The man who brings Dr Who monsters to life

HE'S one of the best sculptors and mask makers around, and Ray Phillips wants to pass on his skills to a new generation of visual effects fans.

We went to meet the man with many faces. As days at work go, interviewing a talking monkey while dressed as a stormtrooper is definitely one to remember.

But this is nothing unusual in the fantastical world of Ray Phillips, who, for the last five years, has worked as a neighbourhood learning development worker at Boldon Lane Learning Centre in South Shields.

Sitting among his many creations at the centre, the 46-year-old former bus mechanic-turned-fine arts teacher explained how his love of all things sci-fi first took off as a youth.

"It started when I was 10. The Radio Times brought out plans to build a life-size Dalek, but my dad said 'sorry son, it's too hard'.

"In 1999, I was teaching digital photography at Kenton College, in Newcastle, and one of the learners wanted a photo of a Dalek.

"We were looking on the Internet and I saw the same plans again, so I went ahead and built a life-size one."

Though it took him seven months of hard work to construct it from fibreglass and wood, the father-of-three from Washington was left with a conundrum once it was completed.

"I thought, what do I do with a Dalek? I got in touch with a fundraising group called Hyde Fundraisers, who use science fiction characters to raise money for charity.

"I said to them 'can you use this?' and they took it off my hands. It went from there."

From Daleks, Ray – who makes his models purely as a hobby – progressed on to making prosthetic and latex masks, based mostly on Dr Who characters, but also those from other well-known film franchises.

"When I got into Predator, I started to admire Stan Winston, who did the visual effects, and a creature designer called Steve Wang," he said.

"More recently, I've been lucky to get involved with Neil Gordon at Millenium Effects, based in Buckinghamshire. He does all the effects for Dr Who."

Being a bit of a sci-fi anorak, it was wonderful to come face to face with such icons as Predator, a Star Wars stormtrooper and a monkey from the Planet Of The Apes, but there's one creepy mask you can't seem to take your eyes off – the clockwork droid from Dr Who.

"That mask always scares people the most. Children aren't scared of Predator, but they are of him."

Ray got so well-known within sci-fi modelling circles that he was asked to appear on Blue Peter, to show off some of his work.

"The first time on Blue Peter, I was inside a Dalek. The second time, I was dressed as the clockwork droid."

Ray would take the droid out for another outing in 2008, when he presented a cheque to Children in Need on behalf of Hyde Fundraisers.

But it is perhaps his appearance on BBC soap Eastenders in the same year from which he got most exposure.

"They asked for 1960s Cybermen, which I didn't have. But I was making a 1970s version of one, and when they saw photos, they said 'can we have four for an episode of the show to do with Brad and Stacey at a Dr Who convention?'

"It's such a high-profile show, so it was recognition of the professionalism and standard of costumes we produce at Hyde Fundraisers."

So what is it that makes him such a skilled artisan?

"Observation, really, is the big key, especially when doing replica characters.

"Davros (the Dalek leader) took 24 hours, and was the most time-intensive, as I did all the pores on his face individually.

"You have to be very patient. When I first started sculpting, I would rush to make the sculpture. Now I don't."

Ray's advice for any other would-be special effects modellers out there is: "Start sculpting in clay. Get used to making shapes with it and don't run before you can walk.

"Also, do drawings to improve your observation skills, which is really important."

However, if advice alone isn't enough to satisfy visual effects wannabes, Ray has come up with an idea for a course to teach families.

So far only a pipe dream, he hopes that, should 10 adults and their children sign up, he could get a free course up and running.

"Initially, we want to do a 10-week family learning course and then anybody who wants to develop their skills further can do a 30-week accredited course in sculpture," he said.

Though venues such as Ocean Road Community Association have been put forward, he thinks, should the course be a success, it could rotate around various venues in South Tyneside.

For those perhaps unsure of what 'special effects' such a peculiar hobby would have on their lives, Ray offered up these words from his own experiences.

"My wife's got used to it, even though it was bit weird at first.

"My three girls all think it's great, apart from my 14-year-old, Zo, who's now got a bit embarrassed by it.

"They all come to events with us and have had a go of the costumes.

"It's very rewarding. That's why I still do the fundraisers. You never get tired of people's reactions, as they love the masks."

Unfortunately, unlike Dr Who, Ray has little power over the workings of time and space in the universe – but he did have this to say of the future.

"There will be a gang of monsters showing again at South Tyneside Central Library in October. I'm looking forward to that."

So are we. If you are interested in signing up for one of Ray's courses, call 424 6482.