Monthly Archives: June 2021

Occupy White Walls Does Doctor Who (part two)

Last time we spoke, I was telling you about art. Well, not art so much; more the practice of curating it. There are probably rules to this, although I’ve never bothered to learn them; it’s more a matter of common sense. Bench positioning is crucial. Watch your lighting. Galleries with wallpaper are a gamble: everything looks better on white. You need to make the most of blank space, to hang with care and consideration, allowing the artwork room to breathe.

I can’t remember at which point I decided to build a TARDIS interior, but it made perfect sense. Here was a space you could fashion from the ground up with walls and doors placed more or less wherever you want: the notion of a space that opened out onto a seemingly infinite expanse was actually quite easy to do. I called it, for want of a better title, @biggerontheinside.

What I really wanted was to do a nice sort of walkthrough where I film myself wandering around the place, telling you all about it. But my ageing PC is simply not up to the job, and the 7 FPS bit of test footage I managed to cobble together was enough to convince me that this was, at least for now, a terrible idea. I may rethink a little further down the line – everyone likes videos – but for the moment you will have to put up with still images and a bit of narrative from yours truly.

We start out in the Twelfth Doctor’s study.

Well, sort of. You can get a vague idea of it, can’t you? I mean there are bookshelves and wine bottles and a desk of sorts, although it’s way too big. The mirror over at the far end is a teleport that leads you back to my main gallery, and the window beside it overlooks a pleasant little courtyard. But it’s the blue wall in the corner you need to look at. As entrances go it’s pretty terrible, but it’s where the magic begins.

The main console room, if you hadn’t guessed, is designed to be a variant of the one Capaldi was using. You can’t easily do round rooms in OWW, but it sort of works, particularly if you’ve got one of those fish-eye effect filters on your phone. The main problem was assembling a central column which had a sufficiently convincing time rotor, or at least something that might pass as a time rotor. I got round it by using a tree.

Dotted all around the TARDIS are little passive-aggressive exchanges between the Doctor and Nardole. I realised they’d spent about a thousand years together, so they’re basically flatmates. This first one is a nod to ‘The Pilot’.

Can I say at this point that I was really quite pleased with the corridor lighting? It isn’t often you find something in OWW that just fits what you’re trying to do, but this one really gels.

Wander a little further along and you’ll encounter the library – specifically the one Clara wanders into during ‘Journey To The Centre of the TARDIS’. You can’t see it properly here, but it’s a vast, multi-levelled thing, and thankfully nowhere near the swimming pool.

It’s no great secret that ‘Journey’ ranks among one of my least favourite episodes – seriously, it’s a great big turkey of a tale – but it did provide me with a fair bit of inspiration for this little collection. One of the silliest things about the episode was the Architectural Reconfiguration Suite (you remember, the one with the Stuff That Can Make Other Stuff), but I’ll go out on a limb – pun intended – and admit that it was quite fun to build. Lighting is very resource-hungry in OWW, but I managed to pull this off without overloading the system. You know, apart from the crashing.

Now we get to a bit that’s entirely made up. It occurred to me, fairly early on, that I really ought to put some actual art into this place, and thus I came up with the idea of the Memory Garden, a place in which the Doctor stores paintings and mementoes of his previous exploits, sort of like the Batcave. This is half Oxford college quadrangle, half National Trust driveway.

I tried to make sure that everything in this room had at least some Doctor Who connection, no matter how tenuous. This is the ‘City of Death’ pillar; Van Gogh has one all to himself.

When you examine a piece of art in the in-game AI, you have the opportunity to leave comments about it, both positive and negative. That photo on the right has a thread full of people saying “DON’T BLINK!”

‘Journey’ wasn’t the first Doctor Who story to feature extensive exploration of the TARDIS. We also saw a fair bit in ‘The Invasion of Time’, although for some reason in that story the corridors resembled an abandoned hospital. Still, wander down the stairs in my TARDIS and you’ll discover a whole basement full of nods to this particular story. Here, I’ve tried to recreate the Undergallery.

Baker didn’t always hang out in the white room. At times he favoured a secondary chamber done out in panelled wood, and that was an opportunity to try out something a little different. As I think I mentioned before, console rooms are a pain in the neck to do, because it’s extremely difficult to build a hexagonal structure, so this will have to suffice. At least the wood is convincing.

Just along the corridor from the secondary console room was the botanical garden, as seen in ‘Invasion’. There are a lot of plant and tree assets in OWW, so I made the most of them. If it looks a mess, that’s deliberate.

Perhaps the bit I’m most proud of is the swimming pool. It’s not the one we saw in ‘Journey’ – that dimly lit Olympic sized one that Clara witnesses as she’s wandering the corridors, although I daresay I could have had a go at that if I really wanted. No, this is the one in which Leela takes a plunge just before they head back to Gallifrey at the beginning of ‘Invasion of Time’. It’s a more little art deco than it was on TV, and I don’t know why the Doctor’s built a sauna at the far end, but ours is not to reason why.

I may have mentioned before that the default floor in OWW is water. So it was dead easy to build a pool: you just create it at ground level and the water is filled in for you automatically. See the mosaic on the right? I built that, tile by tile. It took ages, but as with everything else in this inconsequential little vanity project, it was totally worth it.

And that’s your lot. I’m still building in OWW, irregularly, but the latest project is going to be a long time coming, given that it’s a full scale recreation of Portmeirion, as seen in The Prisoner, right down to the plastic bubble on the beach. When it’s done, you can see it. Until then? Be seeing you.

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Occupy White Walls Does Doctor Who (part one)

Today, gentle reader, and after a protracted absence – hey, it’s sunny and we’re allowed out now! – we delve deep into the heady realms of art, and how it’s displayed. And yes, there is a definite Doctor Who link, but you’ll have to read on (or casually scroll to the bottom; it’s bad manners but I’ll be none the wiser) to find out exactly what it is.

It’s a strange name for a video game, but then Occupy White Walls is a strange sort of game. That’s if you can call it a game at all. It’s more of a virtual art curator / gallery-building experience. Broadly speaking you’re given a sea of blank space (literally: the game opens on a pleasant oceanic backdrop and an island of floating white floor in the middle of it) and encouraged to build your own gallery. You do this by placing blocks – different floors, different walls, ceilings, lighting, architecture – wherever you want them. You’re free to redesign your space at will, change colours, move and even delete structures entirely: some objects will snap into place, but as a general rule nothing is off limits. When you’re ready, you hang artwork on the walls. Well, it’s a gallery, right?

Said art can be aquired from DAISY, the in-house virtual AI, who lists paintings seemingly at random and then learns over time to filter them according to the sort of stuff you like. This never really seemed to work in practice for me – I’d find renaissance art and dull Victorian portraits all over the place, despite concentrating almost exclusively on modern art and photography – although I gather things have improved since I stopped buying new art. Paintings vary in size and scale, from small photos that you have to squint to examine to the likes of Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement, which is so big it required me to build a new room (well, outside platform) in which to house it. Artists range in scope – traditional landscape painters, religious artworks and surrealist masterpieces are all represented, and anything has the potential to be included provided they’ve either struck a deal or it’s in the public domain (so there is, alas, no Dali as of yet).

Expanding your gallery space costs money – which takes place in the form of virtual currency known simply as ‘cubes’ – and you earn more of these by opening your viewing space to the public in thirty-minute sessions, whereupon it may be visited either by anyone who happens to be logged in, or a collection of bots who phase in and out of the gallery space, nod appreciatively at whatever you happen to have hanging there and perform the occasional backflip. Opening and closing repeatedly is the quickest way to level up, which means there’s a certain amount of grinding early on, but once you reach level 30 you unlock all the assets in the range and things really start to get interesting.

If you want the gist of how the whole thing works, you could do a lot worse than read this, but the biggest selling point of OWW is that it’s got no selling point at all – it’s available at no cost, bar a supplementary soundtrack album (which you are under no compulsion to buy, although I did) and the option to upload your own artwork at $9 a pop. And if it seems a little silly, having your own space on which to buy and hang virtual art, it’s worth bearing in mind that the game came out not long before Covid hit, and given that we spent much of last year stuck indoors, its presence on Steam couldn’t have been any more timely. Certainly the nature of the experience – log on, do a little world-building, casually and graduallly expanding your rooms, changing the sky, re-imagining the floors, filling a room with statues, perhaps adding an extra wing when you’re particularly flush…there’s something vastly therapeutic about it. It’s not a substitute for the Tate, but it’s a good start.

I’ve seen a fair bit in OWW – celestial glass-walled viewing areas looking out onto the wilds of the universe; vast Nordic-themed lakeside galleries; underwater treasure troves; homages to the London underground where Monet and Renoir jostle for space next to the ‘MIND THE GAP’ signs; even a recreation of the space station from 2001, with a door that leads into the hotel room that Keir Dullea reaches at the film’s conclusion. But it doesn’t really do a lot when it’s written down. Walking round a virtual gallery or two really is the best way to fire up your imagination, and it was only when I’d seen what other people had achieved that I started to come up with a creative vision of what I could do with a workspace limited only by funds and my ageing computer’s memory.

Scroll up a bit. That overhead shot you can see? The one with the chess board in the middle? That’s my gallery. Well, a part of it. The waterfront theme didn’t really kick into gear until I built the pier you can see just above. It takes its cue from the one at Boscombe: long and minimalist, and there’s a copy of The Scream hanging on one of the glass walls at the end. From its edge, you can see the corners of the bricked industrial area and the large installation space where I hung a Mondrian and then built an enormous replica out of coloured walls to go alongside it. The whole space grew organically, and owes quite a lot to Frank Lloyd Wright, but I didn’t realise this when I was expanding – it was all about just adding rooms to offset the tedium of lockdown.

But why stop at one gallery? Why just one, when you can do this?

The Highway is perhaps the work I’m most proud of. I’d already made the Chapel – a church interior designed as a place of reflection and remembrance – but wondered what would happen if I built a long, straight road that stretched off into the distance, as far as I could, and just put things alongside it. There is an abandoned, crumbling warehouse and an electrical substation. There is a gaudy sixties bridge and a tunnel that leads to nowhere. Halfway up there is a memorial garden. And there is a vast slab of grey stretching off to the right, all tall oppressive corridors, that opens out into a large open plaza where I built a mosaic on the walls.

But there was another reason to build the Highway, and this, oh faithful reader, is where the Doctor Who connection kicks in. Because if you wander up, you’ll notice that the Angel of the North overlooks a nondescript-looking building that might be just a wee bit familiar.

Designing the interior required a certain amount of improvisation, but after a bit of jiggery pokery I managed to get the counter area more or less the way I wanted it. The seats were trickier, because of what’s available – what you see here is a second draft, and it’s still not quite got the booth feel I really wanted, but it’s not a bad estimate. While it was impossible to recreate all the art they had in the original, I managed to at least capture the feel – and another mosaic on the back wall served as a decent substitute for the stars-and-stripes flag.

But the best bit? There’s a door at the back, and – well…

All right. It’s a disaster. You have no idea how difficult it was to build a convincing hexagonal structure that looked like it might pass for a console. What you can see is a collection of metal desks, awkwardly grouped together into something that looks vaguely right until you get too close. Oh, and there’s a single column of light stretching upwards; it doesn’t move but perhaps we could just say it’s parked? The round things are good, anyway. Even if I don’t know what they’re for.

It wasn’t the only TARDIS I built – but you’ll have to wait until next time to see that one, as it’s a whopper and it’s going to take us some time to walk around it properly. In the meantime, here’s a little post-credit scene. It takes place at Mr Webley’s World of Colour (yes, that is a ‘Nightmare in Silver’ reference). Unlike many of my other creations, this was always envisaged as a definitive place with a beginning and an end – a large, multi-storeyed building in which each room deals with aspects of a different slice of the rainbow, with lighting, decor and artwork to match.

You get the idea. It’s a one-way system (which was disturbingly prophetic) but there is a place of respite halfway along, taking the form of a rooftop garden of which I’m reasonably proud.

In case you’re wondering how I managed black and white, the black is a small dark room with a projector broadcasting looped footage from Un Chien Andalou – something a number of people have done. Although I’m pretty sure none of them have did what I did in the white room.

“And that,” says the First Doctor, “is a chair with a frog on it.”

Coming up next time: swimming pools that are not in the library, and a never-before-seen shot of the TARDIS toilet. Speaking of which, I’ll just leave this here…

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