Model Behaviour

With the recent revelation that the Movie will use a variation of the Re-mastered version of Red Dwarf, we explain why we’re not thrilled to bits…

A clapperboard, there.The model effects in early Red Dwarf are crap, apparently. Everyone knows this. From cheap jibes about Airfix models, to comments about them being “clunky and creaky, but that’s part of the charm!!”, to simply comments about them being dated, by today’s standards they suck. I guarantee you – go and look at any article which mentions the special effects – 90% chance, if it’s an independent review, that it says they look terrible.

What utter bollocks.

The effects, from the opening titles of the very first series of Dwarf, look fantastic. Apart from a slight blur in the opening titles when matting the two shots together, they’re nearly perfect. Check out the very next shot, which shows the name of the ship, and then pans out to give a wider view of the starscape; it’s awe-inspiring, and genuinely wouldn’t look out of place in a film. And this is all done on a sitcom budget in 1988. There’s the odd shot which you may think is slightly overlit, or gets a bit too close, making the shot seem slightly artificial – but these are few and far between. This continues throughout the first three series – the model effects get better and more varied, and Red Dwarf itself looks fantastic.

But here, dear reader, we reach the sad part of our story, although it’s one most of you will already know. Red Dwarf falls off a shelf. Sniff. Despite this story being often told, we believe it’s never actually been mentioned when it happened. However, we can make an educated guess. Series III was shot in 1989, which definitely used the original 8-foot long ship model, and as far as we can tell, series IV, shot in 1991, only uses stock shots, with no new footage of the ship at all. Therefore, it almost certainly took place between those two dates.

Whenever the model was damaged, and thrown into a fucking skip, it was definitely by 1992, as a new, 5-foot long model was built for series V. It’s actually pretty obvious that it’s a different model; it’s a lighter red, and looks slightly less detailed. Either way, it still looks nice, and was used for many shots that series – and was then blown up for Demons and Angels, in a spectacular shot. We read one review of the episode that likened that shot to Blake’s 7 effects, and said that “it should have been done better”. All we can say is that if you think that’s poor there’s seriously something wrong with you.

Come series VI and most of series VII, Red Dwarf is lost, so there was no need for a new model of the ship. (In our opinion, the effects for VI are the best the show has ever had, and VII’s are mostly the worst; but that can all wait for a separate article). The final shots in Nanarchy of Starbug approaching the massive Red Dwarf were done by overlaying a CGI Starbug over existing footage of the original ship.

A re-mastered Red Dwarf, there.And here, we reach the crucial (in our opinion) misstep. The Re-mastered series. Our Re-hamstered article details some of the problems with this – to us it just seems bizarre to replace wonderful, beautiful model shots that still hold up today, with far poorer CGI. The shots are oddly quite impressive in parts, considering that the budget is for a sitcom, not a Hollywood movie – but it just doesn’t look real. Not in the slightest. And they just don’t look as good as the old stuff. The whole re-mastering process was just a silly waste of time; even forgetting about the stupid additions like badly-superimposed Skutters, or dodgy sound effects – you’ve replaced beautiful, realistic model effects, with stuff that just doesn’t look as good, and will date far more quickly. And yet, this isn’t the only problem, as we’ll see in a minute.

Series VIII arrives, with the effects looking much as they did in the Re-mastered series. The start of Krytie TV offers a good example of the problems with the shots – it’s slightly darker than most, so the colour of the ship looks far less bright (and a lot nicer than most CGI Red Dwarf shots) – but look at the background. Look at the moving stars. And then compare the same effect with the moving pan of Red Dwarf in the opening titles of the first two series. Are you seriously going to tell us that the Series VIII shot doesn’t look frankly amateurish by comparison? The stars don’t look like stars, they look like moving white pixels. (The more hardcore fans amongst you might be tempted to say “But what pixels!” at this point, but I’d tell you to fuck off.)

However, at least with Series VIII, there is a reason for such effects. Unlike previous series, the BBC Visual Effects department had to make a profit on everything they did. As Doug details in the Red Dwarf VIII scriptbook, even the cost of one skutter was now prohibitive. CGI, apart from a few key shots (such as the explosion of Starbug) was the only way to go. And, as has been said, the actual technical quality is quite impressive for a sitcom (far better than the last minute bodges for series VII) – it only pales when compared to the original model shots. The Re-mastered series was an abomination – there was no point to it, and it never should have happened. However, the only way to bring back Red Dwarf for VIII would either be to continue using the CGI version of Red Dwarf, or rely on slightly altered stock shots from the first few series. Clearly, this would have been equally unsatisfactory; Doug did the only thing he could. Now, if the BBC had given the series a bigger budget than for dinnerladies, or hadn’t taken the ridiculous decision to make the BBC Visual Effects department make a profit (a sequence of events which has lead to it’s subsequent closure), then things might have been different.

And now comes the movie. And everyone thought that Doug would go down the CGI route. But no! In an interview given for DVD Answers, he says:

“…well, unless you’ve got tons and tons of money it’s very very dangerous going down the computer-generated room because it just costs so much to get that stuff right, but it doesn’t mean to say that you can’t have miniatures within CGI, you know, I mean George Lucas used a lot of miniatures in the last two Star Wars films and he also used a lot of CG … so miniatures are still great, they still work providing they’re shot right … and then for the kind of budget that we’ve got we’ll use CG to enhance a lot of the miniature shots.”

Everyone heaves a huge sigh of relief. “He’s learnt his lesson!”, they thought, patronisingly. “He’s realised that the CGI just doesn’t work as well as the earlier model shots.” And it looks like he has. But there’s a problem. Two Corgi Miniatures have been announced – one Starbug one, which looks great, and one >Red Dwarf one – “from the Movie version”. And it’s a variation of the Re-mastered version of the ship – with the ram scoop shrunk even further. And it’s an abomination.

But why? It’s easy to make (amusing) pencil jokes, and simply to say that the ship doesn’t look as good – which is true. But it’s more than that; the problems with the Re-mastered series went beyond the CGI. Red Dwarf is supposed to be a mining ship. It’s supposed to look like it’s been trundling around space for years. It’s supposed to look like shit, frankly. Now, the original version of the ship wasn’t all those things; it’s rather too shiny and new for that. But it doesn’t look sleek and streamlined, like the new version of the ship – and it doesn’t have fucking great boosters on the back of it. I’m sorry, but every time I see that shot in the opening titles of the Re-mastered series, where Red Dwarf blasts off, I want to scream. Red Dwarf shouldn’t blast off. It should trundle. (Yes, even trundle at light speed; it’s the overall look and feel that counts; not the actual speed itself.) And look at the meteorite/moon embedded into the side of the original ship; it looks beautiful and realistic. In the Re-mastered version, there are two identical ones buried into the same side – and worse, it looks like a space has been cut out for it! It doesn’t look like it crashed into the ship – it looks like they were placed there deliberately, and were in the original design plans from JMC. And the Re-mastered version looks far too streamlined – there’s no need for a ship to be streamlined in space. It should just look like a gigantic red lump of a mining ship. Much like the original ship, in fact.

A clapperboard, there.The thing is, this worries us. We still think The Movie Will Be Good. And it would be utterly ridiculous to base any kind of opinion of the film because of this; yes, the important things are the characters and story, and if the effects still look great, it’s not a problem. (Indeed, take a look at the section on Re-mastering series I in Time Hole – the concept of the new ship is bad, but technically, the model looks great – a fair indication of the quality of the model shots in the movie.) And besides, the movie hasn’t even started production yet – it’s utterly pointless to say that the film will be crap before it’s bloody released (and we feel a lot of people could learn from this. Ahem.) And yet, using a variation of the Re-mastered ship does seem to take away an important element from the show; and we are worried if this is symptomatic of the way the movie is being produced. Of course, the movie shouldn’t be the same as the TV series; but to fail to capture the very essence of the ship seems to us to be a major problem. Red Dwarf with boosters? Fuck off. It would be naive in the extreme to expect Red Dwarf to look exactly how it did originally – indeed, a major redesign wouldn’t have been a problem. But a redesign that kept the original concept of the ship, as detailed superbly in Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers, would have been far preferable to one that just looks like your bog-standard flashy spaceship. I mean, come on – which looks more like a mining ship – the Re-mastered version, or the original? Indeed, the same could be said of Blue Midget.

Don’t get us wrong. The movie will be great. Trust us. But let’s hope that the movie captures the spirit, if not the letter, of the show and of the books. To us, the replacement of Red Dwarf is akin to putting Craig Bierko in the role of Lister. And nobody wants that.

FOOTNOTE: Since this article was written, Andrew Ellard (Associate Producer of the DVDs, Script Editor on the upcoming Movie, and maintainer of the official site) has stated the following on the TOS Webboard:

Don’t imagine that a product will look like it’s preview art. We’ll post on the main site when the
product is ready and not before.

You might want to wait until they’ve been approved by GNP…

Could we have it all wrong? Could the design be more like the original ship, or failing that, a completely new design? We can but hope that either these are very early preliminary designs, or that people have changed their minds about what form the Movie ship will take. We hope we’re completely wrong, and this article has a false premise. Please?

LEASEHOLDER’S ADDENDUM (29/12/04): So, the Corgi models have eventually arrived. And the version of Red Dwarf was indeed the re-mastered version. See our review for more on that.

It’s wise to remember, however, that all may not be lost here. Yes, as noted above, the Corgi models were originally intended as a tie-in to the Movie. And yes, the Movie storyboards on TOS use a version of the Re-mastered ship. But so much time has elapsed since the Movie was planned to start production – and we’ve been told there have been script changes since then. When the Movie finally gets made, we can hope that GNP have listened to the fans – and that an all-new ship design will debut, that will be in the spirit of the original design.

…PLEASE, DAMN YOU.

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