Milk Creates Half-Face Man for New 'Doctor Who' Series
August 29, 2014

Milk Creates Half-Face Man for New 'Doctor Who' Series

LONDON  –  BAFTA award-winning London VFX house Milk created the visual effects for the BBC’s “Deep Breath,” Peter Capaldi’s debut episode as Doctor Who, directed by Ben Wheatley for the eighth series of  Doctor Who .  

The focus of Milk’s work was the sinister and mysterious “Half-Face Man” – the principal villain – who appears throughout the episode. Milk replaced one entire side of the actor Peter Ferdinando’s head in 87 of the 117 digital shots produced by Milk. 

Milk created the CG hollow cage-like structure that makes up the missing half of Half-Face Man’s head as well as the visible internal workings of his head which resemble the mechanics of a clock, with moving cogs, pistons and rotating mechanical parts. 

The most groundbreaking and complex sequences were the ones that involved the Half-Face man. He appeared throughout the episode, necessitating a high shot count with face replacement required for the majority of his appearances. The high quality required for the cinema release of this episode had to be achieved on a TV budget, which added to the challenge.

The tracking of the face replacement required extreme precision by Milk’s match move team, led by Amy Felce. To assist with this critical element, the group took a 360-degree photo scan of actor Peter Ferdinando's head and subsequently created a highly accurate 3D model of his head. This mesh then helped the Milk tracking team to lock-in reference points to his natural head shape.

The actor also had prosthetic make-up masking the missing side of his head. This helped twofold as it gave the artists more tracking information and for very wide shots it allowed the shot to be graded down into shadow.

The character’s costume included a top hat to which the artists added tracking markers as well as to the bridge of his nose and the center of his forehead. This allowed them to accurately matchmove all the rotations and translations of the head. Once they had tracked the movements of the head, they were able to line up the accurate 3D model to the live-action head. In addition, a full-scale physical model was also built for use on set both for a small number of shots and as lighting reference for the team. 

The asset build for the internal workings of the Half-Face man’s face involved creating CG cogs and pistons for which Milk built a fully automated rigging system. Each shot was then animated to add movement and detail to the mechanism as well as animate and line up the CG eye with the actor’s natural eye-line and movement. 

It was essential to light Half-Face Man’s CG face absolutely accurately – matching it perfectly to the on set lighting environment in order to ensure the complete believability and consistency of the character throughout the episode.

In order to achieve this, the team photo-scanned all the different environments he appeared in. This provided the lighting and rendering team, led by Darren Byford, with a virtual set in which to work. Combined with the reference from the practical dummy and high-resolution photo reference, they were able to gather a wealth of information to work with. 

Ahead of the compositing process, the roto prep team had the monumental task of cleaning up all the tracking markers, removing the prosthetic make-up, creating a hollow head, and finally building up the missing bits of his hat and collar. This had to be done on every single shot. 

The compositing team then worked in each environment to finalize the look and accuracy of Half-Face man’s CG head.

Milk also designed and created the T-rex in the opening sequence and the Victorian London cityscape that included CG builds of the Houses of Parliament, Big Ben and St Paul’s, along with wide fly-over views of the Thames as the episode reaches its climax. The artists had to ensure that the dinosaur was the same height as Big Ben in order to create a dramatic opening moment for the episode as the camera pans to reveal that the beast is in central London.

Will Cohen, CEO and Co-Founder of Milk VFX, said: “The most exciting challenge of ‘Deep Breath’ was realising the Half-Face Man, not least because of the sheer number of shots. We heavily relied upon all aspects of Milk’s pipeline in order to successfully achieve a photo-real look that allowed the audience to totally engage with the character. Ben Wheatley and the production team made it a hugely enjoyable collaboration. He worked very closely with us to enable us to achieve work that we are very proud of .”

A crew of 40 completed the work.

Milk is currently in production on the new 12-episode eighth series of “Doctor Who” featuring Peter Capaldi for the BBC and the new TV drama “Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell ,” a seven part mini-series due to be broadcast on BBC One in the UK in 2015.