Complete Guide


Visual effects guru Peter Wragg

Peter Wragg headed up the BBC's visual effects team on Red Dwarf, and began work in the true Grant Naylor tradition by sitting down in a pub and discussing ideas. The Red Dwarf ship featured a scoop at the front (intended to suck in gasses from space to provide the ship's power) and a meteorite imbedded in its side.

Red Dwarf

Red Dwarf was, in the first season, shown mostly cruising through space. This traditional effect was accomplished with a motion control camera (which is programmed to repeat a specifically designed movement), with the starscape backgrounds added as a matte.

Harder to pull off was the title sequence shot of Lister painting the ship, the camera pulling back until we see the entire ship. Three separate elements were filmed to achieve this: a shot of Craig Charles, in a space suit, painting a large red panel; a large version of part of the Red Dwarf legend (actually just the last R and F) printed on the ship's side; and the main ship model itself.

It's cold outside... There's no kind of atmosphere...

The footage of Lister painting was back-projected into the large letters very effectively. Unfortunately, it proved impossible to match this section to the main ship, forcing the editors to do a dissolve to Red Dwarf in space instead. (The attempt to join the shots can, however, actually be glimpsed in the original title sequence, just before the dissolve, if you look closely).

Red Dwarf also faced the onslaught of a dust storm, accomplished by dropping dust onto the upended ship from above and shooting at a sideways angle. All the model effects were filmed on 35mm film in order to slow it down, giving the illusion that these 'miniatures' (the Red Dwarf model was actually a healthy 8 feet in length) were actually much larger and heavier.

From miniatures to life-sized models - the skutters. The two radio-controlled droids were sophisticated for their day... although this didn't stop them picking up minicab transmissions and launching an attack on the unsuspecting groin of Chris Barrie! For the skutters' 'hand' gestures, gloves were made up to look like the robots' heads - the transition was seamless... as long as they were shot in close-up.

Biggest of all was the full-sized Confidence replica - essentially an inflated dummy filled with wreckage that would blow out when a high-pressure blast burst the dummy. As the explosion settled, worried crew members were concerned for Craig Charles, who seemed to be in pain. As it turned out, he was only acting - what a pro.

Away from the models, Peter and the editors put together split-screen sequences for the first season. Chris Barrie was shown exercising and conversing with himself for Me2 (multiple takes on the exercise scene exhausting the poor Rimmer actor), although confusion in the edit over the cinema scene meant that, when a small action was cut, the two Rimmers essentially swapped places!

Talking to your dead self: the first sign of madness?

Multiple takes found Craig Charles facing increasing difficulties from the split-screen, and he is seen in the final version leaning heavily to one side to avoid crossing the line. Craig fared better playing his own future selves - in one case complete with eye-patch and robotic arm - in split-screen sequences for Future Echoes.

Confidence and Paranoia's split-screen trick also showed The Mayor of Warsaw approaching Rimmer and spontaneously combusting - the screen was split in order that one of the show's main cast members avoid being singed. Presumably, an eyebrow-less Rimmer was considered less effective. The explosion was carried out as a separate element and cut in at the key moment. (There is in fact another brief split screen trick in Future Echoes - where Lister talks to Rimmer's echo.)

The death of captain Hollister in Me2, filmed alongside the first episode to save Mac McDonald having to return, was accomplished by shooting debris at the actor while wheeling him back on a trolley. Rimmer's fate in the same scene simply showed him writhing on the floor, although a snow-globe featuring a miniature Red Dwarf can be seen dropping symbolically from Hollister's desk.

One effect rejected very early on involved Rimmer's status as a hologram. The possibility had been mooted of making him transparent, but it was decided that this would impede Chris Barrie's interaction with the cast. He could also have been made black and white - which would have involved painting the actor green - but this was thankfully voted down as well.

Finally, there was the effect that didn't make the cut. The disposal hatch for The End's cremation pods was manufactured from a flip-top bin and, while McIntyre's ashes are correctly disposed of, a second scene showing Lister ejecting the rest of the crew's ashes into space was not included in the final edit.

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