Monday, 30 May 2011

VFX: The Story Of The BBC Visual Effects Department

Written by Mat Irvine and Mike Tucker

Published by BBC Books, 2010.

Review: This book details the forty-nine year history of the BBC’s Visual Effects Department, giving the reader an overview of the department as well as detailing the standard techniques used. The introduction is very interesting at times, but the techniques section gets quite boring, as a lot of the information included is standard and usually well-known to the readers of such a specialist book. My recommendation is to jump ahead to the main crux of the book, returning to read these sections later on.

VFX: Cover art

The bulk of this book is under the title of ‘Showcase’, where our authors have picked out fifty shows taken on by the VFX department over the course of almost fifty years. The shows are incredibly diverse from ‘Doctor Who’ (classic and new) and ‘Blake’s 7’ to ‘The Goodies’ and ‘Horizon’, each story gives you a view into the fantastic world of visual effects. Obviously some passages are better than others, usually the ones I wasn’t expecting to be great were the ones I was gripped on.

What this book is brilliant at, is making me want to watch fifty years worth of BBC television, especially now I know some of the tricks behind it. ‘Five Children And It’ looks fantastic, as does ‘The Chronicles Of Narnia’, (which I remember some of from my childhood), even non-fiction shows such as ‘Horizon’ and ‘Arena’. It’s clear the people working for this department cared about every shows they worked on, putting in a ridiculous amount of work on over two thousand shows.

One of the biggest problems with this book is that there’s no way it can be long enough to go into the detail it needs to. This ‘coffee-table’ book already clocks in at almost 250 pages but it could easily be twice as many pages and just as interesting. Even without adding in more shows, giving just two pages to some programmes is a crime that sadly can’t be rectified.

I already hold the work of Barry Letts in high esteem, but this book carries a lot of his work, making me want to hunt out many more television programmes he directed or produced. In this book alone we get CSO looks at ‘Alice In Wonderland’, ‘Moonbase 3’ and ‘The Invisible Man’.

Sadly there’s very little on Letts’ ‘Doctor Who’ work, the entire section for this show being somewhat of a disappointment. Jon Pertwee is spelt ‘John Pertwee’ at one point and the writers also make the grievous error of stating the TARDIS exterior has never changed.

The technical blurbs can get heavy handed at times and finding the order of the pictures is sometimes hard to work out, but overall this is a brilliant book, very interesting at most times and gives me a new found respect for the BBC’s Visual Effect Department. This book does go to prove how underated their work has always been, especially by the BBC themselves, let alone certain unnamed directors relying on the VFX for their own success.

Whilst still remaining a ‘specialist’ book, this carries an interest for fans of Doctor Who or just television in general. Once you’ve read it, you’ll understand the workings of television in a whole new way, appreciating it a lot more.

Authors Mike Tucker & Mat Irvine pose with a Dalek

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