August 22, 2014

Gearing up for Doctor Who

Gearing up for Doctor Who
Doctor Who titles sketch
Who-premiere

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.

Leela

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.

Creativity
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