The FX of "Silence in the Library"

Here’s a taster from the latest SFX Special, which features a 28-page, picture-packed supplement on the FX of Doctor Who season four, complete with an all-new interview with The Mill’s David Houghton as he talks you through each episode. For more information on the latest SFX Special, click here .

In this extract, Houghton talks about the Steven Moffat two-parter "Silence in the Library"/"Forest of the Dead":

SFX: Steven Moffat’s two-parter opened with some of the most gorgeous establishing FX shots ever seen in Doctor Who. Presumably with the library being such an integral part of the story, rather than just a backdrop, you could afford to spend more time on it?

Dave Houghton: “Yeah, and apart from the library itself, Steven didn’t write in too much else that needed a lot of attention. So yeah, we had the time and resources to lavish a bit more care and attention on it. And as you say, it was used for more than just establishing shots. You saw a lot of it, so it needed to look good.”

SFX: How did you develop the design of the library?

Dave Houghton: “Initially, we went down a wrong route with the library. Russell was keen to see books in the architecture. I think Russell had given us a guideline based on the graphics from You’ve Been Framed. That has this animated graphic between the fuzzy phone camera shots of kids falling over, which is like a landscape made of video tapes.He wanted that, but with books, which we tried to get, but it just didn’t look right. The buildings were made of massive books, like the architect had actually made the buildings out of giant hardbacks.

“So we started off doing a very Escher-like environment with twisting staircases made of books, but it felt a bit Disney. A bit fairytale. So eventually we decided that wasn’t the route to go down after spending quite a lot of time developing it. Instead we stuck to the core things that were needed in the script, which were the index rooms. So around that we created almost open-air bookshelves so you do get that sense that you’re in a library. And also buildings that reflected the interiors that we were shooting in.

“Simon Wicker, our matte painter did a great job, creating it all in 3D. Although it was just 2.5D again to be honest. 2.5D can bend through surprisingly big camera movements. And you do really get a scale of the place. It was real fun to do that. And again, a nice dark script – it actually reminded me of a comic strip that Colin Baker wrote a few years back [The Age of Chaos from 1994– trivia ed]. It was one of those rare episodes where we really were setting the tone of the environment, but where the environment had to fit with the interiors while still feeling alien.”

SFX: Did you sneak in any in-jokes into the detail of matte painting?

Dave Houghton: “You’d have to ask Simon that. Not that I know of. There were plans at one point to have gigantic statues of famous writers around the place, such as Shakespeare, but we didn’t have time in the end. We had about three weeks to do the whole lot.”

SFX: Were you called upon to provide any CG fixes in this story? Those little favours you do when things don’t go quite to plan?

Dave Houghton: “One of the things that you probably wouldn’t realise was our work was enhancing the skull faces at certain points. When the practical skull heads dropped towards the helmets’ visors, it didn’t really work when they tried to film it live. They couldn’t get the blackout to work, so we had to do all that.”

SFX: And yet another teleport.

Dave Houghton: “That was a really nice teleport effect. It was a really subtle but sophicticated 3D particle effect, which I was really pleased with.”

SFX: And you also dusted down a few old effects from a previous Steven Moffat-penned story.

Dave Houghton: “Yeah, we re-introduced a few things from season one in that. The squareness gun and Jack’s tunnel – you know, that was based on the tractor beam from “The Doctor Dances”. Steven wrote both of them so I guess he was revisiting the special effects for continuity, to make the link that it was the same technology. But what that actually means in the bigger picture – whether it helps explain who River is – I’m as in the dark about as anyone else.”

SFX: Presumably you had a hand in creating the spooky shadows as well?

Dave Houghton: “We helped out with a lot of the shadow shots. Occasionally the production team did it for real. I mean, if you stick a couple of lamps up you’ve got a couple of shadows so you don’t need us. But the shadows in the wider shots tended to be us.”

The Special also has a cover specially created for SFX by The Mill which is available inside in all it's word-free glory (below)!