We had a quick chat with Mike Tucker about his work on School Reunion which included bringing a certain tin dog out of retirement.
Who SFX: Was it exciting to be asked to revive K9 for the show?
Mike: Having done the Dalek the previous year, it was nice to get a chance to revive another icon from the classic series. The K9 prop used in School Reunion is in fact the lightweight ‘dummy’ prop used during the classic series, up to and including K9 and Company. I acquired that prop during the late 1990s and agreed to loan it to the production for use in School Reunion. The work on the ‘new look’ prop was done by Alan Brannan and Nick Kool under my supervision at The Model Unit. Alan built the interior ‘workings’ based on concept art done by Lee Sullivan, me and Alan himself. Nick did the refurb of the outer shell, added new ears, gun, tail etc and handled the ‘rusty’ paint finish. That prop was then delivered to Cardiff and Colin Newman fitted the radio control workings and operated the prop on set.
Who SFX: Can you tell us how you achieved the spectacular explosion at the school for the climax of the episode?
Mike: The school explosion was another potential model shot, but ultimately The Mill felt that they could handle it themselves, provided that we gave them a pyro element that they could work with. That meant building a matte model of the school, so we were sent plate photography from the main unit, and then we constructed a series of black boxes that matched the architecture, and matched camera angles. Black powder charges, enhanced with petrol, were then rigged and detonated on that basic model, and the Mill were then able to extract and composite those pyros over the original photography. We provided three distinctly different takes, each one with a larger set of explosions than the last.
Who SFX: This was a massive milestone for Doctor Who because it was the final effect handled by an in-house BBC Visual Effects designer. Was it an emotional moment?
Mike: The moment wasn’t lost on me. The fact that we did a shot for Doctor Who as our last ‘in house’ effect seemed appropriate. I didn’t really have time to get emotional because the following day I was packing up the workshop, ready to move to Ealing and get started on the next episode!
Who SFX: Was it a fairly smooth transition from working in-house to working independently as The Model Unit?
Mike: The transition was extremely smooth, partly due to fact that I had been working virtually independently from the rest of the BBC for over a year. Following the closure of the main bulk of BBC VFX, I had run a splinter unit – the BBC Post Production Model Unit – out of workshop space at Kendal Avenue, working alongside the digital and video effects team. But because they were based at Television Centre, and I was several miles down the road, I was pretty much left to my own devices – booking staff, booking materials, pitching to productions – so it set me up very well for when I was finally out on my own. The fact that had traded internally as ‘The Model Unit’ helped too! I was even able to adapt the original company logo – just tweaking the design and changing the colour, so from my clients perspective, it was very seamless indeed.
Mike Tucker, thank you very much.
Find out more about The Model Unit here: http://www.themodelunit.co.uk/