Mike Tucker is one cog in the genius machine that is (was) the BBC VisFX department, and has worked on Red Dwarf since the first series. Apart from seeing his name on screen in form of a nice in-joke (the manufacturer of Kryten’s Psi-Scan is ‘Tucker Enterprises’) Mike has also appeared in an episode of Red Dwarf and Kryten’s love-blob, Camille; but his acting was limited to wheeling around on an office chair, wearing a blob suit.
Here follows a brief discussion in which Mike talks about how he started in the trade all the way through to the possibility of a book on his career.
What did your interest in models and Vis FX stem from?
I’ve always had an interest in model making – airfix kits and lego etc – and as I got older I started to film some of these models on my dad’s standard eight film camera. I was also a huge fan of Blake’s 7, Thunderbirds, the Sinbad films, 50′s sci-fi movies – so it was a logical choice to end up in the effects business really.
What was the first job you got in the Vis FX business?
My first day in the BBC effects department was building a giant ashtray and spliff for a documentary about John Lennon, but I swiftly moved on to shows like Alice in Wonderland and Dr Who.
How did you first find yourself working on Red Dwarf?
Assistants were allocated to individual designers on a show by show basis. When Red Dwarf came into the department no-one really knew what it was meant to be, but I was allocated to Peter Wragg and did some work on the Scutter designs and the motion control shoot of the Red Dwarf itself.
What techniques did you use to get the most out of your budget for Red Dwarf?
We were always looking backwards at older television shows for inspiration. Because Peter Wragg was on the Century 21 team during Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlett, we ended up using a lot of old techniques from those shows.
Have you always had a fondness of blowing things up or does it hurt to see months of work get vaporised in seconds?
I think all effects men like the buzz you get from pyrotechnics, and no, we never shed a tear over these models – as long as the film comes out all right!!
If you could choose, what is the one creation you are most proud of from your career?
That’s tricky because the jobs I’ve had have been so varied. I’ve very proud of the work we did on ‘Raging Planet’ for Channel 4 because the challenges were tricky and the final result so good, I’m also very happy with the 999 I co-designed with Tony Auger which was nominated for an RTS award.
What sort of creative process is involved with building a model like Red Dwarf and Starbug , and how long does a typical model or model set take to build?
It depends how much the ship is going to be featured. Something like the ‘Bug gets a lot of time and effort put into it because it’s on screen a lot, other ships might be flung together in a matter of days. A good example id Ace Rimmer’s original ship at the start of Dimension Jump – that took five days to put together once the design was approved.
What led to the decision to use the new, elongated, version of Red Dwarf for Series VIII and the Re-Mastered episodes?
That came from the production. We submitted a number of alternative Red Dwarf designs and they chose the one they liked.
How has your career moved on since the dissolution of the BBC Vis FX department?
It’s been a strange year adjusting to a slightly different way of working. I now run a small model effects unit allied to the BBC digital effects facility, but I’ve also done a lot of work with external CG houses like The Moving Picture Company, The Mill and Rushes. Miniature work seems to be in vogue at present and the run of jobs I’ve got lined up is very exciting.
What projects are you currently working on and who are you currently working with?
I’m afraid I’m going to have to be a little closed lipped about the exact nature of the projects that I’m involved with at present – but I do have a number of my old colleagues from ‘Dwarf’ working alongside me, notably Peter Tyler, Nick Kool and Alan ‘Rocky’ Marshall.
Can you tell us more about your planned book?
The book is something I’ve been trying to get off the ground for ages. The plan is for it to be a behind the scenes look at the effects for the first seven series – with the bulk of the photos and drawings coming from series 3 – 6. Problem is finding a publisher who will do it justice… Time will tell on that one!
You are a regular guest at the Fan Club’s Dimension Jump weekends; do you plan to carry on these visits in the future and is there a chance of someone like Peter Wragg joining you one year?
Jane and the rest of the gang treat me so well, and I have such a laugh that you’d be hard pushed keeping me away! Quite a few of the effects guys are interested in coming along next year, so perhaps we should form a posse!