Today is a big day for all the Whovians out there – it’s Doctor Who Day!
For those that don’t know, November 23rd marks ‘Doctor Who Day’. This major annual event celebrates Doctor Who as one of the longest-running and most iconic science fiction shows of all time. Produced by the BBC, the series first aired on November 23rd 1963 and has captured hearts around the globe ever since.
How does one celebrate Doctor Who Day? By watching the iconic series, of course! With a record-breaking list of episodes and seasons to choose from, the big question is: where to start?
Well… here at DNEG, we’re partial to the last three seasons of the cult-classic! Our team first became involved back in 2018 with Doctor Who – Season 11 and our visual effects work has since been featured in the two most recent seasons: Doctor Who – Season 12 and Doctor Who: Flux (Season 13).
In honour of Doctor Who Day, we’re delighted to feature an exclusive, behind-the-scenes look into our most recent work on Doctor Who: Flux with DNEG VFX Supervisor Andrew Robertson.
Hi Andrew! Can you tell us a bit about the scope of DNEG’s work on Doctor Who S13?
Of course! Our team at DNEG delivered 502 VFX shots and 179 assets over a 14 month delivery period (April 2021 – May 2022) after a 13-month long VFX shoot that included principal photography, which took place from November 2020 – November 2021. No other season in the show’s history featured so many VFX shots, so we were pretty excited to be part of an otherwise historic moment for the show!
What were the biggest challenges from this past season?
The action of Doctor Who Flux took place across the entire universe, in different time periods (past, present and future) and featured multiple alien threats. As you can imagine, this meant we had our work cut out for us! From creature, vehicle and environment builds to FX integration and destruction, our team needed to deliver a very wide range of visual effects.
Increasing the scale of storytelling and world-building was one of our major focuses this season. Because of this, we needed to assemble a strong team to deliver their best work across the whole range of VFX disciplines, from full CG shots to green screen work, DMP, set extension, characters and crowds, creature, vehicle and environment, FX simulations – the list goes on and on! Then, in addition to the season’s six main-series episodes, there were three more standalone specials that we worked on, including a feature-length Centenary Special.
Can you tell us about working on the epic centenary special?
Yes! This feature-length special served two purposes: it was both a celebration of 100 years of the BBC and Jodie Whittaker’s swansong as the Doctor. We created 200 VFX shots in 3 months for this special alone, which was no small feat!
What shots or sequences are you most proud of?
There’s a lot of great work across the series. One of my favourites is the flux disintegration. The ‘Flux’ is a galactic-scale ‘tsunami’ that disintegrated everything in its path. An epic effect of visual richness was achieved using an asset of discrete, repeating ‘mandelbrot’ style forms. Our FX team created a library of collapsing planet types for the destruction caused by the Flux.
Another favourite is the Doctor’s transformation! In a single, hand-held 40 second shot, the Doctor transforms into a stone Weeping Angel. To achieve the transformation effect, our team matched Jodie Whittaker’s performance and replaced her with a Doctor-as-Weeping-Angel model. This required meticulous camera and body tracking, with further shot sculpt work on top. Lighting had to match exactly and the composition requirements for the shots were considerable. FX dust, wing animation and digital matte painting to replace the greenscreen environment completed the shot.
You can see our work in the below clip, uploaded by BBC studios!
What are your earliest memories of the ‘Doctor Who’ series?
I am an old man, so my memories go all the way back to Tom Baker’s ‘Doctor Who’ from the 1970s! I have a very vivid (and scary) childhood memory of a man in a dapper suit, pulling his face off to reveal a head made of green tentacles, with a single, staring eye underneath. I believe the baddie’s name was Scaroth. The memory still makes me shiver now.
As a teenager, I also read the old Target Doctor Who novels, which added a whole epic, cinematic dimension to the stories. Something I’m most proud of in DNEG’s work on ‘Doctor Who’ has been the way in which we have been able to bring that epic, visual storytelling to the show.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to wish everybody a very happy Doctor Who Day!
Thanks for your time, Andrew and big congratulations to our entire Doctor Who 13 crew for another very successful season – and for having their amazing VFX work shortlisted for Best VFX Project at this year’s Broadcast Technology Innovation Awards!