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Their brilliant new careers (2010)

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Their brilliant new careers: G2 challenged 10 writers to see if they could cut it in their dream jobs. How would they fare on work experience as an army officer, a plumber or a vet?: Special effects artist, £20,000

Watching Jon Pertwee's features magically melting into those of Tom Baker in Doctor Who: Planet of the Spiders is one of my earliest and most formative memories, so I can't quite believe what's happening on an unseasonably mild November morning in central London. "Here's the script for the Christmas Day episode," says Will Cohen, head of TV at the Mill visual effects company in central London. "Read it and have a think about how you'd tackle the effects."

I hunker down on a sofa, almost too excited to concentrate. I and my colleagues for the day - 60 "cool nerds" overwhelmingly in their 20s and 30s - are crammed together in a surprisingly dark and stuffy attic, working on the special effects for various television projects. Jabberwoks, dragons and Tardises are lurching, snarling and spinning on the banks of PCs running an array of specialist software with names such as Maya, Shake and Nuke.

I'm intrigued by an early scene in my script where John Simm's The Master makes his entrance in a "vortex of light". In an editing suite, Marie Jones, the producer responsible for ensuring Doctor Who's digital effects are up to scratch and finished on time, loads up an early edit of the scene; one put together before the effects have been added. The actual shot is almost finished; it took various artists at the Mill a combined total of 90 days on their computers to put together the vortex. The artists use specialist software to create the vortex and then the actors' movements have to be painstakingly mapped out on the computer so the streams of light can interact with them. (Nearly 1,200 working days went into the digital effects for the final two David Tennant episodes that were shown over Christmas.) Marie admits that her job is essentially managing a hugely complex logistical task.

I feel I'm more the obsessive artist/ nerd type, so after lunch I hook up with Simon Wicker, who, on the computer, "paints" backgrounds of alien planets and other scenery, on to which the actors are later placed. I'm not so much envious of him as murderously jealous - he stole the life I was supposed to have.

A life-long Doctor Who obsessive and Star Wars fan, Wicker worked on the effects of Gladiator. After they won an Oscar for the Mill, he was hired to work on the new Star Wars films - "I thought it was a wind-up when they first called" - and went to the US. When he returned, the new Doctor Who was just starting up. "I'd knocked off one of my obsessions, so I thought I should tackle another," he says.

Is it too late for me to change career? Maybe not. Cohen says that London is in such demand as a centre for CG effects that he can't hire enough good people. Many do specialist courses - at places such as computer animation school Escape Studios - before spending a couple of years as "runners". It is not completely unheard of, though, for people just to start at the bottom and work their way up - you can learn on the job. While we're taking pictures, I chat with Marie and correct her over a plot point. The photographer looks at me in horror. "Jesus," she says. "You know more about Doctor Who than the people who make it." Maybe there's such a thing as being too obsessed.

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  • APA 6th ed.: Walker, Maxton (2010-01-04). Their brilliant new careers. The Guardian p. 5.
  • MLA 7th ed.: Walker, Maxton. "Their brilliant new careers." The Guardian [add city] 2010-01-04, 5. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: Walker, Maxton. "Their brilliant new careers." The Guardian, edition, sec., 2010-01-04
  • Turabian: Walker, Maxton. "Their brilliant new careers." The Guardian, 2010-01-04, section, 5 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Their brilliant new careers | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Their_brilliant_new_careers | work=The Guardian | pages=5 | date=2010-01-04 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=24 April 2019 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Their brilliant new careers | url=http://cuttingsarchive.org/index.php/Their_brilliant_new_careers | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=24 April 2019}}</ref>