Thunderbirds Are Go in our hot news section!
Weta Workshop wouldn’t have existed if Thunderbirds hadn’t existed,” says Sir Richard Taylor, executive producer of ITV’s upcoming Thunderbirds Are Go! TV series. It turns out that the Oscar- winning boss of one of the biggest visual effects and make- up outfits in the world – the powerhouse team responsible for creating Middle- earth and Pandora – is something of a fan.
“I was born in the UK and enjoyed the show on my black- and- white TV there until I was four years old, then we moved to New Zealand. Thankfully, the one channel in New Zealand still showed Thunderbirds. So it felt like it came with me,” he recalls.
“It was the fact that you could live in a model- made world that was the big thrill for me.
“The first thing you encounter walking into Weta Workshop is a shrine to the
Thunderbirds,” he continues, “and you have to bow to the shrine!” he laughs. Indeed, there’s a large display of Thunderbirds miniatures in the workshop, crafted by Weta’s head model maker David Tremont.
The journey to remaking Thunderbirds was a long one. Taylor first entertained the idea while in the UK for the premiere of The Fellowship Of The Ring, and made enquiries with then- rights holder Carlton. A year later, Taylor met with Gerry Anderson as he prepared New Captain Scarlet for broadcast, and obtained his blessing to try a remake of Thunderbirds. A successful proposal was made to Carlton, but within a month the company had been bought and everyone involved had been let go by new owners ITV.
The rights were sold to Working Title films for their 2004 live- action movie, and remained unavailable for several years. Taylor and his old chum Peter Jackson, himself a massive fan of the original series, continued to make occasional enquiries, going as far as making a CGI character test to show ITV.
In the meantime, Jackson eventually agreed to direct the three movies in the Hobbit cycle, reducing his availability for Thunderbirds to zero. Taylor had started Pukeko Pictures with
“I’m a fan of the original show. I felt a real desire to have young children see the show again”
children’s author Martin Baynton to develop Baynton’s book, Jane And The Dragon, for television. The series was successful and led to another project, The Wot Wots. This put Taylor and Pukeko Pictures in a unique position to acquire the rights to Anderson’s most popular series when the rights reverted to ITV and producer Giles Read approached them to create a new series.
Why make a new series and face harsh comparison with the well- loved original?
“I have mixed emotions about it, being such a fan of the original show,” he says. “I felt a real desire to have young children see the show again. I had no ability to get the original show in front of children; I don’t own it, I can’t distribute it. The only way I could have children impacted by this world was to make another series.”
So what will be different about the new version of Thunderbirds? No puppets. While the ships and environments are being made with real models, the Tracy clan and other characters will be computer generated. The use of stringed marionettes was financially impractical, and wouldn’t result in enough usable footage to be shot on a daily basis.
“We found that children today just wouldn’t engage with characters that didn’t have complex facial expressions,” Taylor says. “Our show is competing with the Star Wars animated series, Ben 10, Max Steel and other programming that features more sophisticated performances than marionettes could give.”
Will the iconic theme music remain the same? Almost, according to Taylor. Ben Foster, music orchestrator for Doctor Who, is scoring the new series and is very heavily influenced by Barry Gray’s original music.
Thunderbirds Are Go! will consist of 26 half- hour episodes, in contrast to the hour- long episodes of the original series. Again, the decision was made to conform to modern children’s television formats of half- hour segments in order to keep the action moving quickly for younger viewers.
In addition, the Tracy clan is a bit younger in the new series, an effort to appeal to that younger crowd of viewers. And of course, no one will be smoking cigarettes onscreen, as in the classic show. Taylor hopes to send a more positive message to the kids watching.
“I hope that young people reconnect with the aspiration of rescue, of people selflessly putting themselves at risk to help others. It’s cool that in the show, they don’t get a medal for doing it, they don’t wave to the crowd, they disappear again, and it’s uncelebrated heroism. I hope that theme is resonant and creates a spark in our viewers.”
Thunderbirds Are Go! comes to ITV in 2015.