The usual visual effects stage at Acton was unavailable for the Red Dwarf effects shoot, so the team were uprooted and eventually found a home at Workshop 2B of the Shepperton Studios. While this placed them much closer to the main recording stage, the workshop was not designed for filming. Installing a run-in power supply and blocking off all the windows (including a skylight) meant that the team were three days behind schedule before they even started.
This was not the only scheduling problem. In an attempt to be ahead of the game, Peter Wragg and his crew had begun their model work mid-season. In reality, this meant that the script re-writes either left models built and then unused, or effects shots filmed that no longer quite fitted with the story being told. (For example, a costly segmenting 'Bug was built for a sequence in Tikka that was excised from the script - at least until the Xtended edition.)
Changes to the Starbug model were similarly problematic. This year, Doug had elected to give the ship raised legs (much as had been seen in Back to Reality) and, at first, the model department had shot without this change! Another alteration, thanks to the expanded size of the 'Bug, was a shrinking of the cockpit window in order to keep a sense of scale.
With a severely diminished budget, the model effects were shot in 16 millimetre. 16mm has better a depth of field, but the quality of the footage is still lower than the normal 35mm stock. Though, thanks to the talent involved, viewers would be hard-pressed to tell the difference.
An old friend put in a curious appearance in Ouroboros. The original Blue Midget model was used by Alan Brannon as the basis for what was nicknamed 'White Midget', the shuttle seen bringing Lister back from Mimas. With no Red Dwarf ship in existence, a large photograph was reversed and reflected into shot, with an image of Jupiter also rear-projected in - all of this filmed upside-down to further disguise the shuttle's wires!
Ouroboros also featured the most dramatic sequence from BBC FX as a GELF ship takes after Starbug. A garden vacuum and giant water pistols were used by Alan Marshall as a basis for the GELF ship (the vac would go on to be a part of Ace Rimmer's bike), with the entire sequence shot without motion control. Peter Wragg himself supervised some old-fashioned flying by wires, complete with the GELF ship being thrown by hand to crash in the polystyrene and salt landscape. (The making of this section was covered by a crew from the BBC's How Do They Do That?) Action on set was later directed to actually match the models.
For Stoke Me a Clipper... a large model Heinkel was built and 'flown' (actually face down in a car park towards a fan blowing smoke) and smaller versions, taken from kits, were blown up in two ways - in a classic fireball explosion, but also in a more multi-coloured, sci-fi style. Ace's ship was redesigned by Alan Marshall for the new episode - although it proved tricky to fly without wobbles - and a Starbug hangar was constructed by Nick Kool to land it in. (Thank goodness for those expanding walls!)
For Beyond a Joke a planetoid landscape was constructed from polystyrene and cement powder, then a refurbished escape pod from series V was hurled onto it... six times! After watching it bounce through frame, then lose its engines, all later attempts were done with engines - ahem - 'retracted'.
The set was redressed with red dust for Nanarchy's storm-wracked planetoid, with sparks employed ready for post-production lightening. (The effect sadly went unused.) Starbug's engines blasted airbrush propellant, as ever, but nobody had told the crew that the manufacturers had changed the gas, which now included propane! Unsurprisingly the gas caught fire, sending the 'Bug off with two massive flaming jets which managed to singe poor Pete Tyler.
Also for the episode, the SS Centauri was built - actually an adaptation of a GELF freighter built by Mike Tucker that had been cut from a script. A large exterior section of the ship was built to dock with a miniature Starbug, although the footage was never used. The Centauri doubled for the Gemini 12 in Tikka to Ride - a ship never fully built, and only seen even in series VI as a close-up which was actually the Justice World station.
In fact, an extremely intricate CGI model of the Gemini 12 was built by Paul McGuinness in Alias Sketch. Paul had been misinformed that a model made in Sketch could be ported into Silicon Graphics Onyx for animating. While it was eventually given up as a bad job, the similarly constructed CGI casket for Rimmer's light bee was (after some reconstruction) ported across and used for the touching post-funeral sequence.
On the set, a whole host of new props were required. New, shorter bazookoids were made to be less awkward and cumbersome, and the time drive was similarly renovated to be hand-held - although the plasma ball motif remained. A new light-bee was made, and the AR suite was thoroughly redesigned.
A laser bone-saw was also created, although it was not without its problems - it took Chloë Annett eight attempts to cut off 'her' arm! Plus there was an LED-heavy projector for the Epideme virus, as well as a rubber head and soft swords for Stoke.
Having dressed the stunt man's own bike for that episode's main action sequence, polystyrene bricks were painted to match the wall they joined, and a shed was built from balsa wood (well, Ace was going to take out one wall and the roof). Explosive charges were painstakingly added individually to the front of the shed to simulate the dozens of bullet hits from machine-gun fire.
Alison the crocodile was made from a pre-existing cast (the kind of thing you can find just lying around at BBC FX); plus James Davis also built Kryten's coffee stirrer, wax spare heads (some due for detonation, but another designed to open car bonnet-style) and extra panels to make a pair of spin dryers more... space-y.
For Ouroboros, a piton gun was made up, but Doug Naylor felt it needed more of a crossbow feel - although one suspects Chloë couldn't have cared much either way, dangling as she was on The Magic Camera Company's bluescreen stage with a rig on her leg for the bolt to 'shoot through'.
Nor was this the only bluescreen work for Red Dwarf VII. The Ouroboros linkway, the Rimmer Experience and the crocodile-surfing scenes were shot on the same set, but a screen was also placed in front of Starbug's cockpit window to allow a glimpse of space from inside the ship. The two feet high Rimmer rod puppets were similarly shot on bluescreen, with video effects adding both Chris Barrie's head and multiplying the munchkin's numbers. (The song, worryingly, had the entire effects crew humming for ages.)
While fire hoses and dump tanks filled with water allowed the cast to be drenched, even Red Dwarf draws the line at torching its actors. Shooting through a half-silvered mirror, the team reflected a jet of flame that was fired, off camera, in perfect synchronicity with Chris opening a locker door.
As series VII reached the editing room, it became apparent that having the model shots filmed before the end of the live action shoot hadn't worked out. The shots available didn't quite gel with the main stories, and there was no money for any more expensive model work.
Enter, stage right, one Chris Veale. The young CGI whizz had once hoped to be a cinematographer, but moved into computer animation at university. One effects shot, shown to Doug and Ed while he visited the Grant Naylor offices (Chris had actually had work experience there!) impressed the writer and director so much that they asked if the existing ship could be replaced with a Starbug.
For a negligible amount and using Alias (the graphics package used for Jurassic Park) on his own computer at home, Chris produced a mass of bluescreen 'Bug shots, plus starscapes and planets, in a matter of weeks. In the edit suite, a motion blur was sometimes added to the shots.
The final effects shots of the series (following a stock-footage glimpse of Red Dwarf through the windscreen) showed the CGI 'Bug passing the massive mother vessel, before entering a series V stock-footage hangar and slipping underneath a huge Starbug. The Dwarfers have got a problem...