How one designer’s fan art became the new Doctor Who title sequence

The latest series of Doctor Who, which began on BBC One last night, features a new title sequence devised by Leeds motion graphic designer Billy Hanshaw, who was commissioned after his self-initiated take on the show’s opening became a YouTube hit…

The latest series of Doctor Who began on BBC One last night and features a new title sequence devised by Leeds motion graphic designer Billy Hanshaw, who was commissioned after his self-initiated take on the show’s opening became a YouTube hit…

While titles for the previous series of Doctor Who took inspiration from the solar system, the new sequence guides viewers through space and time, from the spinning cogs of the Doctor’s famous watch and into an Escher-inspired never-ending clock face.

The sequence is based on a concept which Hanshaw uploaded to YouTube as a portfolio piece last September, and was brought to the attention of the show’s producers after it received more than 500,000 views on YouTube. We spoke to Hanshaw about how his self-initiated fan art became a part of one of Britain’s best-loved TV shows…

The new sequence is described as “a journey through space and time.” Could you tell us a little more about the concept?

I think the whole concept of time travel is surreal. The titles still evoke that feeling, which was very much a core concept of the YouTube version I posted online last September.

It seemed to me that the Steampunk aesthetic really chimed with the way the show was progressing and I wanted to hint at that with the creative approach.  Steven Moffat calls it a radical change. I know that the show has a long history of tradition, especially when it comes to the title sequence. Sometimes, holding on to this can stifle creativity as there’s nowhere else left to go, so I went ahead and did something outside of those boundaries.

And why did you decide to create your own take on the Doctor Who title sequence last year?

It was designed as a portfolio piece, even though it’s a bit rough round the edges, [and] was created in spare time. Corporate presentations and TV spots often don’t allow you to craft something like this, so if you don’t go ahead and create personal work, you’ll never be able to show what you can do. Sites like Youtube are a great platform for creative expression. There’s a massive audience out there and if you can tap into something which is already huge in terms of followers, then you stand a chance of getting noticed.

How long did the original version take to make?

It was storyboarded, designed and built over the space of four weeks – but in reality there’s probably about ten days work in it, including render times

Stills from Hanshaw’s concept storyboard

Did you publicise it anywhere other than on YouTube?

Initially it was only on YouTube.  Vimeo and Behance came later. I didn’t tweet about it or publicise it in anyway, however. After all, it was for me to show to prospective clients.

The hit rate on the video was incredible, far exceeding my expectations. Radio Times picked up on it, asking if the BBC could top it. The Huffington Post followed suit. I was amazed.

How were you contacted by the BBC?

It was actually Brian Minchin [Steven Moffast’s co-executive producer] who got in touch first via Linkedin. To be honest I thought it was a wind-up. So I asked him politely via a message if there was anything I could help him with, knowing full well who he was.

He said that both Steven and himself were huge fans of the YouTube sequence and would I like to help them out with the series eight titles … it’s the kind of offer you don’t think twice about. I had joked with my writer / producer colleague about whether Steven Moffat would have seen the initial concept before they got in touch.  Apparently the fans inundated the BBC office with emails drawing their attention to it.

Stills from Hanshaw’s concept storyboard

How has the final title sequence changed from the original version?

I was briefed initially to look at how the sequence would work with the omission of certain elements – notably the seal of Rassilon and the fob watch from the original piece. It was questionable whether the face of the Doctor would appear or not. I was drafted in more as a design consultant. The nature of BBC deliverables meant that the final piece had to built by the BBC VFX team, so ultimately its a collaborative work.

But I went ahead and built a new sequence myself. Even though it wasn’t going to be used in the actual show, it could be used to provide the stills for the concept story board, and would be a good reference point for the VFX team.

It was actually a very finished piece of work. I created two different sequences, one with and one without the face. The cogs now came into view through the ‘mists of time’, with certain cogs pulsing with light in time to the theme music. The cog tunnel now turned. My version had the Tardis bursting out through the Doctor Who logo, an idea that was ultimately jettisoned further down the line.  The BBC team had some ideas of their own, such as the clock spiralling off into the distance. An idea i very much approve of. The planets became a stylised orerry and Capaldi’s face was replaced with just his eyes, and it works really well.

As the deadline approached for the title sequence to be finished, I again found myself in Cardiff, seeing the finishing touches being made, with additional art direction from myself. The BBC team are obviously very proud of what has been created, and rightly so.

I’m aware its very different from anything that has gone before. That was always our intent. The sequence is a true collaboration between myself and the BBC Wales VFX Team, and I’m extremely grateful to have been given such a wonderful opportunity.

The next episode of Doctor Who airs on BBC One on Saturday August 30. For details about the series, click here.

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