5!4!3!2!1! Gerry An­der­son’s clas­sic se­ries has been reimag­ined for the 21st cen­tury.

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Old away the palm trees, re­tract the trop­i­cal swim­ming pool and feel your pulse in­stinc­tively quicken. In­ter­na­tional Res­cue is back.

“I’ve fallen in love with the clas­sic se­ries dur­ing the mak­ing of this,” says Giles Ridge, ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of Thun­der­birds Are Go, CITV’s am­bi­tious up­grade of the icon- laden orig­i­nal. “Just by virtue of the fact that you have to im­merse your­self in this world. It’s in­cred­i­ble how Gerry and Sylvia An­der­son got it so right 50 years ago – a se­cret hide­away is­land, five young, as­pi­ra­tional broth­ers, res­cu­ing peo­ple wher­ever they’re in dan­ger, and the most in­cred­i­ble fleet of craft that you could ever wish for. The se­ries starts from a point of per­fec­tion. It’s a pretty damn good DNA, re­ally.”

Glossy, spec­tac­u­lar and armed with enough charm to con­quer gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion, Thun­der­birds first launched in 1965, set­ting its tales of global der­ring- do a hun­dred years hence. Now, half­way closer to that shiny ’ 60s dream of the fu­ture, Ridge tells SFX that this re­make truly slings the show into the 21st cen­tury.

“When we set out to re­make the se­ries I was very clear that we didn’t want to mess too much with the orig­i­nal. It has a lot of cul­tural rel­e­vance for a lot of peo­ple. What we needed to up­date were those el­e­ments that a child au­di­ence of to­day would ex­pect. And so whilst we still tell sto­ries that have hero­ism and self­less­ness at their heart we wanted to look at the vis­ual aes­thetic of the se­ries, and move that on for a 21st cen­tury au­di­ence. We’ve talked to kids all the way through the devel­op­ment of this se­ries – not just in the UK but we’ve gone to Ja­pan, where Thun­der­birds is huge, we’ve gone to the US – and one of the com­mon bits of feed­back was that we had moved on from the con­cept of mar­i­onette pup­pets. We love the clas­sic se­ries and all that the pup­pets gave, but it was time to ex­plore some­thing more mod­ern, more cut­ting- edge.”

Say good­bye to the bob­ble- headed hero­ics of Su­per­mar­i­on­a­tion. Thun­der­birds Are Go

“We wanted Thun­der­birds to push the bound­aries in terms of de­liv­er­ing a new aes­thetic for kids”

trades wood and string for pix­els and code, con­jur­ing its cast in sleek and snazzy CG form. Out go the over­sized nog­gins, in comes anatom­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

“They’re more in hu­man pro­por­tion. You’re ask­ing an au­di­ence to be­lieve in and care for a char­ac­ter, so we felt that the char­ac­ter should be de­signed with more hu­man pro­por­tions – which is what Gerry moved on to in his later se­ries, be­cause the servo tech­nol­ogy moved on. When you get to Cap­tain Scar­let the heads be­come much smaller, but the tech­nol­ogy wasn’t there in ’ 65, and so you just had to have big­ger heads.”

The new se­ries keeps an aes­thetic con­nec­tion to the old, though, fus­ing its dig­i­tal he­roes and hard­ware with the re­al­ity of live­ac­tion sets. “It was about re­tain­ing what made

Thun­der­birds spe­cial in the first place but also be­ing mind­ful that an au­di­ence of 2015 has a lot more me­dia choices at its dis­posal,” Ridge tells SFX. “We in­evitably had to look at the com­pe­ti­tion in the mar­ket. There are many ex­cel­lent ac­tion adventure se­ries out there, but they’re largely all pro­duced in CG. They’re beau­ti­fully made but we wanted Thun­der­birds to push the bound­aries in terms of de­liv­er­ing a new aes­thetic for kids. And at the same time we also wanted to try and pay trib­ute to how Gerry and Sylvia made the orig­i­nal se­ries. In New Zealand we met the won­der­ful tal­ents at Weta work­shop and Pukeko Pic­tures, the com­pany founded by Peter Jack­son and Richard Tay­lor. And we dis­cov­ered that Richard took a lot of his in­spi­ra­tion as a child from Thun­der­birds and that most of the de­sign­ers and tech­ni­cians and crafts­peo­ple in his work­shop in Welling­ton are pas­sion­ate about Thun­der­birds as well. I felt I had found ab­so­lutely the right co- pro­ducer and part­ner to make the se­ries.”

fresh ap­proach

Tay­lor and his crew per­fected a tech­nique that brings a cut­ting- edge vis­ual style to the Tracy clan’s new ad­ven­tures. “We tested this mixed me­dia ap­proach of build­ing our craft and our char­ac­ters in tra­di­tional CG but hav­ing our world, our vis­tas, our build­ings, all of those back­grounds, as much as pos­si­ble as live­ac­tion minia­ture sets – which is ab­so­lutely Weta’s forte on all those won­der­ful fea­ture films. That, in its rawest form, gives beau­ti­ful back­ground plates that are real. Th­ese are real mod­els, al­beit built at dif­fer­ent scales. It gives us a fore­ground that is tra­di­tional CG and then lay­ered on top of that are 2D ef­fects, 3D

ef­fects, a layer of light­ing, and when all that me­dia comes to Lon­don it’s all com­pos­ited to­gether to make a pic­ture that looks unique and very beau­ti­ful.

“But even with the CG noth­ing is com­pletely elec­tronic. With Thun­der­bird 2, for ex­am­ple, we painted that iconic green onto a glass panel in the work­shop, threw lots of dust and dirt at it to get that beau­ti­ful dirt­ied tex­ture, and then we’d pho­to­graph that panel and scan that pho­to­graph around the dig­i­tal model. So even a CG as­set has some­thing phys­i­cal to its na­ture. We love the fact that it pays trib­ute to the hand­made na­ture of Gerry and Sylvia’s se­ries. The orig­i­nal se­ries pi­o­neered a tech­nique called kit- bash­ing, where you’d find bits and pieces around the home… That’s ab­so­lutely the ap­proach that we’ve brought to this se­ries. Which is very Bri­tish! It just adds an­other layer of orig­i­nal­ity and so­phis­ti­ca­tion that I think kids will en­joy.”

Telling “mostly brand new sto­ries – though there’s at least one re­make of an iconic episode in there”, Thun­der­birds Are Go pre­serves much of the matchless iconog­ra­phy of the orig­i­nal se­ries. Ridge says a con­tem­po­rary spin en­sures it’s not sim­ply a retro- fest. “From a de­sign per­spec­tive we found it easy to mesh those iconic ’ 60s el­e­ments with new. There’s a bit of a fash­ion for it nowa­days any­way. I think the trick was in get­ting the colour pal­ette right, and en­sur­ing that the world of colour within

Thun­der­birds wasn’t stuck in the ’ 60s but that there was suf­fi­cient panache and di­ver­sity in terms of the colours that made it feel mod­ern and fresh.”

Tweaks have been made to the mighty Thun­der­bird fleet. “We’ve made some mi­nor ad­just­ments. We’ve stream­lined Thun­der­bird 2 in a small way. The so­phis­ti­ca­tion, tech­ni­cally, of th­ese ve­hi­cles is much greater than they were 50 years ago, but the test for us was that you should be able to look at a sil­hou­ette and im­me­di­ately know which ve­hi­cle it was. I think with all the craft you can ab­so­lutely do that.”

And yes, those heart- stir­ring Tracy Is­land launch se­quences are present and cor­rect. “Kids love me­chan­i­cal process, so we have ab­so­lutely in­dulged that in the new se­ries. We ab­so­lutely ro­mance the launches. We spent a lot of time sto­ry­board­ing them and just mak­ing sure that all the de­tail was there.”

The show’s voice cast in­cludes Gone Girl star Rosamund Pike, an im­pec­ca­ble fit for In­ter­na­tional Res­cue’s trou­ble- seek­ing toff Lady Pene­lope.

“Rosamund al­ways felt that she wanted to bring a mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion to what is a very mod­ern woman in our new se­ries. I think it’s right that the Lady Pene­lope of 2015 should be rel­e­vant to our au­di­ence. She’s a young, in­de­pen­dent- minded, in­tel­li­gent woman, who cel­e­brates the fash­ions and at­ti­tudes of now, rather than 1965.”

no light­ing up

Nat­u­rally this thor­oughly mod­ern Pene­lope hasn’t in­her­ited her pre­de­ces­sor’s el­e­gant way with a cig­a­rette.

“That’s the whole rea­son why I doubt the clas­sic se­ries would ever be played in chil­dren’s air­time again – there was smok­ing and there was drink­ing. That’s lack­ing from our new se­ries, but made up for in all sorts of other ar­eas.”

Not tempted to have her vap­ing, then? “No!” laughs Ridge.

The gaspers may be ab­sent but this Pene­lope is still fer­ried in FAB 1 by the loyal Parker. Parker’s so re­mark­ably loyal that he’s even voiced by David Gra­ham, the man whose lar­ynx brought the cock­ney chauf­feur to life in the ’ 60s show.

“I felt if there was one part that we could recre­ate com­pletely loy­ally and ac­cu­rately it was Parker. The thing about David’s per­for­mance in our new se­ries is that he sounds no dif­fer­ent to how he was 50 years ago. He’s ex­actly the same Parker, and he’s been a de­light to work with. He’s em­braced the changes that we feel we’ve been able to make.”

Parker may have em­braced the changes, but will the hard­core An­der­son fan­base wel­come this new take on a beloved Brit SF clas­sic? The Tracy brood can face down ev­ery­thing from fires to floods but can they win the hearts of the purists?

“When ITV asked me to re­make this se­ries I was filled with a mix­ture of ela­tion and huge ap­pre­hen­sion,” Ridge tells SFX. “I com­pletely un­der­stand that there’s a very loyal au­di­ence of the orig­i­nal who will look upon us very care­fully. I re­ally hope that we’ve found that right bal­ance of of­fer­ing a dy­namic, cut­tingedge se­ries for young­sters but with the loy­alty that we’ve brought to the look and feel of the orig­i­nal, and the val­ues that made the orig­i­nal in the first place. Re­makes are not easy, but I re­ally hope that we have a wide au­di­ence that ap­pre­ci­ates what we’ve done.”

Thun­der­birds Are Go launches on CITV in April ( ex­act date TBC).

Tracy Is­land: as small and ver­dant as ever.

The mak­ers have gone for fairly muted colours for the fleet, as per the orig­i­nal se­ries. Their heads may be smaller, but the Tra­cys are just as smart! Rosamund Pike voices the new- look Lady Pene­lope.

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