Doctor Who Series 9

TV Drama, 2015

Series 9 of Doctor Who gave us the opportunity to create some truly epic VFX, take a look at our making of Video!

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One of the key characters in ep1 was Sarff, the brief was to create a fully CG animated albino snake. Sarff’s face was animated unravelling, to reveal that he is entirely composed of snakes. A photoscan of the prosthetic Sarff was used to create an exact match in CG and enable a seamless take over. An extremely accurate face track of the actor in prosthetics was required. Then the prosthetic plate was projected onto the matching geometry and the snake coils animated while dissolving from the projected plate to the CG unravelling face to create the unravelling effect.
Once in snake form Sarff speaks, this required lip sync. The brief was to retain Sarff’s malevolence and avoid a ‘cartoony’ look. The director opted for a subtle but visible look.
At the beginning of the episode the Doctor comes across a field of hand mines. CG muddied hands were created, each with an eye in its palm. The CG hands were used when real hands could not be filmed or to augment the number of hands in a shot. When Real hands could be shot they were filmed on a raised muddied platform, all of the individual hands then had to be tracked accurately in order to add a CG eye to each one.
For the end of episode 1 and for episode 2, a fully CG environment to represent Skaro was created. The Dalek city Designs were based on vintage Doctor Who comics from the 1960s. A 3D asset was created in Cinema 4D, which allowed fly over and fly through shots to establish Skaro geography.
Throughout the rest of the series we undertook a variety of challenges.
In episode 4 Milk modelled a dam based on references provided by the BBC, the DMP team then blended it into the location – a green mountainous valley.
The water needed to burst from the cracks in the dam, travel over half a kilometer across the valley floor, and rush past the Fisher King character and camera in the foreground. This was achieved using a particle fluid set up in Houdini. The main challenge in this effect was to create a continuous simulation that would work well both at range and close-up.
One of the scariest moments of the series come at the end of ep009 when Rassmusens face disintegrates. This was achieved firstly by modelling the actors face from a photoscan and matchmove his movements. The pouring sand was then created using a piratical simulation in Houdini. A blend between the sand sim and the plate was then done in comp to transition from his face to sand as the sim progresses.
For ep010 Milk created a CG raven to fill in the parts of the ep that couldn’t be achieved with a real raven. In some shots the raven transitions to smoke, the smoke sims where created in Houdini and had to follow distinct paths and timings as requested by the director. Finally Milk also created smoke sims for the smoke that leaves the shades victims through their nose and mouths, this required facial tracking and further sims in Houdini.
In episode 11 Milk created a fully CG rotating castle to tie in with sets built in the studio and the plates shot on location at Caerphilly castle. The castle was built in Maya and textured in Mari. The castle also featured a CG body of water inside it and as well as being surrounded by a CG ocean outside.
Milk designed and created the full CG environment of Gallifrey for episode 12 in Cinema 4D. The city asset was used in full cg shots and was also integrated into live action plates shot in Fuerteventura. Additional DMP elements of Mountains where added into the live action plates to tie them in with the Full CG shots and to add to the alien feel of Gallifrey. Gallifrey was also populated with spaceships to add more life to the environment. We see Gallifrey in day and night time settings both intact and ruined.
Milk also designed and modelled the sky tank, after gathering reference of tanks and army helicopters we created a concept to fit the brief of ‘aggressive and menacing’. We modelled and textured the asset in Maya and Mari.

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