A pastiche of the BBC1 Christmas model from 1980 created in Blender. A model of four figures in Victorian dress ice-skating in a circle with a nighttime background of hills and trees. The four figures are all created in the style of Gordon Murray's Trumptonshire puppets. The two male figures are dressed in soldiers uniforms, the two female figures have bonnets, gloves and shawls. The moon and stars are visible in the sky. the bottom third of the screen has a caption which reads "Christmas DHTV".

A Christmas Card

If there is a Lionel Maxwell-Lyons in real life, it’s almost certainly David Harper. He announces and reads the news for the BBC, ITN, LBC and just about everyone else.

In 2021 David, at the suggestion of Al Duprés, asked me to create Christmas Card for him and his partner Victoria to send to their friends. David wanted it to be presentation related, and of the Gen-X friendly late-70s early 80s vintage.

If possible, he didn’t only want a card, but a video based on the card design that he could play at a Christmas party.

BBC1 Christmas model from 1980. A model of four figures in Victorian dress ice-skating around a snowman with a nighttime background of hills and trees. The two male figures are dressed in soldiers uniforms, the two female figures have bonnets, gloves and muffs. The snowman has a scarf and a top hat. The moon and stars are visible in the sky. the bottom third of the screen has a caption which reads "Christmas BBC1".
BBC1 Christmas Model, 1980

My thoughts immediately went to the BBC1 Christmas model used in 1980. I don’t have the sculpting skills to do a proper recreation of this scene, but I thought that there was a way of recreating it that might work: I could recreate the scene in the style of Gordon Murray’s Trumptonshire puppets. That was within my sculpting ability and would add a layer of nostalgia for people who weren’t television presentation fans.

The first job I tackled was to create the background. I had two options; either paint the background in The GIMP as pixel artwork using my Wacom graphics tablet, or to create the background in Inkscape as vector artwork.

Although the second option would take longer, it would mean that the background would work at any size. This was important as I was not yet sure how big the artwork would need to be for David’s Christmas card, so I went for this option.

The next job was to tackle the “Christmas BBC1” caption. This was definitely a job for Inkscape. I first thought that I might font match the Christmas lettering, but then decided that as the letting had be adjusted in order to make a stylised design I may as well draw the lot by hand.

Caption created in Inkscape

For the two male figures I thought I could copy the Camberwick Green soldier boys from Pippin Fort. There was some very good source material for this, including press photographs of the single surviving soldier boy that Gordon Murray gave someone as a present.

A genuine Gordon Murray Puppet

For the two female figures, there was a wonderful example of Victorian dress in the Trumpton episode Cuthbert’s Morning Off. In this episode, fireman Cuthbert arranges to meet his aunt on his day off, and for some reason she wears Victorian Dress.

The only problem I had with the female figures was that I couldn’t create a solid “hovercraft” skirt for my figures. They had to have skates, so their skirt would have to be made out of “foam”. As it turned out, I would not only need to model the skirts, but also “bloomers” to go underneath them.

Aqua Woman is all rigged up and ready to play

I modelled each of the figures in a separate file, as a Blender “Collection”. This meant that I could import them into the finished model and then use the Library Override feature of Blender to link to the figures rather than have an enormous file that contains everything.

I was very worried about the weight painting of the skirt (this is the technique you employ to ensure that the skirt would move together along with the legs), but it turned out to present no problems whatsoever.

The landscape background that I drew in Inkscape was placed onto a curved plane in Blender—similar in shape to the curved mirror used behind the BBC1 globe symbol. I order to get the lighting realistic I place the model inside a box, again similar to the one used for the NODDY room network symbols.

As always, I apply interlace twitter on the camera by using a F-Curve Sine modifier on the camera’s Z position to give a very slight smooth up and down movement. This changes the pictures from something that looks like film to something that looks like video.

I also used my fake PAL simulation in the Blender compositor. What I do is split the image into its Y, U and V components and then blur the various components by different amounts before recombining them. If you blur the U and V components by more than you blur the Y component then you get a pretty good approximation of PAL.

As usual, I created the animation at 50fps. As I have said before, it’s getting harder and harder to work with interlacing with modern tools, so 50 frames per second is a perfectly good substitute for 50 fields per second to get a video look.

Here’s the finished video I created for David, so you can judge for yourself how well I did:

After completing the video, David sent me a template that was supplied by the company that was printing the Christmas cards for him.

For the card I needed to create a very high quality render, and for this I use Cycles. I only very rarely use the high quality Cycles rendering engine in Blender because on Linux the AMD1 drivers for my graphics card never worked.

For the camera render I also took off the compositing “PAL” effect to get the clearest possible image for the card.

Finished Result

David was kind enough to send me a copy of the card, which I treasure. I must say the company did an excellent job. The colour reproduction was absolutely first class. The reds in particular turned out far better than I thought possible.

David asked me to create a card for him both years since. Unfortunately, my day job meant that I couldn’t be guarantee I had enough time to finish the job so I wasn’t able to do so.

However, I have an idea of what I’d like to do for him next, so I am really hoping that next year I’ll be able to make another card for him.

  1. AMD are, in my personal experience, a rather shitty outfit who are quite happy to sell you an expensive graphics card and then give you crappy, hard to install and broken Linux drivers. Or no drivers at all. I’ll be buying NVidia next time. ↩︎






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