Thunderbirds Are Go! Goes Practical (Sort Of)

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.

Why Is The Upcoming Thunderbirds Are Go! Seemingly All CGI?

Thunderbirds Are Go!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.

 

‘Thunderbirds’ Strike Again

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).

‘Zeroids vs. Cubes’ Coming Soon!

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.

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’s ‘Firestorm’ On Kickstarter!

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.

Practically Speaking

If you’re a big fan of movies, particularly horror and sci-fi, you’ve probably taken a position on whether or not movies should use CGI (computer-generated imagery) or practical effects (which include prosthetics, animatronics, models and miniatures).

Personally, I am a HUGE fans of practical effects.  That being said, I understand that there are things that you can’t do as well practically as you can do with CGI–for instance if you’ve seen Alex Proyas’ The Crow, there are numerous scenes where cars are moving through city streets that’s clearly part of a miniature cityscape which probably would have worked better with actual cars, unless Proyas deliberately wanted it to look like models–and when it’s done well,  CGI can add a dynamism to scenes that isn’t always possible practically.

On the other side, when you’re dealing with practical effects the actors and actresses are performing against an actual thing, as opposed to (in some instances) a tennis ball.

This means that you’re not only likelier to get a better performance out of them, the scene that they appear in looks more real.

One of my favorite filmmakers, producer Gerry Anderson, was a huge advocate of miniature effects (which probably has a lot to do with him coming from a background of making shows that revolved around puppetry, like Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons, The Thunderbirds, and The Terrahawks) which he incorporated into live action in movies like Doppleganger (also known as Journey to the Far Side of the Sun) and television shows like Space: 1999, UFO and Space Precinct.

In the video clip below Tom Woodruff, Jr and Alec Gillis, of StudioADI, discuss why it is that studios sometimes choose CGI effects over practical ones.  And as usual, nothing is as simple as movie fans would like it to be.

Space: 1999 Vs. Space: 1999

Space1999The debate over whether the Year One or Two of Space: 1999 is one that will probably rank relatively low among the questions that plague mankind by their elusiveness.

Unless you happen to be a person that prefers one or the other, in which case the answer is fairly obvious and the question somewhat pointless.

Space: 1999 is the story of Moonbase Alpha, which due to an explosion of its nuclear waste dumps–a hungry Earth, wanting the benefits of nuclear power and minimal risk stored waste products from its production there–is torn from the embrace of Earth’s gravitational field and sent hurling through the cosmos.

The first year of the Alphans exodus was a somber affair, as if in space no one could see you smile.  The show was quite well-written, but somewhat joyless.  And while I understood that there probably isn’t all that much to be happy about being trapped on a runaway moon, there were moments that I got the feeling that these people were either in shock or chronically depressed.

This must have been troubling to the creator and executive producer of the series, Gerry Anderson.  I suspect that he was proud of his show, which he worked created with his former wife, Sylvia.  It was his second series to use people of flesh and blood as opposed to plastic and wire, but I imagine that he was vexed by how stagnant the show felt.

I don’t know what was going through his mind when Sir Lew Grade, head of ITC Entertainment, asked for another season, but his actions were telling.

ITC Logo

  • FRED CLEANS HOUSE

Anderson hired Fred Freiberger, who prior worked on the third and last year of Gene Roddenberry‘s “Star Trek,” to produce.  He came in and cleaned house, changing virtually everything that came before.  Barry Grey’s somewhat contemplative and sombre opening theme was replaced with one that had more immediacy and a tangible sense of adventure by Derek Wadsworth.

Barry Gray’s Space:1999 Year One Opening

Continue reading