The Making of The Daleks' Master Plan
By Stuart Palmer

     

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The idea was obvious, and I bet everyone who's ever modelled in 3D (and a good few who haven't) had it too: The Daleks' Master Plan with CGI; 3D Daleks gliding all over the place, or, at least, lots of computer generated stills to fill in the gaps. Oh yeah, this was my calling. So, having done many years of static modelling in Truespace, I contacted Loose Cannon with a handful Daleks' Master Plan-related images that I'd created, and was promptly told they already had someone doing exactly what I'd offered to do for them. Worse than that, they'd got a bloody professional who'd worked on feature films and TV series. Well, that was the end of that, wasn't it?

Except it wasn't. Chris's commitments as a professional meant he had little time to dedicate to Master Plan, so it wasn't long before Loose Cannon were asking me to design a Dalek Pursuit Ship. From scratch, with only the studio set to offer any design suggestions. Well, despite the fact that it's on screen for less than thirty seconds, I wasn't going to turn it down, was I? Could I improve the texture? No problem. Could I make it fly across a starscape? Er... no problem. Could it fly a little slower and more like a BBC model? Er... probably. Could I make the top rotate and put flashing lights on it? Mmh, this was proving to be quite a steep learning curve.

And it would get steeper. "Of course I can do it," became my knee-jerk response to any request, and then I'd spend long hours burning the midnight oil to work out exactly how. I've never read so many manuals for so much software in so short a space of time.

Before long, I was animating circular saws, producing backdrops for the sawmill, the police station, the entrance to the Dalek city on Kembel, the cave entrance to the underground base, the Spar's landing leg and ladder on Desperus, a cave on the same planet, Bret's space radio, the broken time destructor seen in Episode 12, the Visian being exterminated, as well as a few traditional composites, mainly, it seems, of characters lying dead, which earned me the nickname Stuart "I see dead people" Palmer. Hey, I've been called worse.

I also got to grips with Poser and produced the animation of Katarina floating in space (Yep, another dead person). Poser, I soon discovered, was an invaluable tool for creating realistic human bodies, and easy to use and animate after just a little practice (and a few false starts). It was with Poser, too, that I created the model of the alien delegate Celation. The LC guys then merged this model with screen grabs of Terence Woodfield (the actor who played Celation) to produce a more realistic and accurate face for the figure.

Not all the animations, though, were created in 3D. Several pieces of footage from the original model shoot for Episode 8 were still in existence, but all of them so short and of such low quality that, as they stood, they were next to useless in a reconstruction. My challenge was to piece them together into longer reels of looped footage. Dean wanted them smoother and slower, to act as backgrounds for the action on Tigus. This was done in Macromedia's Flash (a tool I'd not used before I started work on Master Plan), taking each frame and merging it with the next in the sequence using various levels of transparency to create up to ten frames from just two. Assembled like traditional animation frames, this produced a smooth sequence. I then did the same for all the other film clips, with a little help from Derek who minimised the film's natural flicker. I think I was animating volcanoes for the best part of a month. The Keystone Kops animation was created in a similar fashion, as was the sequence of the old Sara falling to the sand in Episode 12, something I did off my own bat just to get to grips with the technology.

Something else I did "just to get to grips with the technology" was a brief documentary covering the development of "The Destroyers", the first episode of Terry Nation's proposed series featuring the Daleks. This started life as just the title sequence, an experiment in animation to see what Flash could do. With the graphics in place, I then wrote the theme music. Music is another hobby of mine. Over the last eight years I've produced a lot of extremely varied (and variable) music under the name Empire 639, mainly for my own consumption. The Daleks Theme was my first attempt at a theme tune. Dean would later complain that the theme was so damned catchy that, every time he heard it, he'd be humming it for days!

I extended the documentary from this title sequence. My Daleks were somewhat crude, the cast different (and largely based on whose photographs I happened to have handy), and the whole thing far less ambitious and containing only about four brief scenes from the actual episode. Still, I thought it might have potential, so I sent it off to Loose Cannon and was delighted when they were enthusiastic about it. They encouraged me to develop it, particularly the (re)con part, and even suggested it might be a good idea to record some dialogue. (Not sure how keen Derek was on that suggestion though - I'm still waiting for his death scream, you know.) They contacted Andrew Pixley and John Peel for me to get some more information. Both were helpful, but John's contribution proved invaluable, as he was able to offer a thorough scene-by-scene synopsis of the episode. That scene-by-scene breakdown is what you see in the finished and considerably extended (re)con. In fact, the only thing that survives from the original version is the title sequence.

In tandem with this work, I was also building a more accurate Dalek model under Derek's critical eye. Derek's standards are exacting to say the least and you can bet, if your Dalek's slats are two millimetres too short, he'll spot it and politely suggest changes. This can be infuriating, to put it mildly, but it's that attention to fine detail that makes the Loose Cannon reconstructions as good as they are and encourages everyone to produce the best result that they possibly can.

Back in Truespace, this Dalek was soon pressed into action for a number of animated sequences, the first of these being for the end of Episode 1 and the start of Episode 2. Of course, it didn't take too long before I had a list of potential animations as long as your arm, and a computer that remained switched on and rendering every night for three months solid. I soon learned that the time an animation took was directly proportionate to how many Daleks appeared in the scene, and it wasn't uncommon for a whole night's rendering to produce just under three seconds of animated footage. How pleased I was that the BBC only had three Daleks and a black one. Animating any more than that, my computer would probably have given up the ghost.

A steep learning curve, a lot of tedious manuals and help files to read through, a lot of computer wear and tear, a lot of criticism and attention to detail, that's just part of my experience of working on the recon of The Daleks' Master Plan. There was also a lot of pleasure at being involved in something so good, a lot of fun to be had in meeting the varied challenges, and some quite interesting phone calls too...

Was it worth it? Oh definitely. Would I do it again? Absolutely. There's a great sense of satisfaction in being involved in something that's had so much love and attention lavished on it. Besides, I've got a taste for this sort of thing now, particularly the construction of Doctor Who material that never before existed (I must coin a phrase for this someday). I wonder what I could have a go at next...

STUART.