Will Cohen Discusses Doctor Who’s Anniversary Year VFX

One of the most interesting interviews about the making of Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary story, The Day of the Doctor, and Matt Smith’s swansong, The Time of the Doctor, has largely flown under the radar – and it’s a massive shame.

But may we now point you to an in-depth chat with Will Cohen, CEO of VFX company, Milk which (in a different guise) has been working on Doctor Who since 2005.

Okay, so what do VFX artists actually do? They create special effects and visual clean-ups – essentially, stuff that isn’t live-action. So Will and co. were responsible for the Fall of Arcadia, Gallifrey Falls No More (the painting), Trenzalore, and Matt’s regeneration. Will says:

Television is a medium that often allows for true collaborative production partnership. The budgets and schedules create a situation where the VFX team is able to have a lot of creative ownership over what they are doing. As teams are smaller all the way up the chain, you get greater access to the client and so internal and external communication is a lot more streamlined. The Dalek Pods are a good example of being able to update and freshened the look of an asset; Milk created them for The Day of the Doctor. With an established franchise like Doctor Who, everybody always respects what has come before but they also have the desire to push things further with new ideas or embellishments.

He sheds light on how his team created Trenzalore – and the horde of enemies waiting to hear the answer to the oldest question in the universe:
We needed to ensure that the sizes and scales were correct, between the planet, the spaceships and asteroid field. The surface of the planet had been set up at the end of the previous episode, so there were visual clues from that. The challenge was to ensuring Trenzalore did not look like Earth [as viewed from space] so we had to make it more bleak and grey than Earth… In order to tell the story and set the scene at the beginning of the episode, it had to be a long shot and had to encompass numerous elements – to show the space environment and demonstrate the sheer number of the Doctor’s enemies’ spaceships from all over the universe surrounding Trenzalore. Given the number of elements and level of detail the shot was 20 seconds long, where usually a VFX shot would be between 6-8 seconds long.

It certainly was impressive…

Trenzalore 2

Oh, and he also talks about that shocking regeneration:

We always look for a new creative way to treat the Doctor’s regeneration, for example, we have focused on the eyes or a varying small section of face. This time the regeneration needed to be more dramatic than ever – and powerful enough for a nuclear-like explosion and of course no morphing effect was used. We used a ‘snap back’ so that the new Doctor just simply walked back into shot.

Milk‘s also been commissioned for Series 8 and says he’s pleased to look back on the last seven series:
Many of us on the team have been privileged to enjoy a 10 year love affair with Doctor Who so to be able to carry on collaborating with the BBC Wales team on telling these incredible stories [for series 8 and beyond] fills us with joy and provides us with an opportunity as VFX artists to help push the boundaries of what can be done visually on television.

Please do take a look at the full interview. It’s fantastic.


When he’s not watching television, reading books ‘n’ Marvel comics, listening to The Killers, and obsessing over script ideas, Philip Bates (Kasterborous' former Editor) pretends to be a freelance writer. He enjoys collecting everything. He is the co-founder of The Doctor Who Companion: http://thedoctorwhocompanion.com/

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