I am genuinely psyched for movies like Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War and Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice but what I am even more interested in is something that we won’t be seeing on the big screen, and that’s Gerry Anderson’s Firestorm.
Originally sold by creators Anderson and John Needham to a Japanese company, it was developed into anime. The rights have reverted back to Anderson’s estate, and his son, Jamie, is developing it into a series.
To anyone familiar to Anderson’s productions, a strong suit tends to be the technology on display, and Firestorm won’t be any different( if the cartoon inspired by Anderson and Needham’s work is any indication). That being said, I am more interested for what has been absent from Anderson’s productions for a long while, and that’s actual puppets.
Below is a motion test, where they’re putting one through its paces, and it looks glorious. There’s something about an actual object–as opposed to an accumulation of pixels–that’s so cool. And sure, there’re lots of things that you can do with CGI that you can’t with puppets (though they benefit from improvements in technology like anything else), but I am okay with that because hopefully it will never turn to an either or type of situation.
Puppetry reminds me of a something hand-crafted, that refuses to go easily into the mists of time. As a result, it manages to be retro and and modern all at the same time, and I can’t wait to see it.
The official trailer for ITV’s The Thunderbirds Are Go! has dropped, and I like the way that they tried to integrate practical sets with CGI people and vehicles. (I also liked what appears to be a shoutout to Gerry Anderson’s Space: 1999, shown below).
Unfortunately, despite efforts to make the CGI characters look like puppets they still look like computer graphics, which has never been that great in portraying people (unless dead eyes and oddly spastic movements are your thing).
If the above trailer doesn’t prove my point, then take a look at 2010’s–was it really that long ago!?–Tron: Legacy. The CGI representation of Flynn (Jeff Bridges) attracted a huge amount of attention, but despite being state of the art at the time, it wasn’t actually that good a representation because–as far as humans go–our faces are composed of all sorts of muscles that interact with each other.
Let’s say you smile, your cheekbones move, which in turn shifts the position of your eyes, which slightly changes your forehead, perhaps wrinkling it.
Generally speaking, when humans, as well as animals, though it may not be quite as evident because their bodies may be covered with fur–move one aspect of our bodies, be it our faces or whatever–there’s an entire cascade of smaller movements that accompany it. Which was why the computer animated Flynn was so odd looking: his mouth would move, then literally nothing else on his face would, which looks like he’s received a botox injection in his forehead and cheeks.
So I guess what I am saying that I would have preferred it if they went with puppets, with CGI used when characters have to run or walk (because puppets have never done those two tasks particularly realistically) as well as spaceships and things like that.
Gerry Anderson as a producer has always fascinated me. Despite being behind some of the most innovative puppet (Supermarionation)-based television series, he was never entirely satisfied with working with them, and always wanted to work with flesh and blood actors.
That being said, he first time that he did so, in UFO, Journey To The Far Side Of The Sun (Doppelgänger), Space: 1999 and Space Precinct the characters tended to exhibit a range of expressions and emotions not too far distant from the puppets he wanted to move away from.
Though what I found telling was that in his The New Adventures Of Captain Scarlet, which created in Hypermarionation (CGI and image capture), the vehicles looked fantastic, characters moved with a fluidity absent from any of the Anderson puppet-based series.
Yet the obvious care that went into vehicle design and movement was absent from the characters faces, which looked as stony, as puppet-like, as ever.
I mention these things because ITV recently released a video of some of the props that WETA is using for their upcoming Thunderbirds Are Go! and what’s most interesting is that despite the characters–as far as I am aware–being entirely CGI they’re still creating physical props to work with.
It’s an interesting approach, which I wish that Anderson would have perhaps considered with his Captain Scarlet series.
Maybe it’s just me, but I am just not seeing the logic. Computer graphics have enabled filmmakers to create the seemingly impossible, and while I think that I will always prefer practical effects, I do understand that the leaps that CGI have reached are pretty impressive and such effects can’t often cannot be done any other way.
That being said, the upcoming Thunderbirds Are Go! will be all CGI, but with the characters rendered in the fashion of puppets.
Huh!? Since they’re working with a tool that gives producers literally the ability to create what they want, why not stretch the medium a bit? In other words, if they aren’t going to use actual puppets–like in the fashion of Gerry Anderson series like the original Thunderbirds, Terrahawks, Joe 90, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, among others, then why not use people, combined with green screen and CGI?
Would it be more expensive to do so? Probably, because you’re talking about practical sets, enhanced by special effects. Then again, Anderson’s series were always innovative and unique, while it appears what they are considering doing is nothing of the sort (besides, it has already been done with the New Adventures Of Captain Scarlet).
I know that Weta, the company that is handling special effects, best known for the work they’ve done for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings movies, seemingly doesn’t have much in the way of experience with puppetry, though it’s a skill set worth keeping alive.
There’s a new Thunderbirds series coming from ITV, which is a good thing. The not-so-good-news is that the Anderson estate has nothing to do with it (if Jamie Anderson has a connection, he’s not telling), though perhaps that’s counterbalanced by Jonathan Frakes also having nothing to do with it, considering the mess that he made of the Thunderbirds movie.
Though what bugs me most of all is that Gerry Anderson–and by extension his estate–seems to have no stake in any of the series he was pivotal in creating, like Terrahawks, Stingray, UFO, Joe 90, etc, which means that whichever studio happens to hold the rights can put the name of an Anderson series on whatever drake they choose, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
Which is why I have very little hope that the upcoming (someday?) reboot based on Anderson’s Space: 1999 (And you’re eyes aren’t playing tricks with you. The article is indeed from 2012, which means whatever’s happening with Jace Hall and ITV, it sure as hell isn’t happening quickly).
There is no doubt that Gerry Anderson, the creator of iconic series like The Thunderbirds, Terrahawks, UFO, Space: 1999 and Space Precinct, is a creative genius.
That being said, I don’t think that he ever really grasped the potential of the Internet, as a creative avenue to enhance his existing series, or introduce new ideas, which doesn’t seem to be an area that his son, Jamie, is neglecting.
His most recent effort, Zeroids vs. Cubes, is a web series based on characters from his 1983 series, Terrahawks, which revolved around a Earth-based force (similar in some respects to The Thunderbirds) that come together to face the alien threat of Zelda and her robotic Cubes.
Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful!
Terrahawks wasn’t the best Anderson series (I’d give that honor to either Space: 1999, UFO or perhaps Space Precinct–an incredibly underrated series that, if it were not for issues of an inconsistent tone would have probably been much bigger than it was) but like most of his shows, it was fairly obvious that he invested a lot of energy in vehicle design and special effects.
And while Zeriods vs. Cubes will be a cartoon and not necessarily the best medium to reflect Anderson’s typically excellent special effects, it will be worth seeing if it only introduces the world of Gerry Anderson to a larger (and Internet-bred) audience.
Gerry Anderson, the prolific British producer of shows like Space Precinct, UFO, Space: 1999, Terrahawks and Thunderbirds, died in 2012 but despite that fact he’s in a sense back with a new series, Firestorm, with the initial episodes being funded via Kickstarter.
As I said, Anderson embarked upon the greatest adventure two years ago, though before Alzheimer’s led to his eventual decline he sold his Firestorm concept (which he developed with John Needham, who also worked with him on Space Precinct and The New Adventures of Captain Scarlet) to a Japanese company, which created a CGI-enhanced cartoon based on the property.
Now Gerry Anderson’s son, Jamie, is running Anderson Entertainment and it appears that he’s acquired the rights to Firestorm, and he’s going back to the future, by which I mean he’s going to make the new series with puppets, models, practical special effects and cool ships (a hallmark of Anderson’s features).
So if you can send a little love his way–by which I mean a donation to the production via Kickstarter–do so because I get the feeling that this is going to be awesome.