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Back to the future
– a lockdown story


The pandemic was a very challenging time for many businesses. In one respect we were quite lucky. We were able to continue working from home, remote working is common practice for us anyway. We were also blessed with a steady enough stream of work, though things were noticeably less manic than the incredibly busy period we had just prior to the world grinding to a halt.

The lockdowns gave us the one thing we had been struggling to find, a bit of downtime and breathing space to revisit some previous projects, and even try something new. After all, when you’ve taken your dogs for so many walks around the park they’re running to hide when you reach for the lead, and all your DVDs, CDs and food cupboard contents are organised into alphabetical order, you need something else productive to do.

We believe that any spare time should be used to hone our skills, and let’s face it, keeping busy helps to distract you from the utter madness going on beyond your front door. We don’t often have the luxury of a decent amount of time to spend on R&D, so we decided to revisit a couple of older projects with a fresh approach, and set about bringing new to life an idea we had filed away many years ago…

Doctor Who Series 8 Opening Titles (Studio Version)

We had always intended to revisit our Doctor Who title sequence. As a collaborative project with BBC Wales, it was inevitable that the end piece deviated somewhat from the initial vision. After creative direction from the executive producers our original concept evolved into a draft TV version, and once these designs were delivered to BBC Wales Graphics they were developed further at the build stage.

For years we had been thinking about the ‘what if’ scenario. If we had full creative control and had taken our vision forward from concept through to completion, what would it have looked like? Even if it had been our solo project, things would undoubtedly have evolved between storyboarding and build as ideas and techniques were refined. We now had the time to find out.

We set a few ground rules. We would take on board the changes the executive producers originally requested (with one notable exception). We would only use technologies that were available to us in 2014 and we would present it with the official series 8 theme by Murry Gold – we were originally briefed to use the series 1 (Eccleston) theme.

The notable exception mentioned above is a simple one. The primary cast names had to appear during the cog tunnel section at the start of the sequence. That’s what it was designed for, and our opinion was that the sequence felt a little flat and empty without them. That decision was taken out of our hands back in the day, and we always felt the official sequence suffered a little because of it. Having the names later in the sequence seemed to be a decision based partly on ‘that’s the way it’s always been’, and partly on a desire to be able to easily add in extra names if required. We have reinstated them to the place we always wanted them to be.

The Studio Version has evolved in other ways too. We’ve used a broader colour palette than either our original or the official sequence used. The clock face segment is now bookended by cogs, we’ve used a new image of Capaldi’s face, and added a portal behind the planets in the final section. It’s still very much based on our original ‘Journey Through Time and Space’, but we feel that it is a far more consistent and visually enjoyable sequence.

Doctor Who Series 13 Original Concept

It would seem that even if you’re not a fan, once you’ve worked on Doctor Who it gets under your skin. We had another itch we wanted to scratch, and this one dated back to 2013, when we were brainstorming ideas for our Capaldi title sequence. We never got to explore it at the time, but the other direction we considered taking with the sequence was ‘Journey from the Centre of the TARDIS.’ Although ultimately we never moved forward with the idea, our possible ‘journey through an impossible machine’ was mooted in a production meeting and had found favour with executive producer Steven Moffat.
We felt it was an exciting idea to have the majority of the sequence take place within the TARDIS, only exiting into a traditional spacescape within the closing seconds. Nothing like it has been done in the show’s history, so it was idea we were keen to play with. As it was a completely new project, we decided this would be a contemporary piece. Part of the challenge was to design a sequence that felt part of the production design for Jodie Whittaker’s era, and in keeping with the original branding used in pre-launch promotion for series 11. Something we noticed about the official titles for Jodie’s run was that while in some ways it represented a modern take on some of the classic era titles, without the theme tune and the logo it had absolutely no visual connection to either the show or any promotional material. With brand integrity at the heart of what we do, we needed the sequence to reflect the Whittaker era aesthetic.
Beginning within the core of the TARDIS, we fly outwards, up through the console room, and exit through the light on the top of the police box before the TARDIS shoots backwards and the logo builds. We experimented with the concepts of mirroring and refraction, and found inspiration in some of the design output from ElasticTV, particularly their opening titles for His Dark Materials. Inspiration was also found in the works of installation artist Olafur Eliasson.
On the whole, we are pleased with the finished result. It’s another unique take on the Doctor Who titles, very different to our concept for Capaldi, and in keeping with the Whittaker era branding. It can be a challenge to write a brief for your own creative projects, particularly when you seek to add an extra layer of complexity to your art by giving it meaning and purpose beyond it’s decorative qualities.

Seven Kings Must Die teaser

The original idea for our final lockdown project was to revisit our pitch boards for television series The Last Kingdom. As the show had aired multiple series, we decided that rather than looking back, it was a better idea to look forwards and create a promotional piece for the upcoming movie-length special Seven Kings Must Die. This piece aligns well with the direction we’re heading as a business, so seemed a perfect vehicle for us.
Stylistically, we took our lead from other promotional materials for The Last Kingdom, and also the end frames from Huge Designs’ title sequence. We refined the emblem that appears within the word Kingdom in the official titles, and created an exciting and meaningful animation designed to reflect elements of the story’s narrative.
We used fire, often used in The Last Kingdom’s promotional material, to create a sense of danger and intrigue. The stone cross rising from the earth is a Celtic symbol of the period, and represents the rise of Christianity from Paganism. The emerald-studded crown formed from the ring of stone crosses represents King Alfred. Seven bloody crowns then fall to the ground, symbolising the fall of the other kings. Finally, the Roman numeral VI is shown as the title forms, informing us that this is the sixth instalment of the story.

What the future holds

Now that life once again feels (relatively) normal, and we enjoy the freedoms that only a couple of years ago we never imagined we’d be without, we can reflect on the two positives to emerge from lockdown. Not only did it give us precious time to create new promotional material for Motionworks, it also gave us valuable perspective. Seek projects that positively challenge you, are fun to work on and ultimately those you feel passionate about.