On The Menu

Electric Switched On - by Andrew Ellard

30 August, 2002

With DVD still such a youthful medium, it's hard to imagine describing a DVD company as having an illustrious history - but Electric Switch are such a company. Having worked on everything from The World is Not Enough, Sleepy Hollow and Chicken Run to Kevin & Perry, The Wicker Man and Memento, the team at Switch have now turned their attentions to Red Dwarf to create bottom-kicking menus that will have fans more excited than Kryten on laundry day.

On The Menu

Reddwarf.co.uk spoke to Jonathan Cheesmur, DVD producer for Electric Switch, about the designs. "Our concept was to allow the user to feel that they were inside the ship and could move around its various environments," he told us. "The Drive Room offered us the ideal location for the main menu, and you navigate by selecting options from the control desk."

As play begins, the camera tracks past Red Dwarf and enters an airlock on the side of the ship. Inside, we come to the Drive Room which holds the main menu options. The original series sets have been recreated in CGI. "Martin Birch prepared storyboards and animatics so that Grant Naylor could approve the direction in which we were heading. These progressed to on-screen designs before Milenne Tanganelli spent many painstaking weeks meticulously modelling the environments in 3D. Once the rooms had been built and populated with 3D Red Dwarf paraphernalia, it was over to our Inferno Operator Phil Valentine to add the special effects."

The final menu set-up includes the main Drive Room menu, leading down corridors and into elevators to find the episode and extras sections - housed in the Stasis Booths and Bunkroom respectively. All this was, of course, based on extensive study of the programme. "Our starting point was to immerse ourselves in Red Dwarf and to re-capture the overall look and feel of the series... Milenne, needed to have an extensive knowledge of the Red Dwarf sets. She watched every episode a number of times, each time looking for different elements."

On The Menu

"First she tried to establish an approximate floor plan of the spaceship, which we adapted for the DVD menu. Our aim was to be as true to the original plan as possible, but also to keep the layout simplistic so that navigation was not overly complicated. On her second viewing she was looking for colours and general distribution of objects - the Drive Room control desk, Bunkroom beds, Holly Hop Drive etc. More viewings were needed to gauge the textures. These textures were grabbed and cut out from the show, cleaned, manipulated and applied to our 3D model. Using the grabs we could also define a colour palette. Mostly shades of grey! The final watchthrough was to check the lighting and shadows so that this could be emulated in her 3D environments and made to look natural."

On The Menu

Although both series use essentially the same sets, effort has been made to make each menu belong to its relative series. "We have made the menus for each series unique by modelling series-specific stage props. Grant Naylor provided us with a list of objects that could be used as selectable icons - or just be there as set dressing; white powder, ash canisters, cowboy and Indian skutters, etc." They have also been 'lit' differently, each in line with the style of its own series.

With all the work that has gone in, what has been the most fun aspect? "Definitely, the skutters. At first we planned to have a skutter moving through the set, just as a bit of fun. But then once the skutters had been modelled and animated they really came to life and deserved more prominence within the menus."

On The Menu

In these sneak preview images, a skutter can even be seen holding a sign for the bonus The End commentary track! "The skutters' role has developed into a DVD host, showing you clues, doors and lifts. They lead you down the corridors and make the user aware of the space within the menu environment. They are also very cute."

Finally, has any thought been given to the later series menus? "Not yet. We need to have a weekend off before we start thinking about the next series!"

The exhaustive work has really paid off, creating high-class menus to be proud of. At a recent visit to Switch HQ, Doug Naylor looked at the animated skutter - gliding easily through the 3D sets, never once attacking the groin of an actor thanks to mini-cab radio interference - and asked, "Where were you guys in 1988?"

More DVD Details will follow soon...

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