27/08/15 Creativity , Thoughts

Tempus Fugit: Deep Breath 12 months on

This weekend a realisation hit us here at the studio – it’s exactly a year since the media frenzy surrounding our involvement with Doctor Who was at fever pitch.  So what better time to sit back for a moment or two and revisit that month of madness in August 2014.

Image to the right is a very early concept sketch of the “infinity clock” scene from our mood board. It would later become an important aspect of the final televised version.

Billy Hanshaw Studio Motion Graphics Leeds Doctor Who

We’d been aware that we were doing the Doctor Who title sequence as early as February of 2014, when preliminary discussions with Brian Minchin had begun.  Ever since then we’d been keeping it all to ourselves.  After a good six months of secrets and codewords we were getting quite adept at our deception. That was until the script for the first episode ‘Deep Breath’ leaked online in July, with Billy’s name featured in the crew credits.  We happened to be down in Cardiff at the time, as the finishing touches were being put to the new title sequence, and observed the BBC go into lockdown for fear of any more material leaking out onto the web.   We were advised that we may get some odd emails or phone calls from dedicated Who fans impersonating members of the production team, desperate for a glimpse of what had been created.  They were right, we did.  We were also advised to maintain our silence until an official announcement was forthcoming.

The result led to a much wider range of brand properties and imagery for use across all marketing collateral, in comparison with previous New Who seasons.

Article written by
Jon Butler, Billy Hanshaw Studio

Fast forward a month, and the Cardiff premiere of Deep Breath, the first time our titles would be seen by the public.  Showrunner Steven Moffat had a word with us, and gave us a fantastic piece of advice… keep away from Doctor Who forums! The criticism will hurt you, he advised, and the praise will kill you.  It’s advice we chose to follow, and was very timely in its delivery, as later that same day a very poor quality video of the titles that had been recorded on someone’s phone was posted online.  Commonly known as the ‘Edward Clockworks’ video, the unfortunate angle, irritating voiceover commentary and tinny theme tune did little to show the sequence in its best light.  Once again, we were advised to say nothing and await the official announcement after the broadcast of Deep Breath.

This all went out of the window a week later, when Steven Moffat made the decision to namecheck Billy at the New York premiere press conference, and confirm our association with the titles.  The madness began. We were inundated with requests for quotes and interviews from all over the world, as newspapers, magazines and sci-fi websites scrambled for the gossip.  We knew it was going to create some interest, but we never realised quite how much. It even surprised our PR representative. The views on the original concept Youtube video went through the roof, with many messages of congratulation being sent our way, and Billy even ended up being interviewed on the TV news.  It was crazy, and continued unabated until about a week after the BBC1 broadcast of Deep Breath, at which point we were exhausted and glad of a bit of peace!

Steven Moffat had told us he believed the new titles would polarise opinion because they were so different to what had gone before, and to a degree he was right.  But it was this difference that had attracted him to our work in the first place.  A common misconception seems to be that we were in some kind of competition with other title sequence designers on Youtube over who would get the gig.  We had messages sent our way saying ‘so-and-so should have been chosen instead of you’, but the truth is that no one else was in the running. We didn’t have to pitch.  It was a combination of our original concept and our proven track record as conceptual designers that sealed the deal.

By removing emphasis from the TARDIS in the titles, and allowing room for a more stylised vision of space and time, we were taking the sequence in a new direction.  The result led to a much wider range of brand properties and imagery for use across all marketing collateral, in comparison with previous New Who seasons.

Perhaps the most striking thing to have emerged in the last year is the positive effect our story has had on younger, creative Doctor Who fans. The concept may have been initially divisive, however there was almost universal praise for the production team embracing unsolicited work – enabling anyone to become part of the show. We are immensely proud of our association with Doctor Who, and will always be grateful to the production team for the recognition they gave us.  Original, polished, well-conceived ideas always get noticed eventually. Having the courage to challenge the rule book is when true creativity begins.

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Tempus Fugit: Deep Breath 12 months on
30/06/15 Creativity , Thoughts

The Internet: A source of inspiration or an Achilles heal for creativity?

Billy Hanshaw Studio Motion Graphics Leeds UK

It may sound like an odd question. Indeed it’s something I’ve pondered over as Creative Head (balancing production schedules and creativity); swinging from the position of agreement to disagreement on an almost daily basis.

If access to so much stimuli and reference material online is bad for creativity – then surely this argument has to be supported by logical reasoning.  The kind you would expect to receive from a person of high standing – a Doctor perhaps.

And on that note, I offer my musings…

Let’s go back a couple of years. We created a titles concept for a well-known BBC sci-fi show.  It’s first outing was on Youtube; culminating with it being adapted for the show itself. Media hype surrounded the story of how a Youtube sensation became part of the show.  For those unaware of the story – we are talking about Doctor Who.

For some strange reason (probably only known to the Doctor himself) Doctor Who inspires an incredible degree of creativity from the written word to music to animation. And what better platform for publication than the world-wide-web – where everyone has the capacity to be an author in their own right.

Shortly after the official titles were revealed at the cinema and broadcast throughout the world, there followed a deluge of copies; re-creations online by amateur animators, students and professionals all striving to reproduce the official titles in all it’s cogs, clocks and planets glory down to the tiniest wood-grain detail on the TARDIS’ exterior. In fact you only have to browse the popular video sharing sites to see titles recreations for each and every Doctor incarnation.  It goes with the territory: the world of Fandom.

The Doctor Who title sequence and its many online versions is, ironically, a fitting example to illustrate my point.

I say ironically because at the studio, when we embarked upon this journey, we too attempted to make our own version of the ubiquitous time tunnel (or vortex, as it’s come to be known); a stalwart of Who intros.  In doing so we had one of those ‘light-bulb’ moments. A revelation of sorts, the key to originality that helped us shape what went on to become the official titles and also our approach to future work: the importance of an overall narrative.  A visual story that would hold true to the nature of the show; combining metaphor with literal depiction.

It’s a philosophy employed by the best in titles design.  Narrative is always paramount.

So what does this have to do with the internet disabling creativity?  OK, let’s get back on track.

We all know that access to the internet is like having the world’s biggest library, indexed and ready to peruse at any 24:7 moment.  The availability of sites curated with the coolest, on-trend, and most appreciated content enables us to feast our eyes and ears on the most popularist and therefore most fashionable creative output.  These are the kind of works that get emulated due to popularity and the perception of (a term I like to use) ’coolism’.

It can be, and truly is inspirational, seeing the work of talented individuals on sites like Adobe’s behance and collections on Pinterest assembled by specific search criteria. So why could there be a negative effect to this?

If we are all looking to the same websites for creative stimuli – clicking away for the cool stuff, what happens to innovative ideas?  Do we just end up with ‘me too’ creations – like the fan-made Doctor Who sequences that are brilliantly executed, but have nothing new (in visual terms) to say?

We’ve never before had so much information at our fingertips.  It’s what we do with it as creative practitioners that’s important.  Being truly innovative is one of the hardest pursuits any artist can successfully achieve.  It is said, that for the most part, any idea that appears to be new will have already been imagined by somebody else. While probably true, the perception that the idea is original is what counts: application and audience awareness.

Truth-be-known; creative styles fall in and out of fashion. Its cyclical nature giving birth to the occasional pastiche or an original take on a previous idea.

Just imagine, however, a carousel of images turning – a good analogy for our fashion cycles – the faster it gets the less likely we are to discern the differences between one image and the next; a homogenised blur.  The faster we are expected to deliver ideas, the more likely we are to plagiarise. Innovation gets sidelined.  Everything has the same look or sounds the same.

Budgetary constraints are usually the key factor that forces the hand. Time has always equated to costs and fees. When the clock ticks the dinero increases,  so an expedited delivery is always favourable. The true cost being originality.

And here’s another problem: Stimuli, reference and training material that used to be available to the creative industries only, are now available to all. So enthusiasts with indefinite deadlines can produce extremely polished, professional pieces of work, which clients are privy to as well.  Call it pixel envy if you like, but the perception of how long a piece of work took to create (by an enthusiast) is often lost on the client, and that leaves us professionals desperate, but unable to deliver to the same or better standard. It’s one of the reasons why here at Billy Hanshaw Studio we decided to apply fixed fees to projects.  Expectations are managed throughout the project on both client side and studio.

Our Who sequence brought us a level of exposure that we hadn’t experienced before, that we’ll be eternally grateful for.  To some in the industry there is the perception that we are a couple of enthusiastic hobbyists that had a lucky break. Our clients know differently. Alongside our Technical and Legal work, the explainers, corporate presentations and illustration work – we are still trying to break the regional/capital divide, determined to overcome the obstacle of being ‘up north’.

London – Soho specifically –  used to be the hotbed of the creative industry – and that perception still holds true to a great extent.  Ideas are not tied to any geographical location however; that is the greatest benefit of the internet from a creative viewpoint –  collaboration and shared ideas are possible on a global scale, at the click of a button.  Innovation is always possible. It’s the notion of “making it your own’;  ensuring that evolution wins out over plagiarism every time in the pursuit of originality.

Billy Hanshaw

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The Internet: A source of inspiration or an Achilles heal for creativity?
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