22/12/14 Buzz #

Christmas in September…

Billy Hanshaw Motion Graphics Leeds Doctor Who

It was a late summer’s day in September, and the shops were already filling their shelves with Christmas goodies. And who can blame them, it was only three whole months until the big day after all. Billy and I found ourselves heading to Cardiff, to another place where Christmas had arrived early. For the first time since the completion of the Series 8 title sequence, we were on our way back to the BBC studios in Roath Lock.

Arranged for us by Doctor Who’s Post Production Supervisor, the delightful Nerys Davies, we were to spend the day with the equally delightful Edward (don’t call me Ed) Russell, Doctor Who’s Brand Manager. To my delight, I soon discovered that Edward was as big a fanboy as me. Billy could only look on bemused as we discussed whether Robot of Sherwood was more akin to The Android Invasion or The Androids of Tara. Tara all the way for me.

Our tour began on a snowy rooftop currently under construction. Edward introduced it as Clara’s roof, something we got to see in action for the first time in the Children in Need preview clip. I noticed a particularly out of place dvd copy of Brokeback Mountain lying innocently on the roof. For a moment my mind wandered as I imagined the outrage when it came to light that this was Steven Moffat’s inspiration for the Christmas storyline. It’s more Alien meets Miracle on 34th Street explained Edward. Maybe next year.

We next happened upon a large round structure, and we ventured inside. A lifetime of childhood dreams suddenly came true as we found ourselves in the TARDIS. And its actually smaller on the inside, its amazing what some cleverly placed camera angles can do. We explored the upper level book shelves and the lower level workshop, but it was the console to which we were both drawn. Billy couldn’t help but have a feel of the telepathic goo Clara got to grips with in Listen, and I just had to pull that infamous lever (see attached photo of me living the fanboy dream).

Billy Hanshaw Motion Graphics Leeds Doctor Who
Billy Hanshaw Motion Graphics Leeds Doctor Who

Our next stop was to watch some filming taking place. They were doing green screen stuff, and we found ourselves in a control room that Edward explained was only just recently an Arctic base. The crew were most welcoming, we were given headsets so we could hear what was being said on the studio floor as we watched the action on monitors. I can’t go into the details here, as I’m writing this before the Christmas episode airs, but Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman were both there, as was Nick Frost’s Santa. The scene is from late on in the episode, and we gleaned a few spoilers that I couldn’t possibly divulge here. We also learned that guest cast can be hilariously potty-mouthed between takes. Edward was fantastic at explaining what was going on and why things were being done in a certain way. To my disappointment he was also fantastic at deflecting any attempts I made to get hold of any more spoilers. He teased us by asking who we thought Missy was, and sat poker faced as I rambled my various theories. He even suggested that she may be an entirely new character to throw me off the scent completely, the little rascal.

Lunch was called, and Edward steered us towards the door the cast would emerge from. This was our chance to get a quick hello with the stars. Jenna Coleman smiled at us and said hello as she studied her mobile, and true to form Billy walked straight into guest star Natalie Gumede. “Don’t worry about it love,” she said, laughing. We spotted Peter Capaldi emerging, and Edward called him across. We were introduced, and Peter enthusiastically shook our hands. We were pleased to learn that he loved the new title sequence, otherwise things may have been a little awkward! We chatted for a few minutes, Peter was keen to learn about our work and future plans. I also managed to connect with his inner fanboy, as conversation somehow turned to the costume design in 1970s Who. I’m sorry, I can’t help it.

Billy Hanshaw Motion Graphics Leeds Doctor Who

To our delight, Peter suggested we head to his TARDIS for some photos. Edward did the honours with the camera as we stood with the new Doctor in his console room. I even got to reproduce the classic Jon Pertwee/Katy Manning pose, as Peter pointed at a distant threat and I looked on horrified. Katy had been on set just a few days earlier, as she was filming a guest spot for Casualty in the studio next door. Edward told Peter that the next day original companion Carole Ann Ford was to make a visit, prompting Peter to wonder if his Doctor could ever go back and visit his grand daughter in the show. I cheekily asked Peter for an autograph, Edward joked that Peter will no doubt be asking the same of Carole tomorrow. Peter wrote a lovely thank you message to Billy on the article about the title sequence in a copy of Doctor Who Magazine. Then, having given up half his lunch break to spend time with us, Peter headed off, but not before asking us to go back to the other set and watch some more filming. Which of course we did.

Billy and I would like to extend our gratitude to Nerys and Edward for organising our visit, to the cast and crew for their hospitality, and especially to Mr. Peter Capaldi for being so generous with his time. A wonderful Doctor and a wonderful man.

Jon Butler.

Billy Hanshaw Motion Graphics Leeds Doctor Who
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Christmas in September…
22/08/14 Creativity

Gearing up for Doctor Who

Doctor Who titles sketch

Let’s start with a story.

March 1977. A nine year old Yorkshire lad by the name of Billy Hanshaw watches in horror as his beloved Leela gets her ankle savaged by a huge rat in the London sewers. “Shame that,” observes his father, “she’s got nice legs.” The closing theme bursts into life, and Billy realises he’ll have to wait a whole week to find out if the Doctor can rescue her.

Suddenly the room is filled by a strange groaning noise, the unmistakable sound of the TARDIS. Billy turns and watches as a middle-aged guy in a beaten leather jacket emerges from the blue box. Could this be a future incarnation of the Doctor?

“You wanna come with me?” he asks in a northern accent.

“Sure, where we going?” replies Billy in an even more northern accent, completely forgetting everything he should have learned from Charley Says.

“Into your future,” says the Doctor. “2014 to be precise. I’m going to show you your future self.”

“But I can’t cross my own time stream,” argues Billy. “It’s not the done thing.”

“Just pretend its an anniversary,” replies the Doctor. “It’s OK then apparently. Though personally I’m not too keen on the idea.”

And so the Doctor and Billy traverse time and space, coming to rest in a place known to the people of Earth as Cardiff. Emerging from the TARDIS, Billy gasps. It’s like a huge cinema, with a comfy looking sofa in front of the big screen.

“St. David’s Hall,” says the Doctor. “The world premiere of a new series of Doctor Who. The first time ever people get to see my twelfth self in action.” He nods across the room to a man and woman sat eating Revels. Take a look at them two. Recognise them?”

Billy looks intently, and suddenly the realisation dawns across his face. “It’s me!” he cries. “It’s me and Leela!”

The Doctor smiles. “Yes kid, you and Leela. Who’d have thought it, eh?”

Billy and Mr Moffat

In some ways that’s how it feels, like a fairy tale. Hard to believe that I’ve actually had a part to play in this new era of British TV’s biggest show. As I sat there on that Thursday afternoon, lucky enough to be seated next to the delightful Louise Jameson, I actually saw a title sequence based on my own original Youtube video play out on the big screen. The official title sequence for series 8. How awesome is that?!

It began in September 2013, when I uploaded my ‘original concept Peter Capaldi intro’ onto Youtube. It was really done as a portfolio piece, to showcase my skills to potential clients. Title sequences have always been my passion, and the area of the industry I wanted to crack. My partner had suggested I do a Doctor Who intro, and it seemed like a good plan. I did have a few ideas that hadn’t been done before, and it was the kind of show that you could really let your imagination run free on. The hit rate on the video was incredible, far exceeding my expectations. Radio Times picked up on it, asking if the BBC could top it. The Huffington Post followed suit. I was amazed.

But not as amazed as I was one cold Sunday night in Februrary 2014 (I’m not entirely sure if it was cold, it could have been relatively mild for the time of year. I’m just trying to add a bit of depth to the scene). A Linkedin request from a Brian Minchin. No, not A Brian Minchin, THE Brian Minchin. The Executive Producer of Doctor Who. My first thoughts, it was a wind-up, someone playing a prank on me. It seemed to check out though, so I sent a message asking if there was anything I could help him with. The reply came back, both he and Steven Moffat loved my sequence, and wondered if I could help them out with the new titles for series 8. Like I had to give that one much thought!

A phone call with Brian soon followed, where he explained that he’d like me to work as a designer for the new sequence, which would be built in-house by the BBC’s VFX team. Of course I jumped at the chance. But then days passed, and then weeks, time stretching out in front of me (ooh that’s good, I’ll have to remember that one). I heard nothing, and began to doubt that I ever would. I later discovered that this was simply that post production matters kept slipping down the list of priorities the team had, as more pressing concerns regarding filming took up their time. Eventually the call came, and I found myself invited to a production meeting.


The meeting came at a time that the Doctor Who production office was under attack from an invisible enemy. Germs were rife. Brian Minchin had completely lost his voice. The VFX team’s Sue Land sat shivering in a corner. Post production head Nerys Davies offered her drugs. I worried. She pulled out a packet of Nurofen. I stopped worrying. I learned the type of Doctor Capaldi was going to be, and the tone they wanted for the titles. I was told the seal of Rassilon had to go, as did the fob watch. I’d have to think of a new way of starting the sequence and introducing the cogs. I learned that the music was reverting back to its original structure, the Matt Smith melody was no more. Doubt was cast over the inclusion of the face. Maybe yes, maybe no…
Armed with a new brief, and following telephone conference calls, I decided to build a completely new sequence myself. Even though it wasn’t going to be used in the actual show, it could be used to provide the stills for the concept story board, and would be a good reference point for the VFX team. I created two different sequences, one with and one without the face. The cogs now came into view through the ‘mists of time’, with certain cogs pulsing with light in time to the theme music. The cog tunnel now turned. My version had the TARDIS bursting out through the Doctor Who logo, an idea that was ultimately jettisoned further down the line. The BBC team had some ideas of their own, such as the clock spiralling off into the distance. An idea i very much approve of. Capaldi’s face was replaced with just his eyes, and it works really well.

As the deadline approached for the title sequence to be finished, I again found myself in Cardiff. I spent the day watching the finishing touches being made and making a few suggestions of my own. The BBC team were obviously very proud of what had been created, and rightly so. The new sequence is beautiful. I’m aware its very different from anything that has gone before. That was always our intent. The sequence is a true collaboration between myself and the BBC Wales VFX Team, and I’m extremely grateful to have been given such a wonderful opportunity.

UPDATE: The past week has been crazy. Proper mad. Steven Moffat mentioned my involvement at the New york press event of the World Tour. I’m all over the internet. I’m wanted by newspapers, radio stations and TV shows for interviews. It’s utterly bonkers.
So thank you Steven, Brian and everyone at BBC Wales. Thank you to everyone who emailed the BBC regarding my Youtube video (apparently thats quite a lot of you). It’s been a hell of a ride, and its not over yet!

Billy Hanshaw.

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Gearing up for Doctor Who