BBC Project – Doctor Who Animated Designs Part 3

Initial posting giving an overview of the project history here.

To find all the posts on this topic, please click here.

So, in previous posts I’ve shown you some of Nick’s sketches. I had made a go at designing a Doctor head early in the piece before Nick came on board.  I wasn’t happy with it – I tend to work better when working from something that exists as blueprint or design pictures and the like.  So my version came out pretty ugly.  In fact I didn’t even bother to do a test render, I was that unhappy with it.

I still have the original models, and their creation date shows as 15 Dec, 2002. Modelling organic shapes in a computer is hard.  Getting human shapes and especially human faces so that they don’t look off is difficult, and I think that was my first attempt at one since the Aussiecon 3 Opening Ceremony animation I did way back in 1999.

Five days later, I had another go, based on a mix of Nick’s tiny sketches, and the idea of giving the character a slightly more Peter Cushing look.

My second attempt at a head.

If you think this isn’t too bad, don’t be fooled.  While it’s a huge improvement on my first attempt, this is just the best test lighting render that came out.  Prepare yourself for zombie Doctor!

Very harsh and more than a bit creepy

The open mouth is to give me an easy area to select when setting up facial animation controls, the lack of teeth is because you don’t bother building those bits until later, and this was just a rough test.  Aiming for Geoffrey Bayldon and Peter Cushing’s love child was all well and good, but because of the sharp lines in his face it required a lot more subtlety than I put into the model.  But a lot of this early stuff was done in an enormous hurry and on the fly, so I’m not going to be too hard on myself.  Also, I was working from very small sketches, and I need a lot of detail if I’m to copy something.

A couple of days later, Nick Stathopoulos was in Melbourne and came to stay with my wife and I.  During Nick’s varied career, he worked for Hanna Barbera for a while and knows how to simplify something so it will work for animation.  He has a gorgeous design sense, but he hadn’t work with 3D computer models.

So we sat down together. From memory I started building a head from scratch, showing him how I did it while he basically told me what he wanted.  I recall he was fascinated by the process and likened aspects of it to traditional sculpting.  Once we had the basic head built, he got me tweaking things here and there, giving the Doctor a much more gentle and loveable look.

Nick’s a perfectionist, and once we got down to the point where I was nudging individual vertexes and polygons, it was getting kind of hard for both of us.  I was moving individual points under instruction, and it wasn’t fun for either of us.  Fortunately Nick’s a quick study, and I had been talking him through what I was doing, so he took over.

It really was just him shifting single points a millimetre this way, then half a millimetre that way – for the next hour!  But I watched as he took a character head that was already pretty damned good, and gave it a real personality.  This came again from his animation background – you have to do more with less, so one of the tricks is to imbue your initial design with the personality you want to project – that way you don’t have to do extra work to bring those inherent aspects of the character across.

Anyway on the 23rd of December, we created this version of the Doctor between the two of us.

A fairly massive improvement, I think you’ll agree.

Much easier on the eye.  No extraneous detail that would cause problems with animation, and loads of personality.  I wish I’d kept the first version of this model, just so I could render it up and you could see the subtle differences between that version and this one.  I remember being stunned at the time how a bunch of tiny but exact changes to a handful of vertexes could make an already good model sing!

Here’s another look…

Lighting Tests – note the change in hair colour.

This is a lighting test, as noted above.

We never went beyond this model, done so early on.  The main reason for that was I was putting all my efforts into story scenarios, the bible, and so on.  More on that in later posts.

At one point in 2003, Cliff mentioned commissioning Nick to do a full clay model which could be 3D laser scanned. Talked to Nick about price, he came back with a perfectly reasonable figure, but given we were still expecting to be canned at any point, and the money would have been coming out of our own pockets, we decided against it.

There may have been other changes made, but to me, for so many reasons, this is the definitive look for the animated Doctor in our show.  His face is gentle, with mild humour, and lends itself to a range of expression.

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5 thoughts on “BBC Project – Doctor Who Animated Designs Part 3

  1. Wow Danny. I’m glad you remember all the details. I certainly have little recollection of the entire process. I seem to have spent most of my life working on projects that never saw the light of day, so I’m glad some of our efforts are at least documented.

    • It helps I still have many of the emails. They’ve helped me piece together a bunch of stuff I’d forgotten or misremembered.

      I remember that day clearly because it was one of those funny times we had together – I got to show you a form of art you weren’t personally familiar with, and I remember you being really impressed, and I basking in the glow. Then you took what little I’d built and shown you and managed to improve upon it dramatically, you magnificent bastard!

      Naturally if there’s anything I’ve said that’s wrong, feel free to correct me. While I’m presenting my viewpoint, I’m trying to be as accurate as one can with a personal recollection.

      • Ahhh Danny. How I wish we could have taken this further. I’m afraid I tend to block out projects that fail, otherwise I’d be a mental wreck and never want to pick up a pencil or paintbrush ever again. I feel so war wounded…so many battle scars. My creative life is littered with the detritus of things like this that have never gotten off the ground for various reasons. Getting back up onto the horse is not as easy as it once was. The weird thing is seeing those character sketches…particularly Phoebe, re-kindles the spark, rather than making me want to open a vein.

      • I wonder if the extreme needing to block out the failures is the price of your talent? You may not have achieved as much as you’d like, but you’ve achieved more most people ever will.

        Then again I suppose most lives are littered with failed projects, and I suppose lots of people block them out, I tend not to. I don’t seem to have the ability, so my failures follow me constantly. They haunt me, and they hurt me, but they also push me to try harder too.

        That said, I haven’t really done any serious 3D work since this project. I’d had a run of stuff that was tough – six months work on the Aussiecon 3 Opening Ceremony all lost a few days before, several tough Who3D projects, two different Australian Doctor Who convention opening videos for which they never paid me the embarrassingly minuscule fee I requested, and this.

        I was burnt out before this came along.

        But yeah, there is a spark for me, too. A little voice keeps saying, “Call in favours, get some animators together, and write and direct your pilot.” Not going to happen, but the voice is there.

        I suppose at the end of the day, for me, this wasn’t a failure. We weren’t shut down because we were crap, we were shut down by a budget overspend and the new series. I basically took over a huge chunk of the thing because the talent I was able to bring to bear on this project from my end was phenomenal – Hugo nominated artists and writers, effects guy on things like The Matrix and Superman Returns, not to mention a bunch of talented unknowns.

        This is one of the personal highlights of my life. Doesn’t matter that it went nowhere, because I was basically a showrunner on a series of Doctor Who for the BBC. Okay, it was the secret project of one department, but it happened! Let’s face it, even if I were living in Wales, I’m not going to ever get that chance again, so may as well enjoy the memory.

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