A Canal in 3D

Early test picture of a computer model of the Longdon Aqueduct – no textures.

It is far too early to show anything terribly exciting in the world of 3D graphics for the up coming episode of the Bald Explorer as he explores an abandoned canal in Shropshire, but I thought I would share with you some of the progress. While the weather has turned rather unpleasant and not in the least conducive to filming lovely narrow boats up and down the navigations of England, I and immersing myself in the job of creating all the graphical elements for the programme. This is more time consuming that you might imagine. Because I do not use the graphic software everyday, I often forget certain procedures and find myself having to look up the various ‘how to’ videos on Youtube or blog posts on the Internet.

The Longdon Aqueduct, waiting for a CG narrowboat and landscape, as well as textures, lighting and animation. Its early days yet…

There are a number of reasons why I use 3D graphics within my programmes. The first and most important reason is to demonstrate how something works. It is not always easy to show a real life object in operation while on location, especially if it is a historic relic. Very often there is nothing left to show and my graphical displays are purely an interpretation, but they help to tell the story.   The second use I put graphics to within my films is that of style. Most TV shows have a series of visual stings that help to break up sections of a programme. In order to help the viewer feel he is watching a TV programme and not just a random quickly edited video on the Internet, I like to emulate this where it is appropriate. I try not to add things just for the sake of it, however. I do get annoyed by video producers who seems to put in every little bit of flashy gimmick effects they can, believing, wrongly I think, that it makes the production have more value.

The post production takes a fair chunk of time to achieve and shouldn’t be hurried. This is where all strands of the story come together. The graphics and live footage are only part of the story. There is the voice overs, photographs, music and sound effects to find, organise and get cleared for television broadcast.


The Welshpool Lock Open Day

As part of the research for the latest Bald Explorer episode I went to see how a lock was drained and new gates were inserted and other parts repaired. This is part of the winter stoppage programme. Each year, during the cold season when most traffic has died down, parts of the canals are closed off so that restoration and maintenance can be carried out. This is important work and is carried out by experienced workmen from the Canal and River Trust.

I popped along to the Welshpool Lock open day. I wanted to grab some shots for the next video production and learn a little about the Welsh side of the Canal and River Trust and the work they do. I cobbled a little video from some of the rushes to put up on the site so others might also find out a bit about the on going work.

Welshpool is in Powys, Wales and the navigation is the Montgomery Canal. It was great to see so many people interested in the drained lock and having the chance to descend down into the bottom. I was quite surprised to see the incredibly well persevered state of the brickwork. It is over 200 years old and still going strong.

The new Bald Explorer programme about the canals system in England and Wales will be on the Community Channel in January 2013.

Find out more about the Canal and Rivers Trust here: Website

Behind the Scenes on Canals Episode.

Filming and interviewing Kevin Walker from the Canal and River Trust.

I thought I would share some of the photographs that my assistant cameraman has been taking behind the scenes while we have been on location in Shropshire following the story of the Abandoned Canal for an episode of the Bald Explorer. The above is a little hand held interview with Kevin Walker from the Canal and River Trust at Audlem. The team are out in the cold winter weather replacing lock gates, sills and carrying out general maintenance on the 200 hundred year old Shropshire Union Canal. I wanted to find out how often this procedure took place and what was involved.

On board Karen Bayley’s new home.

Karen Bayley has just moved from a large modern flat to a narrow boat on the canal in central Birmingham. She is a single lady and I wanted to find out how she coped with all the changes that faced her with this new life on the water. Karen also related to me the story of her first 30 mile journey on the canal and how her eighty year old father managed to fall in twice.

James Boffey owns the land that the Longdon-on-Tern aqueduct stands on.

The oldest surviving cast iron canal aqueduct is at Longdon-on-Tern on the abandoned Shrewsbury to Newport navigation that the S&N Canal Trust are planning to restore. James Boffey is the farmer whose land it sits upon and he told me about the privilege it is to have this ancient monument on his farm and the interest it creates from canal enthusiasts.

Filming on the abandoned canal route with Bernie Jones busy on the phone.

The ever busy and energetic Chairman of the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Trust is Bernie Jones. He was forever making calls and organising permission for us to film on the various privately owned areas along the old navigation. Without Bernie’s cooperation this episode couldn’t have been made. He has not only smoothed the path with officialdom, but also ferried Jimmy and I about from pillar to post to ensure we got the best shots.

There will be more photos and behind the scenes information as the project continues. In the meantime, if you have enjoyed the preview videos and posts on this project, do let us know in the comments area below. We would love to hear from you.

An Abandoned Canal – Preview Video

I have put together a quick edit from some of the material shot last week for the next Bald Explorer episode. I am calling it An Abandoned Canal as it traces the history of the Shrewsbury to Newport Canal. The film will tell a brief story of English canals and why they were left unused for many years in the mid part of the 20th century. I am also interested in the restoration project that is happening to this unique navigation by the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Trust.

I hope you enjoy the preview. The main feature will be ready in January.

Canal Filming has Begun!

Out filming cutaways for the canal programme.
I always say a script is just a guide, nothing is set in stone. I do believe that it is essential to have a written document, even for a documentary, so that you know what the story is and how it in an ideal world would play out. But things change and as a film maker you do need to be adaptable, especially if you are working on a slim budget.

The first day of shooting a new project is definitely a day to celebrate. It means you have truly started and if you stick to your guns, it should mean you will one day finish and have something to show for all the hard work put in. So this week the camera began to roll. (Digital cameras do not physically ‘roll’ any more, they store their images to a media stick. It is called the tapeless system and makes life so much easier. We don’t use celluloid either, but that doesn’t stop us calling our productions a ‘film’).

My script calls for a number of interviews with various people connected to the canal world and I started with the chairman of the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Trust, Bernie Jones. He very kindly has been helping to organise numerous people, locations and sets ups for the documentary, but most importantly, he is a key speaker in the film with his connection and enthusiasm for the abandoned waterway that is the main focus of my video.

Wappenshall Junction, an important stage along the abandoned canal.

I met Bernie at his house in Withington in Shropshire and followed him by car to a place called Wappenshall Junction. This site now consists of a couple of derelict buildings, a traditional hump back bridge and partly filled in canal bed. It was, as the archive photograph demonstrates, a busy wharf along the original route from the country town of Shropshire to Newport and Norbury where the navigation once joined the rest of the UK’s canal network.

I filmed a few cutaways of the red brick Georgian Buildings that once house the paymasters office, the loading and storage area and stables for the ‘fly’ service. The windows had been smashed by the local scallywags, the doors old and decade and some of the floorboards on the inside dangerously rotted and quite risky to walk on.

After this, I positioned Bernie in front of the iconic canal bridge, set up the camera and miked him for sound. The camera was then set to record. I wanted to know, what were the plans for Wappenshall and what was its significance in the heady days of the canal.

Bernie, along with the other dedicated members of the trust had it all worked out. They had a step by step plan to raise the funding required, detailed plans to restore the waterway and open it up to the public and the boating community. Of course, this is no where near as easy or as simple as I make it sound and I do hope to high light the some of the issues within the film. Alas, I haven’t the space to go into it here, but it is an exciting project.

As Bernie said, a part from the rather hideous and not altogether coherent new town of Telford and a statue of its namesake plonked almost anonymously somewhere within it, there is no where in the locality that people can go to pay homage to the great man of architecture, design and civil engineering. Thomas Telford did so much for Shropshire in late 18th Century. His handy work is all over the county and surrounding area, including the great aqueduct at Llangollen in Wales and the major improvement and surveying of what we refer to as the A5, but in its day was simply known as the London to Holyhead road, the great coaching route famed for its connection to Ireland. Telford also designed one of the buildings at Wappingshall Junction, had a hand in the the oldest surviving iron aqueduct in the world, which just so happens to be along the route of the Shrewsbury Canal and insured the navigation was completed when it linked up to Newport and Norbury Junction. The S&N Canal Trust wants to make Wappenshall Junction a visitors centre, with interpretation boards and a place to find out more about the great man.

The story of the canal is without doubt a fascinating one and I hope I can do it justice as I continue with the filming of the documentary for the next episode of the Bald Explorer.

The Duke of Bridgewater

The Canal Duke

I have been reading a rather splendid book about the Canal Duke which I thought I would share with you. Being that Francis Egerton is the man credited with starting the Canal Mania on the late 18th Century, I thought I better gen up on him and his life, even though my forthcoming production isn’t really about his canal.

The third Duke of Egerton, by all accounts, was unlikely to live very long. His brothers and sisters died young, many did before they were in double figures. He was a sickly child and very shy. To cure this, Francis was sent on The Grand Tour to see the ways of the world. He was away for three years and saw many things. It was during this time that he began to collect items, fine painting, pottery and exotic works of art. He also was fascinated with the waterways and navigations in France and Italy. When he returned to England to his numerous estates he was a changed man. He became a dandy and spent many an hour at gambling clubs. It was fine for him to loose money, he had inherited plenty. But then one day he fell in love with a lady that the whole of England had equally become besotted with. He wooed her and they were to be married, then suddenly she changed her mind and Francis was a jilted man.

This was the catalyst that motivated him to change his ways and propelled him into business pursuits. He had coal mines on his estate in Worsely in Lancashire. His agent and mining consultant, John Gilbert, had found a way to empty the mine of water so that he could dig further down and get a much larger quantity of coal out. However, there was another problem. It was extremely expensive to transport the heavy coal to market in Manchester, only 7 miles away. The traditional route was via packhorse, which was slow and required many trips to get a reasonable amount of the black gold to the city. The other option was to send it via boat along the river navigation along the Mersey and Irwell. These presented problems of its own. The company that ran it held the monopoly and were expensive and the rivers were tidal and subject to delays.

The one day, the Duke had a brainwave. He would cut his own channel to Manchester. He would build a canal. This was not a completely new idea, for the Duke was familiar with the waterways in France and Europe. There had been attempts at similar projects in England, but nothing to write home about and all that had been attempted were either associated with rivers or ran parallel to one.

The one thing people need in a canal is water and this was going to be an issue when crossing the country away from the rivers and hills. John Gilbert had solved this problem, however. There was plenty of water in the mines and by digging small tunnels, or soughs as they are called, not only would the mines be drained, but water would supply the proposed canal.

All Francis needed now was a canal expert. Fortunately, Gilbert new a man, James Brindley, who was a millwright. The three of them plotted and planned and together, with the genius of Brindley’s knowledge of surveying water, the canal was built. It wasn’t without it’s problems and financial needs. In fact, these were immense and plagued the Duke most of his life. But it was his tenacity I greatly admire; the sticking to his guns when all were laughing at him and telling him that it would never work.

It did and the canal mania started, just at the right time. Without it there would not have been an Industrial Revolution in England. Without the transport network to carry the huge amounts of raw materials and finished products to and from the factories, this country would have missed a trick and have been left behind. But we led the way and we should all be proud. By pushing ahead with the first, of several canals and extensions, we certainly owe the Duke of Bridgewater a lot. I salute him.