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29 October 2014
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Doctor Who
Doctor Who -  Autons, aliens made of living plastic, take the shape of shop window dummies and attack London

Doctor Who

Press pack - phase two

Starts on BBC ONE, Saturday 26 March at 7.00pm

Introduction - Special effects

Christopher Eccleston is Doctor Who in a new 13-part series for BBC ONE transmitting on Saturday 26 March 2005. Billie Piper stars alongside Eccleston as the Doctor's companion, Rose Tyler.


This is phase two of the BBC Doctor Who press pack...


The Mill - computer-generated (CG) effects


There were many reasons why Oscar-winning London-based effects house The Mill came on board the new series of Doctor Who, but one in particular stands out for Chief Executive Robin Shenfield.


"Visual effects can be the tail that wags the dog," he says.


"But with Doctor Who the storytelling was so good we knew it was something we really wanted to do.


"It's soul-destroying to do great effects work on a project lacking in other areas because when it gets panned, it feels like your work is being panned, too.


"Whether we take something on really depends on the quality of the scripts and the team that's working on it."


Then there's the attraction of working on what visual effects editor Dave Houghton refers to as "the biggest digital effects in British TV drama to date".


To illustrate the point, The Mill won their Academy Award for their work on Gladiator which included 100 visual effects shots produced over seven months.


The team working on Doctor Who are producing around 100 per episode each month.


"The range of effects we're using is quite extraordinary," says Robin.


"Everything we do that's cutting edge is in this production."


Recruiting additional talent to work on the show proved not to be a problem once The Mill signed up for the series.


"Visual effects is a very specialist business and if a project is a stinker it's harder to get the specialists you need," says Robin.


"But people were beating a path to us because they so wanted to be involved - the appeal of working on Doctor Who is extremely seductive."


Visual effects producer Will Cohen says: "The show is a national institution and people working out how best to do a shot would often say something like 'But it's Doctor Who, it has to be good'."


The effects in the show have to be almost better than good, says Robin, "because today's audience is very visual effect-literate".


Will cites the gaseous entities that feature in one episode: "They started off just as ectoplasm but then became faces that had to speak.


"In another story, one computer-generated character needed four minutes of lip-synching, which is a huge undertaking in a TV project."


Robin adds: "The series was very stimulating for our team because we were able to input our own creative ideas, much more so than in film. We were contributing, not just executing."


Special effects/visual effects – facts


The Mill has been at the forefront of visual and special effects (VFX and SFX) for 15 years. Credits include the Academy Award-winning Gladiator for which they won the Oscar for special effects.


Approximately 800 special effects have been created for the new series of Doctor Who compared with only 100 for the multi-Oscar-winning Gladiator.


No other British TV production has been this ambitious in scale with the number of SFX and VFX created for a series.


It has taken a team of 21 people, working over 10 months, doing six-day weeks of 12 hours per day to bring the new series up to date.


Episode two involved the highest volume and biggest diversity of effects. This episode entailed characters built entirely in CG, entirely CG space and environments, green-screen composites and matt painting. This episode alone sucked up over a fifth of The Mill's total VFX work quota.


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