Presents Continuous

Sometimes I put something off for a while before I get back to it. In this case, it was 15 years…

I began to work on the ABC Weekend Television Christmas Eve 1967 Startup on Thursday 22nd September, 2005—ITV’s 50th Birthday—in Macromedia Flash 8. It was pencilled in to appear on the DVD Transdiffusion Daily Start-ups Volume 3 as a rare example of a start-up without a tuning signal and an example of one with a special tune to mark a special occasion.

I would need to draw a static ABC Television caption, an ABC North station clock showing the time between 10:59-11:00 and another, rather unusual, item: a picture roll of white silhouette cartoon Christmas presents on a black background.

The problem was that only a tiny fragment of the picture roll was available to me a source material:

My source material for the picture roll!

I managed to draw two toy soldiers, and then abandoned the project until 7th October 2006 when I managed to draw a toy train and a candy cane (again in Macromedia Flash 8). And then I completely ran out of steam. For a very long time indeed.

The problem was the missing centre piece of the picture roll. I don’t mind recreating graphics, but creating missing graphics is something that terrifies me. I really worry whether what I create would be acceptable as I know my version of this picture roll will become the only version of it that most people will ever experience.

As is so often the case, the way I ultimately broke my block on this was to tackle the project on paper before I started work on the computer. Although this scrappy sketch is nothing like the finished picture roll, it did get me thinking about the kinds of shapes and layout I wanted and made me want to finish this project off.

ABC Christmas Picture Roll Sketch, September 2021

I resumed working on the picture roll as an SVG file in Inkscape on 27th September 2021 and finished work on 29th September 2021. So with a few days of work I’d managed to finish off something that I had been struggling with for sixteen years!

Finished picture roll design in Inkscape

And, all that time, Chris Bowden-Smith of Transdiffusion had, with the dogged faithfulness of Greyfriars Bobby, been gently asking me at regular intervals ever since when I was going to resume to the project and finish it off. A lot happened in the intervening period—I almost died in early 2020—so it’s amazing this project ever saw the light of day!

In order to continue work after all this time (and Macromedia Flash going the way of the dodo bird) I exported my .fla file as an Adobe Illustrator .ai file, and then imported the .ai file into Inkscape.

However, before I sat down in front of Inkscape to continue work I wrote down a list of the kind of toys I wanted to include on the picture roll; the sorts of things I used to see in toy shops in the mid-70s when I was small (things hadn’t changed much since the mid-60s). I knew that if I was to be properly authentic I would have to include some items that would raise eyebrows these days.

I had a Tri-ang trolley to push with plastic blocks as a child

However, the past is what it is. Or was. 1964 was the age of catapults, cap guns, clockwork cars and cowboys and indians for boys and tea sets, dollies, skipping ropes, nurses uniforms and prams for girls.

Once I had my SVG picture roll, I could import it into Blender in order to create an animated roll that could appear behind the ABC Television caption.

To animate the picture roll I cheated, and animated the UV texture on the roll rather than the roll itself. Here’s how the picture roll looked from an angle in Blender so you can see what’s going on:

I created a 50 frames per second video for the animated roll and then interlaced it to become a 50 fields per second video using FFMPEG. This was really a waste of time, as the video will probably never be shown on an interlaced display, so for the remainder of the start-up I simply worked at 50 frames per second.

I then created an ABC Television static caption in Inkscape at exactly the right size to appear superimposed on top of the picture roll.

ABC Television caption in Inkscape

My guess is that this caption would have been an opacity (a bit of printed cardboard) rather than a transparency (a 35mm slide). I think that ABC’s presentation department were probably borrowing the unused studio at Didsbury for the morning and had a couple of broadcast television cameras available to them. This would allow them to get the static ABC caption at exactly the right size and position whilst the roller was shot with another camera.

To add the roller as a moving border behind the ABC caption my guess was that a Wipe in the offline video editing software Kdenlive would do the trick, so no animation of the caption was necessary.

The original plan for the ABC North Christmas clock back in 2015 was that I would simply create the clock in Macromedia Flash 8, and then Rory would create a practical (i.e. real) ribbon and glittery card frame, shoot the frame with his video camera and then superimpose my Flash clock over it.

However, now I was working in the 3D modelling software Blender, my guess was I could do some pretty convincing glittery card and model a bow myself.

I first drew the clock in Inkscape, which I could then import into Blender. I alsodrew the shapes of the glittery card and cut-out circle. The circle was not centred, but that matched the original off-screen photograph.

ABC North station clock, with Christmas overlay

In Blender, I imported the SVG and then had a think about how to make glitter. My first attempt at glittery paper was pretty lame. I thought I would just use a Voronoi noise pattern to make a purple metallic sheet reflect light in different directions.

Litter Glitter: this didn’t work at all!

I had a rethink and thought that I should still use a metallic foil background, but then use some kind of noise to cover it lighter spots. I would use the lighter spots to deform the foil a little towards the camera, so it would catch the light differently to the foil backing. This actually worked!

Fitter Glitter

My original idea was to make the glittery card green, but in black and white golden yellow actually worked a lot better.

So that the glittery surface of the card would reflect light properly, I had to remodel it as a mesh using “good topology”; normally I would have simply used the Blender Curve that I imported from Inkscape. The way I cut the hole in the Mesh version of the glitter card is explained in a fantastic YouTube video by Josh Gambrell. Since discovering this video it’s the method I always use to cut circular holes in things in Blender. This was also the method I used to create the torch background for my BBC Schools countdown clock.

The final thing I needed to make the glitter really work was to subtly move the camera so that it continually caught light in different ways. This is something I do anyway, as I always bounce my camera up and down very slightly using an F-Curve Sine modifier in order to simulate “interlace twitter”. It’s this movement that sells the clock as coming from a cheap vidicon caption camera and it’s this movement that also sells the glitter as being real glitter.

The next thing I needed to do was to model the bow. I took a zero effort approach here. I used the Blender default cube, halved it, mirrored it, and then added a subsurface modifier. This created a rounded loop. I then simply copied this loop 13 times and tried my best to make a shape of a Christmas bow.

Zero effort Christmas bow

I animated the clock at 50fps, and I needed just over a minute of clock for the start-up sequence.

The TV Times listing for Christmas Eve 1967 said that the Morning Service was from the “Manchester Mission”. I haven’t got a clue what that meant, so I thought that for the introduction to the church service at the end of the countdown I’d try and find some shots of Manchester Cathedral on YouTube. I not only managed to do that, but find some shots done at Christmas.

The footage I found was covered in graphics, but the centre 4:3 area was clear so I could use whatever I wanted.

To overlay over this footage I needed a static “ABC Presents” caption. Using a static caption for Outside Broadcasts such as Sunday morning church services simplified the production enormously, as it meant everything could be handled by the OB scanner.

The design of the static caption is notable only in that the font used for “Presents” caption does not match the font used for “Presents” or “Television” on the animated idents.

Now I had all the bits and pieces, I could assembly the sequence together in Kdenlive.

Animating the border transition in Kdenlive

As I remembered, Kdenlive had exactly the effect I needed for making the picture roll appear behind the ABC Television symbol.

Here’s the finished sequence:

Overall I am very happy with the sequence. I think it shows that I really shouldn’t be so scared of people’s reaction to things and just do them.


4 responses to “Presents Continuous”

  1. Simon Coward avatar
    Simon Coward

    Isn’t that lovely – the effort they used to go to for something that throw-away – not to mention the effort you’ve gone to too, though hopefully that’ll be seen over a longer period.

    For info, albeit a bit late, the Manchester Mission was based at Central Hall, Manchester. TV World said, “The Manchester Central Hall was the first Central Mission in this country. Established over 80 years ago, it is now the headquarters of the Manchester and Salford Methodist Mission. Standing at the heart of the city, it is the centre of Christian activity and has varied ministries to many forms of social need; its practical service reaches out to many who are otherwise untouched by the Church.”

    Merry Christmas,


    1. Dave avatar

      Many thanks for this Simon! I couldn’t find anything about Manchester Mission at all, so I ended up using shots of Manchester Cathedral.

      Merry Christmas,


  2. Alan Keeling avatar
    Alan Keeling

    Thank you for a most enjoyable ABC 1960`s Christmas start-up. Fantastic effort.

    1. Dave avatar

      Thank you! I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Hopefully I’ll be able to do some Granada Christmas start-ups to add to the collection one day.

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