Sigh. This is one of the most depressing news stories I’ve had to write in a while. This issue’s Private Eye (and we’ve had it confirmed from other sources) has the sad news that the BBC Model Unit, headed by Mike Tucker, is being closed down this September, as it is not “financially sustainable” – which is what also happened to its predecessor, the BBC VFX Department, which closed in 2003. This is despite its sterling work on Doctor Who, as well as many other programmes, particularly documentaries. Indeed, Mike (along with Steve Bowman) was nominated for a Visual Effects BAFTA for the miniature work on The Brighton Bomb.
Sadly, from what we gather, the story is even more stupid than Private Eye suggests. Apparently, it was the 3D graphics department which made the loss – the Model Unit actually made a substantial profit. But as the Model Unit was allied to the 3D unit at BBC Post Production, it’s been tarred with the same brush, and so Mike has been made redundant as well. Sigh. Even forgetting the years of heritage of BBC model work – it was making a profit! Madness.
The bright news is that Tucker is now looking for his own premises – and the BBC has said that the Model Unit team is welcome to reapply for freelance work. (And don’t forget that it was a team that produced the work – as well as Mike Tucker, there’s Peter Tyler, Nick Kool and Alan ‘Rocky’ Marshall, amongst others.) And let’s hope that one day, more TV companies and producers will realise that whilst CGI has its place, that good old-fashioned physical model work can still produce superior results in a lot of circumstances.