Casting The Net Wide

The story behind the production of

Back in 1998, just as production of series VIII was underway, Red Dwarf Online was launched to expectant fans. Created by, amongst others, Tessa Glover, Andy Spence and Emma Westacott, the original version of this site had many features which fans would expect - fan club information, episode and character guides, picture gallery as well as the latest news.

Casting The Net Wide

Fans who attended the recordings of series VIII were shown the Red Dwarf Online logo on monitors before filming began - but with an added warning that if they divulged details of the story on the web, the Inquisitor would remove them from existence!

As series VIII went through post-production, exciting preview clips were made available for download. The awesome Star Wars-parodying trailer and the Cat's dance sequence with Blue Midget became some of the first moments from the new season to be seen by the fans. Thousands took the chance to take a look. At the end of January, the site's counter stood at 46,000 - by the end of February it stood at 92,000, and on March 31st it stood at 138,000!

Skip forward to the beginning of the year 2000. Grant Naylor have seen the success of the original site, but also noticed just how much more could be done. It is decided to shake the whole thing up, take down 'Red Dwarf Online' and launch '' - same address, whole new site.

Development is slow at first, with initial designers Clockwork Web providing website concepts that mimic too much the current state of play - white text on black backgrounds, etc. - rather than pushing the innovation envelope. Fortunately, Red Dwarf has, in its time, made friends with some of the most talented computer bods in the business - Chris Veale and Simon Burchell being two of them.

Having worked on the previous series of Red Dwarf - Chris as CGI effects designer, Simon as post-production co-ordinator - the two technical wizards knew the style the show demanded and set to work on a brand new design based on the 'Express Elevator' concept. (Changing 'lift' to 'elevator' - the site, after all, would be international!)

20 decks were created, included some empty ones to accommodate later additions. The entire navigation system was operated with the powerful Flash animation package - which also provided the very first Red Dwarf computer game, Polymorph, available to download free of charge.

Casting The Net Wide - taking its name from the URL address to distinguish it from Red Dwarf Online - was also destined to feature the return of an old favourite. In an inspired move, Doug Naylor resurrected Mr Flibble to do the celebrity interviews alongside writer and site co-ordinator Andrew Ellard (who also wrote new comedy material for the Space Corps Database). With the database, shop and webboard sections added to the familiar (but renamed) Red Hot News and Image Bank, it only remained to provide some new and exclusive images.

Casting The Net Wide

Industry-renowned storyboard artist Sylvain Despretz had been at the Shepperton Studios the previous year working on Ridley Scott's Gladiator. Not to miss an opportunity, Grant Naylor were quick to offer Sylvain a two-week commission to provide six images, each based on one of Red Dwarf's main characters.

Casting The Net Wide

Following the success of Chloë Annett's appearance in the January 2000 issue of FHM, photographer Adam Barnes was also commissioned to provide a dozen pictures of the sexy actress for release on the site in December. Finally, everything was ready for the launch - coinciding with Dimension Jump 2000, the perfect opportunity to give a preview to the fans.

Picture the scene. It's ridiculously early on a Saturday morning in November, and's representative is up to take delivery of a massive projection screen. Said representative is somewhat 'tired', having been representing the site into the early hours. In the bar. With lager.

Fighting the double whammy of a hangover and being forced to follow the awesome Mac McDonald onto the stage, the gentleman in question does his best to show the site to the audience without actually getting himself noticed. Still, there were a few oohs and aahs at the Red Hot News - though whether this was down to exhausted fans with stiff necks or not is hard to gauge.

In November 2000, this site was the first to absolutely confirm that the TV show's cast would be participating in Red Dwarf - The Movie, that Chris Barrie had snagged a part in Tomb Raider, and that scientific research at the University of Wolverhampton had proven that watching Red Dwarf could actually improve your immune system. And that was just in the first week...

The site went live a week later, and more than 40,000 users arrived in the first week to see what all the fuss was about. The fuss, as it turned out, was about a site that updated every Friday lunchtime with news and brand new interviews. A site that had the latest movie news before anyone else because it was based in the Red Dwarf production office. Website ratings were huge, and stayed that way. now takes around 4,000 users every day - over 120,000 a month.

In June, 2001 the site had a wee revamp, condensing the content into 10 decks to make things easier to find and prioritising the Red Dwarf Shop and the soon to be vital Movie Deck. The bandwidth-heavy Flash system was excised, with the Express Elevator buttons also given a polish - just in time for a two-week downtime and a change of server; an event that became known as 'The Red Out' on the webboard!

Casting The Net Wide

Along the way there have been some fascinating mishaps. The writer who went to entirely the wrong address in entirely the wrong part of London to interview Howard Goodall. The competition winning fan who had no idea that his prize included Mr Flibble turning up on his doorstep. Not to mention the frantic examination of the Chloë photoshoot to make sure the nipples weren't too prominent. Several man-hours were put in on that one, I can tell you.

Casting The Net Wide

Developments on the website have been constant. On April 6, 2001 we gave fans the first look at the movie proper with an exclusive storyboard from the pre-production process. Every week, another board - plucked from a random point in the movie - was shown.

Casting The Net Wide

On July 13th Mr Flibble was given every other week off as the Time Hole section took readers behind the scenes of Red Dwarf. A new season of stories and anecdotes was included every fortnight - a trend which is currently continuing with the monthly Down Time article.

Casting The Net Wide

And on the other week Mr Flibble has off? What else could we do but resurrect Talkie Toaster for his very own interview slot, Toaster Talking. Rather than compete with the penguin's real-life interviews, Talkie interviews characters from the show - particularly those with only short appearances - and asks them the really important questions. Mostly ones about the heating of bread...

The future for is currently very rosy red indeed. This will be the official site for Red Dwarf - The Movie, included in the publicity campaign that will herald the film's arrival in cinemas. It will also carry an exclusive Making Of section, with unparalleled access to the entire production.

Casting The Net Wide

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