The last time the Red Dwarf ship had been required for new model shots (series VII's climax having utilised stock footage) was during series V. Since that 1992 filming, technology had moved on apace, and for the first time a Red Dwarf model was already available - in CGI.
The Red Dwarf model built by the BBC effects team had been scanned into a computer by Chris Veale for the remastered episodes, and the computer generated ship was primed for the new season. Discrepancies regarding the new look of the vessel were explained by suggesting that it had been converted to its 'pre-cut-back' state by the nanobots. If fans had been watching the remastered shows, this could refer simply to the interior; but it also allowed for the exterior change in line with the original's continuity.
Model effects were still to be found in Red Dwarf VIII, however. New company Special Effects GB took on sequences such as the Starbug crash with relish - and why not. Jim Francis and his team - including Bill Pearson - were old hands at Red Dwarf having seen the show through some of its many years while they were at the BBC.
The lengthy effects sequence that opened the season showed a CG Starbug screaming down contracting corridors and vents, suffering untold damage. The now-classic sequence of the ship ending up in the backside of a rat was originally scripted to feature the return of Lister's old pet cat, Frankenstein - but apparently getting hold of CG vermin is easier!
The Starbug model built actually only comprised the front 'ball', the rest having been wrecked in CG. (Only the cockpit set returned from storage, as well.) At one point, it was suggested that the ball be blown upwards by the explosion and caught in a crane. The crane is still visible as part of the model 'set'. The explosion, meanwhile, was based on rubber dust - which creates a fantastic ball of flame, but quickly burns itself out, leaving the surroundings relatively unscathed. Useful for multiple takes... and dance sequences to be shot later on!
Some old friends made welcome returns to the show, not the least of which were the beloved skutters - Absent Without Leave since series IV. Bob was joined by his 'wife', Madge. Bill Pearson recreated and updated the droids, taking advice on their radio control system from Ron Hone - who had just been doing something similar for George Lucas with R2-D2!
The most complex piece of effects work came from the Blue Midget dance sequence in part three of Back in the Red. With footage of Danny John-Jules dancing in the can, backgrounds were added not with CGI, but from photo plates of the cargo bay miniature built for Starbug's crash. Chris Veale then matched the movements of the Midget to the choreographed steps.
Further CG came in the form of Pete - the sparrow mistakenly de-evolved into a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Available as 'off the shelf' software, the dino made use of techniques pioneered in Jurassic Park, with the CG combined with more interactive animatronic models. A huge foot was built, as well as a more complex (though smaller) head and body to play both Pete in close-up, and the baby dino in the final scenes.
More CG arrived in the form of Red Dwarf's new Canary shuttles, not to mention the Manny Celeste and some floating wreckage. There was also the small matter of the ship's elevators and internal metro train. Not all the animation on-screen was computer generated, though. As the Dwarfers became trapped in an AR system's screensaver, the whole world went Claymation. A late addition to the script, the high-speed job went to Mattes and Miniatures at Bray Studios.
Finally came Only the Good... and a budgetary problem. No money left. At all. And they needed an escape pod. As shelves and boxes were scoured for an already-built alternative, Bill Pearson offered a deal. He'd build a brand new, fabulous-looking pod on the understanding that the company would buy him a bottle of red wine. The deal was done, and at the end of the shoot Bill was presented with a crate of the good stuff!