50s, 60s and 70s so I was really dreading doing a job that was supposed to evoke the late 80s. So to get anything approaching half-decent was a huge relief.

It's hip to be Squarial

Kaleidoscope is a non-profit making organisation that researches vintage British television. Their publications are essential reading for anyone seriously interested in British television history. It also holds regular fund-raising events for the RNLI, where rare archive gems are screened and auctions of memorabilia are held.

I've done various graphic items for Kaleidoscope events in the past thanks to my friendship with the multi-talented Rory Clark. Rory recovers many of the domestic videotape recordings that Kaleidoscope discovers, and also compiles the videos and documentaries that are shown at their fund-raising events.

A bit of my past Kaleidoscope work

The last Kaleidoscope event was held jointly with the British Film Institute at NFT1 at the BFI Southbank, London on January 9th. Part of the event was a showcase of recently recovered programmes from the ill-fated BSB (British Satellite Broadcasting) service. Two of the main programme providers for BSB were Noel Gay TV and John Gau Productions. Sadly, nearly all of their programmes for BSB were junked. However Kaleidoscope has been busy helping track down domestic video recordings of lost BSB programmes to return them to the archives.

BSB corporate identity

Rory asked if I would like to contribute some graphics to help him out with the BSB segment, and I was delighted to be asked. The corporate look for BSB was designed by Martin Lambie-Nairn, and I think it was very nice indeed.

One of the key parts of the BSB corporate identity was a specially designed typeface. My first impression was that it looked similar to Albertus and Friz Quadrata. On looking at printed examples of the face, I decided it was an adaptation of the typeface Friz Quadrata, but I could not find a perfect match for in digital form. Therefore I decided it might be nice to make one.

To do this, I thought I'd go my usual route: I'd create glyphs in SVG format in the free software vector graphics package Inkscape, then I'd import my glyphs into the free software font design program FontForge 2.0 to create a truetype font file.

The first thing I did was think up a name - Squarial, which is a pun on the name of the Arial typeface and also the name of the distinctive square dish that you needed to receive BSB programmes.

The easy part being done, I then set to work. The first letter I looked at was the letter B. There were various differences I could see between this B and the B in Friz Quadrata. It was lighter, it had no flared serif at the base, the top loop was larger and there was an angled cut between the main vertical stem and the halfway line of the B.

Click to enlarge

The next letter I wanted to look at was the R, as this was another key letter to get right. As you can see, it is almost Agfa Rotis Semi Serif in appearance.

The other two letters I wanted to do were the S and the G. Once I'd got these right, I could use them as the basis for the rest of the alphabet.

I had to guess how some of the upper case glyphs would look, as I had no printed example, so I used the shapes found in Friz Quadrata as a base and modified them to match the letters I did have.

Click to enlarge

I've included some of my "guesses" above - hopefully they make some kind of coherent face when used with the other glyphs. Incidentally, I drew all the vector shapes in Squarial from scratch in Inkscape - the vector information in the truetype versions of Friz Quadrata I had was too messy and irregular to be of any use.

Due to the contraints of time, I didn't want to create lower case glyphs for the Squarial face, but I did want to add a small range of punctuation and some numerals so that Rory could use the finished font to caption the various clips that would be shown at the Kaleidoscope event.

One thing I thought would be nice would be to include Squarial-style squares as the points in the punctation. You can see some examples below.

Click to enlarge

Once the punctation was done I had a set of individual glyph .svg files all ready to import into FontForge.

The glyphs imported into FontForge with no problems at all. One of the things that saved me a lot of time when designing this font was keeping all of my Bézier control points on integer co-ordinates in Inkscape. I am now also much better at knowing where to put the control points so that FontForge will not need to add additional ones.

Sterling glyph in FontForge 2.0

And, after spending some hours kerning glyph pairs, I had a finished truetype font.

The finished font

The finished font, Squarial, is licensed under the SIL Open Font Licence (OFL) 1.1 and is available to download from here. Microsoft Windows users may need to use the free software tool 7-Zip to unpack the .tar.gz file.

The music accompanying the Kaleidoscope ident in this post is an excerpt from "The Iceman Cometh" from the album Grim by Maestoso. You can get hold of a copy on the Maestoso compilation "Uneasy Listening" which is available here.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Karmic Tablets...

I've wanted a graphics tablet ever since I watched a pretentious little series on BBC2 (Painting With Light, 1987) where artists such as David Hockney were given the Quantel Paintbox to play with for an afternoon. They all produced a load of bobbins, but it looked such fun.

My interest was rekindled when a former colleague of mine, the multi-talented artist David "Peanut" Paramore used to bring a graphics tablet in to work with him a few years ago. The sort of work he produced with it was (and is) incredible and I really wanted to have a go at using a tablet for myself.

So, for Christmas this year, I was delighted to finally receive a Trust TB 5300 graphics tablet.  Even after I asked my parents for this, I wasn't actually sure I'd be able to use the thing with GNU/Linux. I had visions of having to take a crash course in C and X programming in order to get the thing to work.

I needn't have worried - the nice thing about the GNU/Linux world is that its users tend to blog about getting unusual bits and bobs working on the operating system, and this was no exception.

A blog called "Dick's Open Source Life", which is written by Dick Thomas, came to my rescue and thanks to this blog post I have the Trust TB 5300 working on Ubuntu Karmic Koala very happily indeed.

Both Inkscape and The GIMP work fine; even pressure sensitivity functioning as expected. I didn't even need to callibrate the tablet as it worked fine out of the box.

In fact, the tablet even works properly when I'm running Macromedia Flash 8 via WINE.

Thanks once again for your help Dick!

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Bakelite Milk Cheques

One of the blogs I follow is Cheeseford, a blog written by the author Louis Barfe. There's always something on there worth seeing, hearing or reading that I wouldn't have stumbled upon otherwise.

A good case in point was today, when Louis linked to a blog called Gypsy Creams, that is run by a friend of his. The blog presents scans of articles and advertisements from women's magazines from the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Quite apart from being filled with beautiful examples of the typography of the period and being very funny, it also very nostalgic. One image on the blog screamed out at me "do an SVG version in Inkscape, quick".

It was the Co-op "clover leaf" logo - something that evokes all sorts of memories from me. Chard High Street was dominated by the Co-op when I was growing up. There was the Co-op dairy, the Co-op furniture and clothes department store and the Co-op supermarket.

My paternal grandmother, who lived in Chard, was an atheist and staunch socialist (she was a very sensible woman - which is probably why she never liked me much) and because of that she liked to use the Co-op as much as possible. I remember the beautiful Bakelite milk cheques on her mantlepiece, the reams of Co-op dividend stamps, the 99 tea she used to buy and the Co-op milk bottles on her doorstep. Most of the things on her kitchen shelves would have the Co-op clover leaf logo on it somewhere.

Anyway, the first thing I did was cut the logo out of the scan from Gypsy Creams using The GIMP. I loaded the scan into Inkscape and then  drew the letter O at the top right hand corner. To draw the O, I drew two points, at the top middle and middle left of the O. I then copied and reflected the resulting curve to get the entire outline of the outside of the O. I then copied the outside of the O, and shrank it down in place by holding down Ctrl+Shift as I scaled it with the mouse to create the inner curve.

The Co-op has asked you all to do some Inkscape...

For the rest of the letters I simply copied the finished letter O on top of them and tweaked them slightly. I drew a triangle for the cut-outs on the P and C and a rectangle to create the descender on the P. A box for the outside and I was finished apart from colouring it in with some suitably faded colours. It took far longer to blog about than to do!

...especially for me!

And as for my Granny - well, it seems I'll never escape her. My daughter Mary looks almost exactly like her.