Thunderbirds 1965 is a project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Thunderbirds.
We're creating three new episodes based on
1960s commercially available stories
that were recorded specifically for record.
This allows us to create new episodes that not only
will look exactly the way they did back in the day
but also sound exactly like they did back in the day.
We're hoping to revive an artform
that is pretty much extinct to bring back the
magic of Thunderbirds and Supermarionation.
Thunderbirds is a sixties view of the future
and of America by people who have never been to either.
That in itself makes quite a fun show.
On one level you really have good stories.
Stories that were engaging, thrilling and exciting.
But also they had humour
and at the heart there was a family.
They had to hold on to a secret.
When I was between 7 and 8 this new programme came on TV: Thunderbirds.
And it was an instant magical journey for me.
I was looking at something utterly tangible.
There were so many things to look at. So many visuals,
models, puppets, everything. It was just so cool.
I really love the quality that goes into
these tiny things.
It's such a unique form of film making.
There was nothing like it on television, either before or since really.
That Supermarionation technique that came from the sixties has an appeal to it
that is so specific to it.
There is a charm to it that doesn't exist in any other medium.
The way it was shot was epic. It was filmic.
There is something about models and puppets
brought together with dynamic editing.
And this big over the top music that really sells
what you're watching on the screen.
Supermarionation is a term that Gerry Anderson
came up with to sell this idea that
you're making this very sophisticated form of puppetry. This is not your Andy Pandy
this is not your Bill and Ben. This is not puppets hanging
in front of a board with thick wires and kind of doing this
with painted-on eyes and painted-on mouths.
This is a very sophisticated, higher class form of marionette entertainment.
When they were doing it in the sixties, they wanted to do live action films.
Gerry Anderson hated being associated with puppets.
And the goal of that team was: Make these things as cinematic as possible.
- Have depth to the sets. - Film them like people:
Give them close-ups, give them mid-shots.
Let the camera interact with them as if they were real people.
This is an example of a Supermarionation puppet.
What you can see is this fibreglass head.
If you take the back of the head off
and look inside...
Sorry, for anyone who has a weak stomach.
This is the eye-rocker and this actually what allows
your eyes to move back and forth
and then you have got an electromagnet down there
that when you send the electric pulse through
that's what moves the mouth and causes it to talk.
The key core of Supermarionation was that the puppets
were able to speak in time with the dialogue.
Which is really important when you're trying to
sell the credibility of something being alive
because everyone we talk to speaks in sync with the dialogue.
Gerry Anderson said "These puppets can't walk, these puppets can't pick things up,"
they have one expression on their face
they have a very static face
but the funny thing is that those limitations also mean they can do a lot.
There is a very narrow window within which the characters can emote.
But they do that very well.
If the character looks slightly to the left
but lowers its head, you get one expression.
You might get coy. If they push their eyes all the way or look up
they can look snooty.
Farewell Mr. Charles.
Your family would have been proud of you.
They finished up in jail too, I believe.
So when you pair that with dialogue or with the context of the scene
you can get so much emotion, so much performance
out of something that is so static.
You can see they're puppets.
You occasionally see the strings. You are
aware they don't move quite like real people.
But I think it is testament to the stories
that you do feel for them when they're in peril.
There is natural perspective in the shots
so in a bizarre way they feel more organic than a two-dimensional image ever will.
Because they can turn and do have shadows
and the fact that they do not move as naturally
as us... we bypass that.
They did not realise that they ended up creating this rather odd
art that had its own unique appeal.
You struggle in vain.
You... you're wasting your time.
I...I know nothing.
Alright... you asked for it!
OK - you've got three seconds to switch off that beam.
Look out Scott!
Scott, switch off the beam.
Where is the master switch?
Hold tight, Penelope.
We were so excited about the fact
that mini-albums of Thunderbirds existed.
They did obviously do mini-albums that were just
recaps of the episodes.
But we had these three that were unique to vinyl.
And the coolest thing about that is of course
that all the voices are there.
You've got Peter Dyneley,
and Sylvia Anderson,
and David Graham.
Making authentic Thunderbirds,
you could not do it without having those voices.
That's the blessing of having those mini-albums.
The curse of them is that they never designed them to make them into movies.
They were made strictly as
So part of our job was to adapt them
to suit the visual medium.
And that involves a lot of careful un-picking
of the audio elements and restructuring inventing new scenes, new bits of business.
Scenes like Thunderbird 4 making an appearance in The Stately Homes Robberies.
Or a uranium plant which is exploding in 'The Abominable Snowman'.
These are not in the mini-albums,
so we managed to make these into proper episodes.
Now, to deal with that meddlesome Lady Penelope.
It takes a lot of patience to make a Supermarionation puppet.
Especially because we are doing recreations.
The puppets have to look as right as they possibly can.
It takes sometimes weeks for a character to go from start to finish.
There are so many processes involved.
You start off with a plasticine head
cast it then in silicone rubber
and make a fibreglass cast of that.
You put the working parts in: The eyes and the solenoid
or electromagnet to make the mouth to move.
Then they have to go off and be wigged.
They are difficult puppets to work with but once the technique is perfected
I think they work very well.
The trickiest things are probably the eyes.
They have to be really good quality human style eyes.
Lots of people try to recreate them but they are very difficult to do.
They have to be done to a standard and done in the same way out of dental acrylics
to get that nice clear lens in it.
Just like people: They are the window to the soul.
They need depth to them. If they are just painted-on
or glazed over or have that cloud about them
you don't really get that connection.
When you put a camera on this character, you can feel depth to the character
because of the eyes.
It seems most of the sculpts are asymmetric.
And of course if you make an animatronics
most of it has to be symmetrical because you're making a mechanical piece.
The lip mechanism works with a magnet.
And if the magnet is not exactly, and I mean exactly
where it has to be
the mouth won't move or it will stay open or
you hear a clack but the mouth won't do it.
So obviously fitting a mechanically made thing into an organic sculpt
which got character
is always a problem.
You don't find this until you finally assemble a puppet
and you find his mouth is over an angle,
his eyes aren't quite in line.
And then it is really playing
and trying to make these characters actually look the same
as they would have done in the sixties because
these quirks are what made them characters.
We're constantly trying to make it look like the original
which you cannot do entirely because
even their puppets did not look the same between the individual stages.
The tiniest degrees in variance can
completely destroy the look you're going for.
We are really sensitive to the slightest changes in people's faces.
If you meet someone and suddenly their eyes are an inch to the left
they look weird. And on a puppet scale
a millimeter or two out may as well be an inch out at that scale.
The strength of using these marionettes
is that you have a complete figure to work with. They are a complete entity.
You can treat them as a live action actor.
If you have a full set to go with them, you can place the camera however you like.
The limitations are really to do with
the way the character is remotely controlled
by these really long wires.
It's quite difficult to get precise movement with them.
One of the most important things for a Supermarionation puppeteer
is arm strength!
Sometimes you're standing up there holding a puppet for almost an hour
while the lighting is set up and the camera set up.
Physical strength really helps.
It's easy to forget on the credit, way down
somewhere near the end of the list on Thunderbird 5
that the puppeteers: They are the actors.
So often we focus on the voice artists.
But actually the performance that the characters give
is so important to the way the show works.
When you see the puppets hanging from the bridge
and the lights go on and the puppeteer grabs the control
and starts working it. It suddenly comes to life.
They say the soul of the puppet is in the puppeteer's hand.
You do a lot of subtle movements that translate to bigger movements on camera
so you have to be almost like a dancer in terms of muscle control.
There is an element of spontaneity and playfulness.
It's a lot like theatre. You get up here, have
the puppet in your hand and so many factors
determine whether or not the performance is what you want it to be.
There's an element that you can control it and the most skillful puppeteer can get
the puppet to a certain place. And after that
at the end of these long six foot wires, it's sort of luck.
Because there is so much to do, it can become chaotic at times.
The puppets are notoriously difficult to work with.
Sometimes you need three or four people just to get
one character to perform a single action.
There will be the operator who is at the top of the bridge,
then you might have a floor puppeteer.
A floor puppeteer needs to be on hand to hold a puppet still,
to turn a puppet, to lift a hand,
to fill the gaps the operator on strings can't do.
3...2... 1... drop!
Your back is sorted of twisted, your hands like this,
your face in the polystyrene snow,
your face in the dirt, your face in the sand.
And then you've got the lipsyc-operator who has
to make sure that the dialogue is keyed in time.
The lipsync system we use is different from the system they used in the sixties
in that it was transmitted down the wires.
We have a cable that goes up the leg
and up the body because strings become very brittle
when you transmit the signal down them.
We also have to activate the lipsync manually, so we have a switch
as the dialogue goes you have to press it in time to the lip movement
which can be quite difficult if you have a long passage of dialogue.
Lip movement is something people associate with the puppets and examples in the series
where the lip sync doesn't work or it is wrong
it is very noticable and it does throw people off.
So in a way it is an extension of the puppeteering itself.
The wonderful unpredictability of life
for me is contained in getting a message
saying "How would you like a puppet recreated in your likeness?"
Of all the things... of all the sentences I read in my life,
that was one of the most unusual.
Oh my dear high-born, titled English lady. The evidence is underwhelming.
Clues abound in every crook and nanny.
I was quite comfortable with the idea of it
being very much a period piece and of its time.
Now we would do things differently,
but we would do a billion things differently.
The sense of the project was to be as authentic as possible.
So for me retaining the voices was kind of important
because they pre-exist.
Dear friends, we must part. Our destination has arrived.
There is the SkiCopter and the guide to transport you.
Years ago they had Cliff Richard and his group.
As specific little portraits. But I thought when I was back in the sixties
I thought what would I be doing? So I got photographs and things
in the same way as they might
and just start sculpting.
I literally sat at a turntable and sculped away. I did not draw it beforehand.
I thought I'll just sit here and see how it goes.
And slowly slowly it came to life. And you sculpt the hair on
so you get a final idea of what it is going to look like.
Virgil - you have to hurry it up!
Even with something as simple like this, when
something goes wrong it can really go wrong.
After all this time and preparation
and you're finally ready to go for a shot and
the puppets are in place, the set is perfect
even the explosions are set up and ready to go.
And you call "action" and suddenly... SNAP!
This tungsten wire we're using is incredibly fine.
Either they loop or the weight is too much suddenly
and they break and the puppet slumps and we end up having to redo the entire scene
all over again after we've re-strung them.
We have certain characters we really like and
certain characters that are so frustrating
and they didn't want to work. The Hood was as villainous for us in person
as he is in the episode.
What do you mean?
We had this very tricky shot
where you have a human hand in the foreground and
Stephen, the director, was playing Scott Tracy
holding the gun up. And you had The Hood in the background
full body and we were rehearsing it over and
over because he had to spin around with a gun.
There was a lot of pressure as The Hood was on set
and there had been a lot of problems trying to
get The Hood look right in the first place.
And then we turned over, the camera was running
and Stephen's hand came up.
OK - you've got three seconds to switch off that beam.
Sometimes we lose hours, sometimes we lose half a day trying to fix these things.
When you watch it you think 'that cannot take long' or 'that's easy to do'.
But everything is difficult. Nothing is what it seems.
I wish we had sound on the rushes, because when we actually get a take right
there's cheers because the frustration of getting it right is so great that
when it does actually work, everyone is overjoyed.
Alright, next shot! – Well done everyone! [APPLAUSE]
The model work in Thunderbirds and all those types of shows
is very specific. There's a very specific way that they make their planes fly
that they make their cars drive, the way they film it.
Very of its time in terms of the grammar of the way a
craft are so often going left to right or right to left.
The modern way of film making is to make you feel
you're traveling much more with the vehicle or much more in the centre of action.
Whereas the Derek Meddings style is you're an observer.
If you go back to Thunderbirds, they would make their models filthy.
It's a technique Derek Meddings in the sixties perfected
and they had this great eye for making things look realistic.
It's a key to the filming of the models.
When does Thunderbird 4 look the best? When it is absolutely filthy.
It looks like it actually had gone out on
missions. So our models we would dirty them down
and put them on camera and quite often
there was a building or vehicle and you would
look at it and go, "Oh... it's not dirty enough."
So if you see a model under normal light
it looks very worn and dirty. But in front of a camera, when you lit it
you lose about 70% of the dirtying down.
So it is a skill to look through the camera and make a judgment
as to the amount of breaking down of the model.
If you put something in front of the camera that must
appear brand new, you still have to dirty it down.
If it looks right on camera, then that's what it has to be.
Even if you pick the model up and it looks like a piece of rubbish.
As long as it looks good on camera, it can be very flimsy, only detailed on one side.
The long time appeal of Thunderbirds is in the fact that it is not about realism.
We're not kidding ourselves or anybody – we know when you look at these effect shots
no one is going to think it is real life. It's never going to look like reality.
It's about inanimate objects coming to life
and behaving sort of as though they were real.
When Thunderbird 2 flies, it's got to look really heavy.
Not for one second do you buy that it is anything other than a model.
You're not looking, thinking, "My God it looks real!"
That's what they were aiming for... It's important that their special effects
were trying to hit realism, but they didn't – at that point they weren't able to.
So they ended up in this world, by luck really,
in which the puppets and models inhabit this same artificial universe.
And so it is toys come to life. But really good toys come to life.
Not the sort of toys you could own when you were a kid.
But the sort of toys you would aspire to own later on.
The sort of toys we're now surrounded with here.
We have really been challenged and pushed on our locations across the three episodes.
We've have scenes set at an exploding refinery,
we've got scenes in the Tower of London,
stately homes in the home counties,
we've got Tracy Island including bits you've never seen.
A multitude of ice caves.
You really have to think on your feet with this sort of stuff.
The production will stop tomorrow unless you provide the set.
Stephen will come to me and say "We want to shoot"
this tomorrow, what are the possibilities?"
Hilton is the master when it comes to identifying
bits of kit parts that they used on the original sets
and then reusing these same kit parts on these sets,
which I think is really important to the success
of us convincing the audience that these episodes
could have been made in the sixties.
Just hunting down on eBay trying to find the
bits and pieces they used like the grilles
very identifiable things throughout the whole of the Gerry Anderson series.
Things like little bulbs, toothpaste tube tops,
and trying to make it as authentic as we could.
We have to make a long study of the styles, the materials
– get into the heads of the model makers of the time.
So it's trying to find and replicate all the original kits, toys,
materials, the way things were painted, the way they were aged...
This is the lounge, Penny.
I control most of the rescue operations from here.
Really Jeff? It's quite beautiful.
Where we're matching something in the Tracy lounge
we had to go back to the original episodes as plans for these sets don't exist anymore
and really study and work out what the measurements were to
make sure they are in correct proportion to the puppets.
This room is a room that any fan
is intimately familiar with.
It might as well be a room you grew up in.
When we came to make a replica of this
it was incredibly important that it wasn't too big and wasn't too small,
that the colours were right to get it to look right on camera.
To get the dimensions right I took a frame grab of an original episode and
modelled 3D geometry on top of it
and took measurements with a 3D camera on there,
guessing what lens they filmed on
so we got measurements of what it was supposed to look like.
Say, FAB 1 sure is a great automobile.
We like it, don't we, Parker?
We had to recreate FAB1 which is probably one
of the most difficult puppet sized props
they even had on the original series.
So we were loaned sections of a FAB 1 model
which we then had to modify. And I just happened to have
from 20 years ago some casts from the original Thunderbirds Are Go FAB 1
which I then reworked to make it look like something of the first series car.
I can't think of another series where people have attempted to bring it back and
do it exactly the same way. Maybe because most of the time it's not possible.
If you suddenly decided to remake, say,
1960s Doctor Who or The Avengers
you wouldn't have the actors around so in that sense it would be an impossible feat.
For us, with these recordings, with the fact that our stars are made of fibreglass
whether they are puppet or vehicle, that is something we can do.
If we were producing a new marionette series, it would be a lot easier
than what we are trying to do now: Making an exact
recreation of what was made five decades ago.
If the slightest thing is off, everything is
thrown. You're suddenly not in the sixties.
There are all sorts of things that are part of
recreation that you can't really put your finger on.
You look at a shot and it either looks like.
Thunderbirds or it doesn't look like Thunderbirds...
or it sort-of looks like Thunderbirds. Which
is the worst kind of shot because you go,
"What's the thing that's letting it down? Is
it the lighting? Is it the puppet's face?"
Getting it as close to what it was is very
important. I think there is that added pressure.
Unlike if we were making something different, in that we'd think,
'This is what we want, but is it what they would have done?'
And it has to be the way they would have done.
Particularly building something that has to appear, not a recreation of Thunderbird 2,
not a recreation of a puppet, but those little bits of detailing. Sets...
Sets made especially made for this production.
They need to be made in a way to looks like
they could have been made in the sixties.
One of our big problems is sometimes people who have supplied stuff –
they make it too well. And that's not to run down the original series.
We're doing this using some modern technology
and it would be tempting to try and update the way we're doing things.
But we have to keep bringing it back to the sixties.
I met Stephen and Geraldine because we were appearing together in a play in Geneva,
which I was doing costumes for. And Stephen sidled up to me towards the end and said,
"Would you be interested in doing something a bit bizarre?"
Our costume lady Liz was thrown in the deep side of the pool
when we told her, "Now you've got so many weeks
"we want so many costumes, they have to be teeny-tiny, they have to fit perfectly,
"they have to have the right pattern, and we want them sixties...
"Get to it now." – And she managed great. We got so many costumes
from her. They alll look fantastic. The attention to detail is really good.
To research it I was more looking at costumes of the sixties
than the Thunderbirds costumes. And looking at the Thunderbirds costumes
you can see they got excited by all these new futuristic fabrics
like polyester which is why so many costumes are
rigid on the original Thunderbirds marionettes
because polyester has very little give.
What really works well is anything that is a tad on the stretch side
so for example this has some elasticity to it.
It is not easy to find details and patterns that work
for puppets. These stripes for example would look
massive and the puppet would look puppet sized.
We did find some. Like Jeff's flamingo shirt,
which is just gorgeous. And is perfect for Jeff.
But you think 'What would anyone in the real world
'want to use a quarter centimeter high flamingoes on a bit of fabric for?'
Very bizarre. Can't work that one out at all.
You can tell Jeff's costumes. There is something a bit kind of odd about them.
He's got a bit of a peacock in him, which again is a very sixties thing.
There was this thing called the Peacock Revolution.
Bring the luggage, will you Parker?
Yes, M'Lady. I'll have to make several trips.
You've brought a lot of gear.
Parker, when one's visiting, one tries to look one's best.
To be honest, I don't like Lady Penelope.
I really don't. She's a stupid,
unnatural size, And you have to keep saying "She's not Barbie, she's not Barbie,"
"She's not Barbie."
But she's shaped like Barbie. I was quite happy when I could make her slightly formal, more masculine clothes.
Well, I must say Parker. It was a good idea of yours to bring FAB 1 along.
So much more convenient.
I knew it would be as close to the 1960s experience –
making the original series – as much as would be possible,
but it completely surpassed my expectations.
Probably one the strangest parts was bringing back people
who'd worked on the original series.
Specifically David Elliot to direct and
Mary Turner who came in to puppeteer for a couple of days.
I'll get the locks, Dawkins.
Watch out for guards.
It reminds me of the earlier days
coming back to this place.
It's weird. As soon as I opened the door I was at home. It doesn't feel any different.
Especially when Mary comes.
Bang – It's just the same.
It's incredible when David and Mary were working together, because
they both immediately came back to their working relationship
they'd had all those years ago.
We've been very lucky. We've been friends for over 50 years.
You soon get back into it again.
To be honest, you've never gone out of it.
Are you ready? – Yeah. – Running! Action!
And he manages to knock out the automatic TV cameras too.
Exactly. It's almost as if he's a phantom.
Yeah. That's the one. Print! Print! Cool.
Every single shot we do takes a lot of preparation.
Days and days of preparation
before you actually get it before the camera.
David Tremont for instance, spent a good few weeks building this beautiful mansion
that we knew was going to be blown up in seconds.
The most exciting thing has to be the mansion exploding.
The initial stages is sitting down with the directors, designers, whomever,
and getting out of their heads what they see – what they imagine it to be.
What sort of explosion, how big can we can make the model.
It has to be built specifically, so it destructs in a certain way.
You don't want the model to go "pffff" like that.
You want bits of it to fly off, you want debrie flying off towards the camera.
That's a huge staple of Thunderbirds explosions.
Little things flying away towards the camera.
You have to build it extremely fragile. There is a lot more technology
that goes into making something come apart.
And when we put the trees in, it looks fantastic.
And people, when we mentioned, "Hey, look at this... isn't it beautiful..." would be
appalled when we said, "It's going to be blown up!
It's not going to exist next week!"
I get this a lot. I've built many pyro-models over the years.
And the first reaction is always "You don't want to see your model destroyed".
But no, completely opposite to that.
A pyro-model is purpose built to be destroyed.
That's the whole challenge of the project.
When we try to recreate the kind of explosions that
Derek Meddings and his team produced for the original Thunderbirds
there is a specific look to them. Often because they used quite dangerous things.
Some of the chemicals were carcinogenic which we cannot use now,
but those chemicals produced very specific sorts of looks.
Black smoke turns up everywhere in Thunderbirds when there is an explosion –
there is usually this toxic stuff you would not want
to breath in and cannot use now because it's illegal.
One of the challenges for our pyro-technicians
was to go away and look at what they were doing
and then try and come up with the equivalent of what they were using
so we could achieve the same sort of look.
It requires working a lot with the pyro-technicians
designing what sort of explosion, what sort of sequences, how many, how big.
That's the larger charge we would suspend in a roof
to blow the roof off and the timbers.
And then we have others here that will
fire vertically in the air and producing flame at the same time.
The pyro guys come in and put all their charges into it.
Once they're all finished, they move out and I go in
and I fill every gap I can with debris.
Tremont spent weeks and weeks building this model and
it's all in one shot. It's going to blow up. And if it doesn't work
we can't do it again.
So we actually put two cameras on it, just in case, to make sure
that we got it. Because we would never be able to set it up again.
So you just hope that it works.
So when it exploded it just went "pow".
If you were to come into the studio and watch us shooting the special effects
to be honest it all looks a bit rinky-dink. When we set off an explosion
it's not a huge fireball. It's a puff and it's gone.
That's why shooting it at high speed is very important.
You're shooting at a higher frame rate
than normal film. Normal film runs at 24 frames per second.
So in 1 second you get 24 separate images
that are taken by the camera. With high speed photography
you could be doing 120 frames per second for our explosion shots.
It's a lot of pictures within that one second.
You play that back at 24 frames per second and everything happens really slowly.
A tiny little "puff" becomes a really big "woooof".
And that applies to the models as well.
When you've got models on strings flying across the screen
they tend to bump and wobble.
If you shoot it at high speed and then play it back normally
the bumps and wobbles become a sort of gentle turbulence.
It feels right. The craft have weight. They feel
like they are actually suspended in mid-air.
I think the original AP Films film crew formed
a family. Particularly in the earlier days
running up to and including Thunderbirds.
Supermarionation is such a silly form of film making.
As great as it looks on screen, the actual day-to-day
process of it, the reality is so silly that it would be
very difficult not to form some sort of camaraderie with the team around you
and to all work together to make this has been a very special experience.
I think this type of film making, with puppets,
visual effects – has definitely got a future.
It's telling that every time Thunderbirds has made
a comeback to different generations of children
each generation has taken to it so much.
Doing something using these almost extinct Supermarionation techniques
isn't just a matter of nostalgia.
It can't be. There are a lot of fans on our crew. But there are a lot of professionals
who don't have a particular childhood fondness for the series
and they are all able to see the appeal.
I think it has a huge future, because it's a physical art.
Absolutely all the traditional arts should be retained
should be passed on, should be taught, to the
next generation of special effects artists.
To be embracing what they were doing 50 years ago is very important
because we are the last generation doing this.
And this is a real old-school film making course.
So I'd like to think this isn't the end. That there is more to come from this.
Thunderbirds are definitely GO!
Subtitles: Theo de Klerk