Niel Bushnell on Revenge of the Cybermen

 

Niel Bushnell is an author and animator from the north-east of England. He has written science fiction, time-travel and fantasy novels, so he’s very much at home in the world of Doctor Who. He has worked in the creative sector for over twenty years, across film, TV, online, games, advertising and publishing. He ran his own animation studio for eleven years and has a long association with creating work for the BBC, including the sci-fi sitcom Hyperdrive, the Blake’s 7 DVD releases and, of course, Doctor Who.
We caught up with Niel recently to discuss his work on the new special effects on the Revenge of the Cybermen Blu-ray release.

Niel Bushnell

Who FX: How did you get involved with the Doctor Who Blu-ray range?

Niel: I worked in the same building as producer Chris Chapman who slowly drew me into his evil plans for DVD domination. I began to produce titles and animation for his DVD documentaries, and eventually I co-produced the animated episodes of The Ice Warriors. Since then I’ve work on loads of TV shows, producing animation and visual effects, so when Season 12 got the go-ahead on Blu-ray, Russell Minton called me to talk about me updating some of the effects work.

Who FX: Why was Revenge of the Cybermen selected to receive updated special effects, rather than one of the other stories in Season 12?

Niel: That’s a good question, and one I can’t answer. When I came on board it had already been decided, so I didn’t have any input. I think it comes down to which episode needs it the most, and hasn’t already had some attention.

Who FX: What did you think of the original effects work in Revenge?

Niel: I have a lot of respect for the original effects work on shows like Doctor Who and Blake’s 7. It’s of its time, and it’s fantastic work produced by skilled artists and technicians working to tight budgets and even tighter deadlines. It’s easy to pick it apart decades later, but I’ve tried to approach my contribution to the show in a sympathetic way. The new effects have to sit alongside live-action shots of that period, so it’s critical to honour that original aesthetic.

 

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Who FX: Can you tell me a bit more about the process you go through to create the new visual effects? 

Niel: The first part of the process was to decide what we wanted to update. Russell had already done this and produced a list of about 40 shots. I (foolishly) went through and added about another twenty shots to the list. Most of these were monitors that suffered from bad in-camera compositing, resulting in jagged edges and fuzzy artefacts. Part of that process is deciding how to deal with each shot. Some are 2D effects that might require a more graphic approach. Others need a 3D solution, and might need models of spaceships built. Other shots require a lot of masking, rotoscoping and tracking – these are all techniques to isolate portions of the live-action footage so that new effects can be inserted.

The biggest problem with Doctor Who is that the majority of the effects work was done ‘live’ in the studio as they shot and edited, so I don’t have access to a clean plate – it just doesn’t exist. That’d make my life a lot easier! So I first have to remove or hide the original work before I can begin to add new work into a scene. Once we had a spreadsheet with the agreed shots I went through and clumped them into groups requiring similar work, like the monitors in the control room. I use After Effects for graphic elements, and for compositing new work into the existing footage. I have to try to match the video noise levels, as well as focal point and light sources. I also use 3DS Max for 3D model building and animating, and I’ve got a few other pieces of software I use from time to time for more elaborate tracking shots or other forms of animation.

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Who FX: Were there any sequences that were particularly challenging to realise?

Niel: Tom’s hair was a challenge! When he walks past a screen the edge of his hair is lost because of the harsh CSO process they used to insert effects work. I’ve tried to soften that edge and, in some instances, I’ve rebuilt the edge of his hair from surrounding frames. It was very time consuming.

Who FX: Were you given guidance on how close you needed to remain to the original FX sequences and designs?

Niel: Not as such, but I was keen to keep it in the spirit of the era. I don’t feel that it’s my place to redesign things,  but I’m able to embellish things with the tools available to me today. So the phallic Cybership is very similar in my version, but I’ve given it a few additional details. The same was true for the space station. I tried to rationalise the studio set with the model, and I added some exterior spotlights and lattice structure to tie in with what we can see outside of the set’s windows.

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Who FX: If you could choose one Doctor Who story to get the ‘special edition’ treatment, which one would it be?

Niel: I know a lot of people would love to see Invasion of the Dinosaurs given a modern makeover, but anything with an organic character to animate is very time-consuming. Perhaps if we replaced all of the dinosaurs with robots? Speaking of machines, I’d love to do a Dalek or a Cyberman story. Who wouldn’t?

Who FX: Will you be working on future Doctor Who releases?

Niel: I’d love to do more. I think it’s very much down to how well this release is received.

 

NIEL BUSHNELL, thank you very much.

You can order the Blu-ray release of Doctor Who: The Collection – Season 12 here:

https://t.co/hdktHKYTta

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The Origin of The Wire

Mark Gatiss provided the following information about the origins of the villainous Wire.

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A group of criminals took control of the major cities on the distant planet of Hermethica. Using a genetic abnormality, they converted themselves into beings of plasmic energy and influenced electrical signals to nefarious effect.

After a reign of terror, the gang’s leader – known only as the Wire – was captured and sentenced to death. Although sentence was carried out, the Wire managed one last plasmic transformation and escaped via her guard’s mobile communication device (which he was using illegally to film the execution).

Fleeing across the stars in plasmic form, the Wire arrived on Planet Earth in 1953 and immediately made use of primitive television signals to give herself a human appearance. The Wire then manipulated the hapless electrician Mr Magpie into creating televisions to her own design – televisions with the power to absorb the life force of innocent viewers. Eventually, with her energies restored, the Wire planned to transmit herself back to Hermethica and exact revenge on those who had condemned her. However, with the help of a Betamx video recorder, the Doctor was able to wipe the Wire from existence.

Rumours persist in various UNIT and Torchwood files, that the Wire resurfaced some thirty years later in another attempt at invasion by television. But what became know as “The Bee-tee Incident” has never been officially confirmed or denied.

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Mark Gatiss on The Idiot’s Lantern

We recently caught up with Mark Gatiss to find out more about his second script for Doctor Who, The Idiot’s Lantern. 

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Who FX: With The Unquiet Dead under your belt, was it easier writing your second script for the series?

Mark: It’s never easy! And there’s always that ‘second album’ fear. I was very glad to have another go. I’d said to Russell, I don’t want to be William Emms and only have one go! Eventually he emailed saying “Good news – you’re not William Emms!” 

WHO FX: What was the original brief from RTD?

Mark: A 50s setting and the strange power of a tune. I can’t remember the details but we definitely talked about using Mr Sandman (which I later did for Sleep No More) as it’s such a creepy tune. Mr Magpie was running a record shop and there was something alien about the music which took people over. I can remember trying to give it a Colin MacInnes feel with lots of ‘hep’ dialogue. And Russell wanted the Doctor to win by turning an organ up to 11! He later used that for The Lazarus Experiment which oddly enough I was in!

WHO FX: Is it true that you conceived the idea with the Ninth Doctor in mind?

Mark: Yes. I think I have an outline somewhere. Russell said, yup it’s just the Doctor and Rose as usual. He later said ‘Sorry – I had to fib!’

Who FX: What did you think when David Tennant was cast? 

Mark: I was thrilled, though very said to see Chris go. He was a brilliant Doctor and relaunched the show so well. David and I have known each other a long time. In fact, when we met on the set of Randall & Hopkirk in 1999, one of the first things he told me was that he wanted to be the Doctor one day! Of course, it wasn’t even remotely conceivable then. We were working on the live remake of The Quatermass Experiment when I began to suspect David would be the new Doctor. Eventually, David took me to one side after rehearsal and told me the amazing news. I was so chuffed for him.

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Who FX: After the Victorian setting for The Unquiet Dead, was the 1950s period another era you felt an affinity with?

Mark: I like the 50s though it’s not as obvious a fit as the Victorian era was. I love immersing myself in a period setting, finding all the little quirks of language and slang and various odd details of domestic life. What happened was I thought the Coronation would be rather a good setting and then that all those new TVs would be an ideal medium for an alien to take over! I then realised that I’d lifted it from an idea my old friend David Miller had had years before. It all worked out fine and there was no bad blood but it’s amazing how easily things like that can happen. You think the muse has visited and then realise it’s something you’ve tucked away in the back of your mind for years! David was given a an exclusive viewing of the finished episode at TV Centre as a thank you. 

Who FX: A number of Quatermass references were removed from your script. Can you remember what they were?

Mark: Not really. A few references to the British Rocket Group etc. The clenching hands was the only aspect that survived. As a child I loved the films, especially Quatermass and the Pit and then I became slightly obsessed with the TV versions when  they finally became available. They’re wonderful scripts. Humane and very, very clever. I used to live in Muswell Hill when I first moved to London and I was always hanging around Alexandra Palace, gazing up at the wonderful TV mast and thinking – this is where it came from! It was so wonderful, twelve years later to be making Doctor Who there!

Who FX: What was it like meeting Nigel Kneale during the making of The Quatermass Experiment (2005)? 

Mark: It was an unforgettable experience. He was an absolute hero of mine and it was a great afternoon. I tried to ask him everything I’d ever wanted to know and he and his wonderful wife Judith Kerr couldn’t have been kinder to me. I remember him casually mentioning ‘another’ Quartermass that he’d wanted to do. It was set in the 30s at the Munich Olympics and involved a young Quatermass meeting Werner Von Braun and battling the Nazis and alien Valkyrie monsters! My mouth was watering. 

Who FX: Was it strange writing for David Tennant as the Doctor, so soon after you’d starred alongside him in The Quatermass Experiment? 

Mark: Not strange, just delightful. I remember we went back to my house to watch The End of the World after Quatermass rehearsals and then spent hours dressing up to find the new Doctor’s look! One thing I do recall is Russell saying that whereas Chris’s Doctor had been quite taciturn, David’s would have lots of long big speeches! 

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Who FX: The faceless people are a particularly striking image. Where did this idea come from?

Mark: Sapphire and Steel of course! And that , in turn, came from the Magritte painting. It’s just a sensationally creepy image. It’s also a very gettable way of showing that people have had their identities stolen. I remember putting in that thing about them clenching and unclenching their fists too which I think worked very well. It’s oddly unsettling. 

Who FX: Can you tell us a little bit about the origins of the Wire and how this idea came to you?

Mark: I think I’ve always been interest din the idea of possession.So, this was another disembodied alien race straight after the Gelth. As Alan Bennett says, we all have only a few beans in our tin to rattle! I liked the idea of it being a sort of criminal on the run, though, as opposed to an entire race of beings. I wrote a little sort of sequel for one of the annuals explaining the origin of the Wire. It was just after they’d executed Saddam Hussein and thought something like that might have happened to the Wire. It was executed and then escaped in a non-corporeal form, eventually ending up on Earth. 

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Who FX: Was Maureen Lipman your suggestion?

Mark: No, I think she was Russell’s. As was Jamie Foreman. I remember seeing Maureen not long after it had gone out and she was thrilled to bits. ‘You’ve given me back my street cred!” she said. She was just perfect as both the Sylvia Peters-like announcer and then the deranged baddie. Great stuff! 

Who FX: Were you around for location or studio recording?

Mark: I went to Ally Pally for Maureen’s stuff. It was amazing to think we were shooting in the tiny studio (still there) where the real BBC announcers would have broadcast in 1953. And then I managed a day in Cardiff.  It was the studio recording for the interior of the house. I remember Patrick Marber (Deborah Gillett’s husband) visiting that day and also getting the train back with Ron Cook (Magpie). 

Who FX: Were you happy with the finished episode?

Mark: I’ve just seen it again for the first time since it went out and I thought it was very jolly! I liked the colour and the tone (sounds like a TV!) and some of it was very creepy. I remember finding Euros’ choice of angles a bit odd -more like an episode of ‘Batman’ – but overall I enjoyed it very much and David and Billie were lovely together. I found the attempt to forgive the horrible Eddie at the end quite touching. 

Thank you Mark Gatiss. 

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Mike Tucker interview: Time and the Rani

Mike Tucker was a Visual Effects Assistant on Time and the Rani. We recently spoke to Mike about his work on this ground-breaking serial.
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Mike dons the arms of the puppet Tetrap. The animatronic head was built by Tom Wilkinson. Pic copyright Mike Tucker.

WHO FX: How did you come to work at the BBC Visual Effects Department full-time?

MIKE: I joined the department as a holiday relief assistant, which was the standard way of getting in. That’s how I came to work on the space station sequence from The Trial of a Time Lord. That led to a series of short term contracts before finally getting interviewed for a permanent post about two years later.

WHO FX: What was it like working with Visual Effects Designer Colin Mapson? 

MIKE: Colin was great. He was more than happy to take in new untried assistants and give them really good jobs. That said, I was very green – it was my first ever location shoot – and I do remember being yelled at a few times.

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Visual Effects Designer Colin Mapson with the animatronic Tetrap head. Pic copyright Mike Tucker.

WHO FX: Season 24 seemed like the beginning of a true renaissance in terms of effects work in Doctor Who. Why do you think this came about? 
MIKE: It’s tricky to pin it down, but I think the fact that a bunch of new, keen assistants with an interest in effects, who had some knowledge of the work that the Visual Effects Department had done in the past, and most importantly were Doctor Who fans who wanted the show they had grown up with to have great special effects was a factor. I think it was a bit of a shock to the system for some of the old timers. It was a great bunch of people from different backgrounds – me, Russell Pritchett, Paul McGuinness, Jim Lancaster, John Van Der Pool, Alan Marshall and more. A big crowd of us. Russell and I both worked on Time and the Rani. Russell had come from an engineering background and I came from theatre. Colin saw benefits of having us both on his team alongside experienced assistants Len Hutton and Roger Barham.
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Mike created the false-perspective model cave set for the Tetrap eyrie. Pic copyright Mike Tucker.

WHO FX: Was the opening shot of the TARDIS originally going to be a model shot? 

MIKE: Yes. Colin wanted to build a 1/4 scale model Tardis out of fibreglass with a series of flashbulbs mounted inside. The plan was to shoot the model against a star field and then set off the flashbulbs sequentially to create the impression of the police box shell literally glowing with the impact of energy bolts.

WHO FX: Did you see CGI as a threat to traditional model work?

MIKE: We were concerned to start with, but the final result on screen was so ‘graphic’ that we weren’t actually that convinced it would become a major threat. Jurassic Park a few years later was what changed our minds!

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Video Effects Designer Dave Chapman

WHO FX: How were the ‘bubble’ traps achieved?

MIKE: Colin and Dave Chapman were a great team, and the two of them really wanted this to work well. They worked out all the sequences and broke them down in huge detail, deciding which element was best done practically on location or in the studio.

WHO FX: Why wasn’t the Centre of Leisure model properly seen on screen?

MIKE: That model had actually been put out to an outside contractor. When it was delivered, Colin wasn’t happy with the detail so I worked on it for a couple of days to beef it up. John Nathan Turner then felt it was too technological so a lot of that detail was stripped off again. It was just a case of differing opinions.

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Mike working on the rocket launcher. Pic copyright Mike Tucker.

WHO FX: Can you tell me about your involvement with the model for the Rani’s citadel – and the rocket launcher? 

MIKE: That was a dream job, and I was delighted that Colin entrusted me with it. I ended up doing the exterior and interior models, with Jim Lancaster building the rocket.  It took in all kinds of model making – foam carving, kit bashing, vac-forming. I saw it as something of a calling card so put a lot of work into it.

WHO FX: It seems like you were involved in every aspect of effects work on this story – models, creatures, props, pyrotechnics – was this quite a steep learning curve for you?

MIKE: Huge. But that was the joy of working on Doctor Who, you got to work on every aspect of effects. These days there is so much compartmentalising that it’s tricky to have any sense of ownership. A single prop or model can be worked on by a whole team these days, whereas back then it was the responsibility of one assistant.

WHO FX: What do you think of Time and the Rani when you look back on it now?

MIKE: I’m very proud of it. The effects hold up very well even if the story doesn’t always work. It’s definitely a product of the 80s, but Colin’s attention to detail makes it a real treat. As a young assistant it was great to work for such a hands on designer like Colin.

 

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Mike Tucker, thank you very much.

Find out more about Mike Tucker and The Model Unit here:

http://www.themodelunit.co.uk/

Series 10 Profile: Matthew Clark, Graphic Designer

Matthew Clark has worked as a Graphic Designer for a number of years across a range of genres from cop shows to science-fiction. His recent credits include Red DwarfBlack Mirror and A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Matthew also worked on the entirety of Series 9 of Doctor Who and five episodes from Series 10. But what does a Graphic Designer actually do?

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WHO SFX: Can you tell me a bit more about your role as graphic designer on Doctor Who and what your key responsibilities are? 

Matthew: Graphic Design for TV shows has changed tremendously in the last 10 years or so – once where it would have been a lot of hand-drawing, using Letraset etc. it now covers almost anything on screen that isn’t a purchased prop. I do anything that would be printed – posters, tickets, newspapers, signs, etc., but also the majority of video screens, mobile devices, anything like alien control panels, and thanks to newer technology like laser cutting and large format printing, I can be doing constructed, 3D graphics as well as printing whole floors/carpets/walls! Any photo-shoots that an episode might need tend to fall under the Graphic Designer’s role.

Who SFX: How did you get started in this line of work? 

Matthew: I studied film-making at the University of Derby – it was a practical course where you’d be given a few hundred feet of 16mm film at the start of each term and you had to hand in a finished project at the end of it. I was always fascinated by props and models as a kid, as well as set design, so my films tended to be based around built sets or miniature models. From that, I started getting asked to make bits for other people, and my first few industry jobs were as a prop maker. However, I was definitely better at it as a hobby than a profession so I moved across into 3D modelling for the Art Department, which bled into doing Graphic work, which became my real interest.

Who SFX: At what stage of the production process doyou first get involved? 


Matthew: I get involved at the same time as the rest of the Art Department – which is fairly early, usually as soon as a complete, working draft of the script is ready to go. From there we all prep by doing research for the era/setting of the episode, creating some rough designs to send onto the Director/Producers, working out what things will cost, lead times etc. As the script evolves, so do the graphics – sometimes the night before shooting! We then tend to run alongside the first 2 weeks of the shoot – hopefully everything will be done by then – before prepping for the next episode.

Who SFX: What makes Doctor Who more challenging than other productions you’ve worked on?

Matthew: The series is more challenging just by the nature of the Doctor Who’s setting – unlike a lot of shows each episode can be wildly different, and a good amount of the episodes are future/space based which means more complicated graphics work. The average spaceship will need several motion graphic screens, Perspex printed control panels, vinyl decals, foil decals etc. There’s a lot to create! Keeping each episode’s look fresh is also a challenge – you always have to try to find a way of creating something different to the last time you made a similar thing. We’re often forced to re-use props and set pieces, so it can come down to the graphics to make it look different. In Series 9 the same control desk appears two or three times with completely new graphics in it each time! Doctor Who also has a lower budget than a lot of less visually intensive shows, not to mention a shorter production time, so on top of trying to create a new look you have to be able to do it both quickly AND cheaply.

Who SFX: What have been the highlights of working on Series 10 of Doctor Who?

Matthew: The highlight of Series 10 for me was Episode 3, Thin Ice, for reasons that will become apparent when you see it! The sets were a HUGE undertaking and even though they weren’t graphic intensive, it was the most ambitious thing we’d done in my time there and it looked stunning. Our production designer, draughts people, construction crew, set dressers and standbys should all be proud of what they achieved.

Who SFX: What advice would you give to people starting out in the industry?

Matthew: If someone is looking to get into the industry, then the key thing I would suggest is that they work out what they want to do, and specialise. If you want to be in the Art Department, work out if you want to do graphics, or 3D modelling, draughting etc. If you have a niche you can focus on then you can find your way in to the industry much more quickly. If you’re starting out and don’t have much work to show, make a spec folio, demonstrate what you’re capable of. Many more Art Directors have online folios and contact forms than they used to, so with a bit of time with IMDB and Google you can find people to introduce yourself to. It’s a bit like cold calling, and you don’t always get replies, but it’s worked for a lot of people!

Thank you Matthew.

Matthew clark

You can find out more about Matthew’s stunning work on his website:

http://matthew-clark.co.uk/

The Pilot: Production, Design & FX credits

Doctor Who made a triumphant return to our screens on 15th April, and the series has never looked better. Let’s meet some of the talented people who worked behind-the-scenes on the opening episode of Series 10: The Pilot.

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Director Lawrence Gough

Director: Lawrence Gough

Lawrence Gough directed the first two episodes of Series 10, The Pilot and Smile. He was also responsible for the short ‘trailer’ which introduced Pearl Mackie as Bill, entitled Friend from the Future. His other TV credits include Snatch, The Aliens, Endeavour, Atlantis, Misfits and Hollyoaks.

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Director of Photography: Ashley Rowe

Ashley Rowe was the Director of Photography on The PilotSmile and Thin Ice in Series 10. He previously worked on Kill the MoonMummy on the Orient Express and The Return of Doctor Mysterio. His other recent TV credits include Close to the Enemy, GalavantAtlantis and Merlin.

Production Designer: Michael Pickwoad

Michael Pickwoad has been the Production Designer on Doctor Who since A Christmas Carol. His other recent TV credits include Class, A Midsummer Night’s DreamThe Prisoner and Marple.

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Michael Pickwoad’s TARDIS looks stunning in The Pilot

Visual Effects: Milk VFX

Milk VFX, have been responsible for the visual effects work on the majority of Doctor Who episodes since The Day of the Doctor. Several of Milk’s founding staff worked on Doctor Who as part of The Mill’s TV department.

The Milk team for The Pilot included:

  • Vicki Juhasz: Roto/Prep
  • Daniel Rawlings: Visual Effects Editor
  • Alex Balmer: Digital Compositor
  • Paolo D’Arco: Compositor
  • Amy Felce: Matchmove Artist
  • Louise Hastings: Visual Effects Producer
  • Alessandro Neri: Roto Paint Artist
Milk VFX team

The team at Milk VFX

Special Effects: Real SFX

Real SFX have provided the special effects for Doctor Who since 2010. Other recent TV credits include Class, The Sarah Jane Adventures, TorchwoodSherlock, Line of Duty and Peaky Blinders.

The Real SFX team for The Pilot included:

  • Special Effects Technician, Real SFX: Gerry Glynn
  • Special Effects Supervisor, Real SFX: Danny Hargreaves (uncredited)
  • Special effects Coordinator, Real SFX: Jade Poole (uncredited)
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Fake snow effects for The Pilot

Costume Designer: Hayley Nebauer

Hayley Nebauer is the Costume Designer for the whole of Series 10. Her other recent film and TV credits include The MusketeersAngelCyberbully and Thor: The Dark World.

Other members of the costume team on The Pilot included:

  • Costume Assistant: Rebecca Cunningham
  • Costume Assistant: Leila Headon
  • Assistant Costume Designer: Zoe Howerska
  • Costume Assistant: Jenny Tindle
  • Costume Supervisor: Kat Willis
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The Doctor and Bill’s costumes from Series 10

Make-up Designer: Barbara Southcott

Barbara Southcott has been the main Make-up Designer on Doctor Who since The Runaway Bride. 

Other members of the make-up team working on The Pilot included:

  • Make-up Artist: Megan Bowes
  • Make-up Artist: Lolly Goodship
  • Make-up Designer: Barbara Southcott
  • Make-up Supervisor: James Spinks
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Stephanie Hyam (Heather) has her watery ‘make-up’ applied

Art Director: Tim Overson

Tim Overson was the Art Director for all 12 episodes of Series 10. He also worked on The Return of Doctor Mysterio. His other TV credits include Outlander and Holby City.

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Production artwork for the Doctor’s office from The Pilot

Other members of the Art Department who worked on The Pilot included:

 

  • Supervising Art Director: Henry Jaworski
  • Graphics Assistant: Jack Bowes
  • Head Scenic Artist: Clive Clarke
  • Graphic Artist: Matthew Clark
  • Stand-by Art Director: Christina Tom
  • Draughtsperson: Julia Jones
  • Draughtsperson: Kartik Nagar
  • Concept Artist: Darren Fereday
  • Storyboard Artist: Adam Pescott

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  • Sound Effects Editor: Harry Barnes
  • Foley Artist: Meltem Baytok

Stunts

  • Stunt Performer: Troy Kenchington
  • Stunt  Co-ordinator: Andy Merchant

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Genesis of the Cybermen – Part Six: Designing the new series Cybermen

We recently spoke to concept artists Matthew Savage, Dan Walker and Alex Fort to find out about the Cybermen designs that never made it to the screen. We also caught up with Neill Gorton from Millennium FX to find out how the Cybermen were redesigned and brought to life for the 21st Century.

WHO SFX: What were your memories of the original Cybermen?

MATTHEW: Everyone’s got their favourite Cybermen story. I loved all of them. Growing up I loved the 80s ones, from Earthshock onwards. They were always my favourite growing up, more than the Daleks. I could wax lyrical about Earthshock for hours. The direction was superb, it was more like a movie. These days my favourite Cybermen are any of the ones from Patrick Troughton’s stories. If you look at the concepts I’ve done in more recent years (see below) I’m always drawing upon Tomb of the Cybermen or The Invasion. I love those old designs. They were absolutely perfect.

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A more recent Cyberman concept design from Matthew Savage.

ALEX: I grew up with Tom Baker’s Doctor and dimly remembered all the stuff I was asked to paint. As a concept artist, you feel like you have to modernise and update everything, but aside from a few tweaks, it didn’t really need it. Those aliens and creatures that keep coming back are generally strong, both in terms of character and design. They have reached the point where the design transcends good or bad and becomes simply iconic.

DAN: As a kid growing up I was obsessed by Doctor Who. I kind of left it behind when I was about 12 or 13 but it all came back to me when I came to work on it in.

WHO SFX: Was it exciting to be asked to redesign the Cybermen?

MATTHEW: I was more excited to be working on the Cybermen than anything else. It always felt like there was more leeway to develop them because they had changed more over the years than the Daleks had. Our Dalek was always going to be a very traditional looking piece of kit whereas the Cybermen had more scope to change – so long as you protect certain elements. For me it’s always about the ratio between the eyes, the mouth and the handlebars and if you get that right you’ve kind of nailed it. As long as you keep those three elements there’s a lot more wriggle room to move it around a bit.

WHO SFX: Were you given detailed instructions about what should be retained?

MATTHEW: It kind of evolved. There were a lot more people involved with the Cybermen than the Daleks. Off the top of my head, there was Neill Gorton’s team, Neill himself, Dan Walker, Alex Fort, Peter McKinstry and others. Russell (T Davies) would also chip in quite a lot as well. Dan didn’t normally work on Doctor Who but Ed Thomas (Production Designer) valued him so much that he brought him in. They didn’t want to miss a trick so they gave everyone a shot. There’s a bit of everyone in the final design as well.

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One of Dan Walker’s early concept designs for the new Cybermen.

DAN: All my concepts, sketches, thoughts – were from memory.  I remembered the teardrops and I kept them as a nod to the old Cybermen, but I didn’t look at any of the old ones for reference. That was possibly my downfall. I should have emphasised the handlebars more and played up the more iconic elements. I was focusing on making them as emotionless as possible and getting a kind of purity.

MATTHEW: The brief evolved into specifying certain art deco elements as the episode was going to have that kind of setting. It was going to be a contemporary parallel Earth but with more 1940s art deco elements in there. From memory, this wasn’t overly apparent in the finished episodes. The art deco influences were something that Russell mentioned a number of times. I think you can see some of that in the face and the engineered elements still feel slightly art deco.

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Art Deco Cyberman by Alex Fort.

WHO SFX: Were the new Cybermen originally going to have a more organic look and feel?

MATTHEW: At one point, it was going to be closer to Spare Parts to the point where they paid Marc Platt some royalties. They then moved away from that and considered something like an Apple Shop where you’d go to get your body tuned up. In the back of one of these shots you’d have seen the Mark I Cyberman. It would have been really bulky, like a bodybuilder, because there would have been so many components they were trying to squeeze into this huge suit. I remember doing a concept drawing of an overweight Cyberman with all this technology bulging out at the seams.

DAN: I was influenced by The Tenth Planet. There’s something very unnerving about that simple white balaclava mask. I remember sitting in the park, cross-legged with a pen and a pad, I was reminded of Halloween, the Michael Myers/William Shatner mask – that blank, emotionless expression and black eyes. That’s certainly what I was going for with for the fascia. I was probably going against the brief because Ed wanted art deco and it was Alex Fort who ultimately nailed it. They went with his design in the end because he captured the essence of what they were after.

MATTHEW: I never worry about being too gruesome because I’m not a producer. But I do remember when we showed that to Russell he said it was too gruesome. He also wanted a traditional Cybermen helmet and a metal suit as opposed to a cloth-faced Tenth Planet Cyberman.

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Wonderfully gruesome concept art by Alex Fort showing a more organic Cyberman.

ALEX: During Series One, I’d painted a few versions of the Cybermen, concentrating on the face. At this stage, no-one had said the Cybermen were coming back, but you knew it was going to happen. I refined these paintings later, and they ended up on the wall of the Art Department. I think they stayed there a while before any decision was made. Perhaps it was familiarity, but the final skull-like version of the head was very similar to one of my designs. I liked it, but it wasn’t my favourite.

MATTHEW: The Tenth Planet was a great design. I know they’re coming back in some shape or form in the new series. I wish they’d take that old design and run it through with modern textures and fabrics. It’s all there in the design. All you’d need to do is bring the bulk down a bit and play with the proportions, you could come up with something really horrific.

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Cyberman concept art by Dan Walker.

WHOSFX: Was there a lot of pressure to get the design right?

MATTHEW: It’s a bit like Star Wars because everyone is very fond of these things they remember from their childhood and they all have an idea of what they should look like. Ultimately we were trying to please Russell’s because it was his baby.

DAN: I didn’t speak to Russell at all. Ed Thomas was my point man. I was working on Watchmen at the time so Doctor Who was more of a sideline. I always dealt primarily with Ed. He said to all of us that we had carte blanche, ‘knock yourself out and have fun’. Although he did mention art deco which I completely ignored! I think everyone had a fair crack of the whip, some more than others, understandably.

MATTHEW: It was more challenging than the Dalek because it’s a suit that has to be worn by a number of actors. Most people can fit inside a Dalek. Poor old Neill Gorton had to design a rigid suit that would have to fit a multitude of different body types. Even though it was people who were roughly the same size, it’s still a really tricky thing to do.

WHO SFX: Were you happy with how the design turned out?

DAN: I only had about one or two days on it because I was on another job at the time. I would have loved to have been on the job wholesale so I could have fully engrossed myself in it, but I think I contributed something to the overall design.

MATTHEW: I do remember finishing one particular image with Ed and we showed it to Russell and he said, “We’re good to go”. It was a champagne moment but we were too tired to celebrate! That was the design that Neill Gorton then developed. His boys were designing as they sculpted the ‘skull’ so it was like we were passing the baton to them. They were the poor swines who actually had to realise this thing.

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Concept art by Matthew Savage.

NEILL GORTON: At the same time as Ed Thomas’ art department were going through the pre-design process, we were working on our own designs. Russell liked Alex Fort’s design of the Cyberman head but it did not translate well when it came to being realised in ‘real life’. 2D artists rarely design in a way that can be reproduced identically in the real world. With the clock ticking, Martin Rezard and I had to basically start from scratch and we had to move quickly to keep us on schedule. I suggested we nail the head first. The art deco idea had come up for discussion and Martin and I went down a more elegant route. We’d done a previous maquette which we partially referred back to and I suggested that we explore making the face more skull like. We also brought in more deco lines flowing from the back to the front across the head. The first pass was almost identical to the final design except it had square ear muffs. I changed those to rounded ones and we did a couple more tweaks. 

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The first life size rendition created by Neill Gorton and Martin Rezard based on Alex Fort’s design. The design was subsequently changed to make it work in three dimensions.

NEILL: While the art department did a lot of great concepts for the Cybermen, the actual finished design was done by Martin Rezard and myself. It was done in literally a couple of days and we were in direct discussion with Russell and Julie. 

When this was approved we moved swiftly on to the body. We prepared a maquette that was basically the finished look. This was something that Martin (Rezard) bashed out in a day. This basically nailed the final look in one pass. We took an image of the body maquette with the head sculpture photoshopped on. This gave us our approved look and we launched straight into building the full scale version. A lot of the art department designs incorporated a very accurate head, because they were was based on the picture of our sculpture. 

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The final approved maquette created by Neill Gorton and Martin Rezard.

NEILL: Very rarely did my design work go via the art department other than when there was a specific crossover to consider. Ultimately the elements that did come from the art department were the idea of the handlebars continuing on the arms and legs, the Cybus logo itself and the suggestion of an art deco feel.

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Chief sculptor Martin Rezard at work in the Millennium FX workshop.

 

Thank you Neill Gorton, Matthew Savage, Dan Walker and Alex Fort.