Tuesday, March 14, 2017

puppets show

thunderbirds 1965 is a project to celebratethe 50th anniversary of thunderbirds. we're creating threenew episodes based on 1960s commerciallyavailable stories that were recordedspecifically for record. this allows us to createnew episodes that not only will look exactly the waythey did back in the day but also sound exactly likethey did back in the day. we're hoping torevive an artform that is pretty muchextinct to bring back the

magic of thunderbirdsand supermarionation. thunderbirds is a sixtiesview of the future and of america by people whohave never been to either. that in itself makesquite a fun show. on one level you reallyhave good stories. stories that were engaging,thrilling and exciting. but also they had humour and at the heartthere was a family. they had to hold on to a secret.

when i was between 7 and 8 this newprogramme came on tv: thunderbirds. and it was an instantmagical journey for me. i was looking at somethingutterly tangible. there were so many things to look at.so many visuals, models, puppets, everything.it was just so cool. i really love thequality that goes into these tiny things. it's such a uniqueform of film making. there was nothing like it on television,either before or since really.

that supermarionation technique that camefrom the sixties has an appeal to it that is so specific to it. there is a charm to it that doesn'texist in any other medium. the way it was shot was epic.it was filmic. there is something aboutmodels and puppets brought together withdynamic editing. and this big over the topmusic that really sells what you're watchingon the screen. supermarionation is aterm that gerry anderson

came up with tosell this idea that you're making this very sophisticated formof 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 thickwires and kind of doing this with painted-on eyesand painted-on mouths. this is a very sophisticated, higherclass form of marionette entertainment. when they were doing it in the sixties,they wanted to do live action films. gerry anderson hated beingassociated with puppets. and the goal of that team was: makethese 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 themas if they were real people. this is an example of asupermarionation puppet. what you can see isthis fibreglass head. if you take the backof the head off and look inside... sorry, for anyone whohas a weak stomach. this is the eye-rocker andthis actually what allows

your eyes to move back and forth and then you have got anelectromagnet down there that when you send theelectric pulse through that's what moves the mouthand causes it to talk. the key core of supermarionationwas that the puppets were able to speak intime with the dialogue. which is really importantwhen you're trying to sell the credibility ofsomething being alive because everyone we talk tospeaks in sync with the dialogue.

gerry anderson said "these puppets can'twalk, these puppets can't pick things up," they have one expressionon their face they have a very static face but the funny thing is that thoselimitations also mean they can do a lot. there is a very narrow window withinwhich the characters can emote. but they do that very well. if the character looksslightly to the left but lowers its head, youget one expression. you might get coy. if they pushtheir eyes all the way or look up

they can look snooty. farewell mr. charles. your family would havebeen proud of you. they finished up injail too, i believe. so when you pair that with dialogueor with the context of the scene you can get so much emotion,so much performance out of somethingthat is so static. you can see they're puppets. you occasionally see the strings.you are

aware they don't movequite like real people. but i think it istestament to the stories that you do feel for themwhen they're in peril. there is naturalperspective in the shots so in a bizarre way they feel more organicthan a two-dimensional image ever will. because they can turnand do have shadows and the fact that theydo not move as naturally as us... we bypass that. they did not realise that theyended up creating this rather odd

art that had itsown 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 secondsto switch off that beam. look out scott! scott, switch off the beam. where is the master switch?

scott! quickly! hold tight, penelope. we were so excitedabout the fact that mini-albums ofthunderbirds existed. they did obviously domini-albums that were just recaps of the episodes. but we had these threethat were unique to vinyl. and the coolest thingabout that is of course that all the voices are there.

you've got peter dyneley, shane rimmer, and sylvia anderson, and david graham. making authentic thunderbirds, you could not do it withouthaving those voices. that's the blessing ofhaving those mini-albums. the curse of them is that they neverdesigned them to make them into movies. they were made strictly as

audio-plays really. so part of our jobwas to adapt them to suit the visual medium. and that involves a lotof careful un-picking of the audio elements and restructuringinventing new scenes, new bits of business. scenes like thunderbird 4 making anappearance in the stately homes robberies. or a uranium plant which is explodingin 'the abominable snowman'. these are not inthe mini-albums, so we managed to make theseinto proper episodes.

now, to deal with thatmeddlesome lady penelope. it takes a lot of patience tomake a supermarionation puppet. especially because weare doing recreations. the puppets have to look asright as they possibly can. it takes sometimes weeks for acharacter to go from start to finish. there are so manyprocesses involved. you start off witha plasticine head cast it then in silicone rubber and make a fibreglasscast of that.

you put the working parts in:the eyes and the solenoid or electromagnet tomake the mouth to move. then they have to gooff and be wigged. they are difficult puppets to work withbut once the technique is perfected i think they work very well. the trickiest thingsare probably the eyes. they have to be really goodquality human style eyes. lots of people try to recreate thembut they are very difficult to do. they have to be done to a standard and donein the same way out of dental acrylics

to get that niceclear lens in it. just like people: they arethe window to the soul. they need depth to them. ifthey are just painted-on or glazed over or havethat cloud about them you don't really getthat connection. when you put a camera on this character,you can feel depth to the character because of the eyes. it seems most of thesculpts are asymmetric. and of course if youmake an animatronics

most of it has to be symmetrical becauseyou're making a mechanical piece. the lip mechanismworks with a magnet. and if the magnet is notexactly, and i mean exactly where it has to be the mouth won't move orit will stay open or you hear a clack butthe mouth won't do it. so obviously fitting a mechanicallymade thing into an organic sculpt which got character is always a problem.

you don't find this until youfinally assemble a puppet and you find his mouthis over an angle, his eyes aren't quite in line. and then it is really playing and trying to make thesecharacters actually look the same as they would have donein the sixties because these quirks are whatmade them characters. we're constantly trying tomake it look like the original which you cannot doentirely because

even their puppets did not look thesame between the individual stages. the tiniest degreesin variance can completely destroy thelook you're going for. we are really sensitive to the slightestchanges in people's faces. if you meet someone and suddenlytheir eyes are an inch to the left they look weird. andon a puppet scale a millimeter or two out may aswell be an inch out at that scale. the strength of usingthese marionettes is that you have a complete figure towork with. they are a complete entity.

you can treat them asa live action actor. if you have a full set to go with them, youcan place the camera however you like. the limitations arereally to do with the way the characteris remotely controlled by these really long wires. it's quite difficult to getprecise movement with them. one of the most important thingsfor a supermarionation puppeteer is arm strength! sometimes you're standing up thereholding a puppet for almost an hour

while the lighting is setup and the camera set up. physical strength really helps. it's easy to forget onthe credit, way down somewhere near the end ofthe list on thunderbird 5 that the puppeteers:they are the actors. so often we focus onthe voice artists. but actually the performancethat the characters give is so important to theway the show works. when you see the puppetshanging from the bridge

and the lights go on and thepuppeteer grabs the control and starts working it. itsuddenly comes to life. they say the soul of the puppetis in the puppeteer's hand. you do a lot of subtle movements thattranslate to bigger movements on camera so you have to be almost like adancer in terms of muscle control. there is an element ofspontaneity and playfulness. it's a lot like theatre.you get up here, have the puppet in your handand so many factors determine whether or not theperformance is what you want it to be.

there's an element that you can control itand the most skillful puppeteer can get the puppet to a certain place.and after that at the end of these long sixfoot wires, it's sort of luck. because there is so much to do,it can become chaotic at times. the puppets are notoriouslydifficult to work with. sometimes you need three orfour people just to get one character to performa single action. there will be the operator whois at the top of the bridge, then you might havea floor puppeteer.

a floor puppeteer needs to beon hand to hold a puppet still, to turn a puppet,to lift a hand, to fill the gaps the operatoron strings can't do. 3...2... 1... drop! your back is sorted oftwisted, your hands like this, your face in thepolystyrene snow, your face in the dirt,your face in the sand. and then you've got thelipsyc-operator who has to make sure that thedialogue is keyed in time.

the lipsync system we use is differentfrom the system they used in the sixties in that it was transmitteddown the wires. we have a cable thatgoes up the leg and up the body becausestrings become very brittle when you transmit thesignal down them. we also have to activate the lipsyncmanually, so we have a switch as the dialogue goes you have topress it in time to the lip movement which can be quite difficult if youhave a long passage of dialogue. lip movement is something people associatewith the puppets and examples in the series

where the lip sync doesn'twork or it is wrong it is very noticable andit does throw people off. so in a way it is an extensionof the puppeteering itself. the wonderfulunpredictability of life for me is containedin getting a message saying "how would you like a puppetrecreated in your likeness?" of all the things... of all thesentences i read in my life, that was one ofthe most unusual. oh my dear high-born, titled english lady.the evidence is underwhelming.

clues abound in every crook and nanny. i was quite comfortablewith the idea of it being very much a periodpiece and of its time. now we would dothings differently, but we would do a billionthings differently. the sense of the project was tobe as authentic as possible. so for me retaining thevoices was kind of important because they pre-exist. dear friends, we must part.our destination has arrived.

there is the skicopterand the guide to transport you. years ago they had cliffrichard and his group. as specific little portraits. but ithought 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 sculpedaway. i did not draw it beforehand. i thought i'll just sithere and see how it goes. and slowly slowly it came to life.and you sculpt the hair on

so you get a final idea ofwhat it is going to look like. virgil - you haveto hurry it up! even with something assimple like this, when something goes wrong itcan really go wrong. after all this timeand preparation and you're finally readyto go for a shot and the puppets are in place,the set is perfect even the explosions areset up and ready to go. and you call "action"and suddenly... snap!

this tungsten wire we'reusing is incredibly fine. either they loop or theweight is too much suddenly and they break and the puppet slumps andwe end up having to redo the entire scene all over again afterwe've re-strung them. we have certain characterswe really like and certain characters thatare so frustrating and they didn't want to work. the hoodwas 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 humanhand in the foreground and stephen, the director,was playing scott tracy holding the gun up. and you hadthe hood in the background full body and we wererehearsing it over and over because he had tospin around with a gun. there was a lot of pressureas the hood was on set and there had been a lotof problems trying to get the hood look rightin the first place.

and then we turned over,the camera was running and stephen's hand came up. sometimes we lose hours, sometimes we losehalf a day trying to fix these things. when you watch it you think 'that cannottake long' or 'that's easy to do'. but everything is difficult.nothing is what it seems. i wish we had sound on the rushes, becausewhen we actually get a take right there's cheers because the frustrationof 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 thunderbirdsand all those types of shows is very specific. there's a very specificway that they make their planes fly that they make their carsdrive, the way they film it. very of its time in termsof the grammar of the way a craft are so often going leftto right or right to left. the modern way of filmmaking is to make you feel you're traveling much more with the vehicleor much more in the centre of action. whereas the derek meddingsstyle is you're an observer. if you go back to thunderbirds, theywould make their models filthy.

it's a technique derek meddingsin the sixties perfected and they had this great eye formaking things look realistic. it's a key to thefilming of the models. when does thunderbird 4 look the best?when it is absolutely filthy. it looks like itactually had gone out on missions. so our modelswe would dirty them down and put them on cameraand quite often there was a building orvehicle and you would look at it and go, "oh...it's not dirty enough."

so if you see a modelunder normal light it looks very worn and dirty. but infront of a camera, when you lit it you lose about 70% ofthe dirtying down. so it is a skill to look throughthe camera and make a judgment as to the amount ofbreaking down of the model. if you put something in frontof the camera that must appear brand new, you stillhave 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 andit looks like a piece of rubbish.

as long as it looks good on camera, it canbe very flimsy, only detailed on one side. the long time appeal of thunderbirds isin 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 inanimateobjects coming to life and behaving sort of asthough they were real. when thunderbird 2 flies, it'sgot to look really heavy. not for one second do you buy thatit is anything other than a model. you're not looking, thinking,"my god it looks real!"

that's what they were aiming for... it'simportant 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 thisworld, by luck really, in which the puppets and models inhabitthis same artificial universe. and so it is toys come to life. butreally good toys come to life. not the sort of toys you couldown when you were a kid. but the sort of toys youwould aspire to own later on. the sort of toys we'renow surrounded with here. we have really been challenged and pushedon our locations across the three episodes.

we've have scenes set atan exploding refinery, we've got scenes inthe tower of london, stately homes inthe home counties, we've got tracy island includingbits you've never seen. a multitude of ice caves. you really have to think on yourfeet with this sort of stuff. the production will stop tomorrowunless you provide the set. stephen will come to meand say "we want to shoot" this tomorrow, what arethe possibilities?"

hilton is the master whenit comes to identifying bits of kit parts that theyused on the original sets and then reusing these samekit parts on these sets, which i think is reallyimportant to the success of us convincing theaudience that these episodes could have been madein the sixties. just hunting down onebay trying to find the bits and pieces theyused like the grilles very identifiable things throughout thewhole of the gerry anderson series.

things like little bulbs,toothpaste tube tops, and trying to make it asauthentic as we could. we have to make a long studyof the styles, the materials – get into the heads of themodel makers of the time. so it's trying to find and replicateall the original kits, toys, materials, the way things werepainted, the way they were aged... this is the lounge, penny. i control most of the rescueoperations from here. really jeff? it'squite beautiful.

where we're matching somethingin the tracy lounge we had to go back to the original episodesas plans for these sets don't exist anymore and really study and work outwhat the measurements were to make sure they are in correctproportion to the puppets. this room is a room that any fan is intimately familiar with. it might as well be aroom you grew up in. when we came to makea replica of this it was incredibly important that itwasn't too big and wasn't too small,

that the colours were right toget it to look right on camera. to get the dimensions right i took aframe grab of an original episode and modelled 3d geometryon top of it and took measurements witha 3d camera on there, guessing what lensthey filmed on so we got measurements of whatit was supposed to look like. say, fab 1 sure isa great automobile. we like it, don't we, parker? yes, m'lady.

we had to recreate fab1which is probably one of the most difficultpuppet sized props they even had on theoriginal series. so we were loanedsections of a fab 1 model which we then had to modify.and i just happened to have from 20 years ago some casts from theoriginal thunderbirds are go fab 1 which i then reworked to make it looklike something of the first series car. i can't think of another series wherepeople have attempted to bring it back and do it exactly the same way. maybe becausemost of the time it's not possible.

if you suddenly decidedto remake, say, 1960s doctor who or the avengers you wouldn't have the actors around so inthat sense it would be an impossible feat. for us, with these recordings, with thefact 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 marionetteseries, it would be a lot easier than what we are trying todo now: making an exact recreation of what wasmade five decades ago. if the slightest thingis off, everything is

thrown. you're suddenlynot in the sixties. there are all sorts ofthings that are part of recreation that you can'treally put your finger on. you look at a shot andit either looks like. thunderbirds or it doesn'tlook like thunderbirds... or it sort-of looks likethunderbirds. which is the worst kind ofshot because you go, "what's the thing that'sletting it down? is it the lighting? is itthe puppet's face?"

getting it as close towhat it was is very important. i think thereis that added pressure. unlike if we were making somethingdifferent, in that we'd think, 'this is what we want, but isit what they would have done?' and it has to be the waythey would have done. particularly building something that has toappear, not a recreation of thunderbird 2, not a recreation of a puppet, but thoselittle bits of detailing. sets... sets made especially madefor this production. they need to be madein a way to looks like

they could have beenmade in the sixties. one of our big problems is sometimespeople who have supplied stuff – they make it too well. and that's notto run down the original series. we're doing this usingsome modern technology and it would be tempting to try andupdate the way we're doing things. but we have to keep bringingit back to the sixties. i met stephen and geraldine because we wereappearing together in a play in geneva, which i was doing costumes for. and stephensidled up to me towards the end and said, "would you be interested indoing something a bit bizarre?"

our costume lady liz was thrownin 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 beteeny-tiny, they have to fit perfectly, "they have to have the rightpattern, and we want them sixties... "get to it now." – and she managed great.we got so many costumes from her. they alll look fantastic. theattention to detail is really good. to research it i was more lookingat costumes of the sixties than the thunderbirds costumes. andlooking at the thunderbirds costumes you can see they got excited byall these new futuristic fabrics

like polyester which iswhy so many costumes are rigid on the originalthunderbirds marionettes because polyester hasvery little give. what really works well is anythingthat is a tad on the stretch side so for example thishas some elasticity to it. it is not easy to find detailsand patterns that work for puppets. these stripesfor example would look massive and the puppetwould look puppet sized. we did find some. likejeff's flamingo shirt,

which is just gorgeous.and is perfect for jeff. but you think 'what wouldanyone in the real world 'want to use a quarter centimeter highflamingoes on a bit of fabric for?' very bizarre. can't workthat one out at all. you can tell jeff's costumes. thereis 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 calledthe peacock revolution. bring the luggage,will you parker? yes, m'lady. i'll haveto 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'tlike 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 icould make her slightly formal, more masculine clothes. and action! well, i must say parker. it was a goodidea of yours to bring fab 1 along.

so much more convenient. yes m'lady. i knew it would be as closeto the 1960s experience – making the original series –as much as would be possible, but it completely surpassedmy expectations. probably one the strangestparts was bringing back people who'd worked on theoriginal series. specifically davidelliot to direct and mary turner who came in topuppeteer for a couple of days.

action! turn! i'll get the locks, dawkins. watch out for guards. it reminds me ofthe earlier days coming back to this place. it's weird. as soon as i opened the door iwas at home. it doesn't feel any different. especially when mary comes. bang – it's just the same.

it's incredible when david and marywere working together, because they both immediately came backto their working relationship they'd had all those years ago. we've been very lucky. we'vebeen friends for over 50 years. you soon get back into it again. to be honest, you'venever gone out of it. are you ready? – yeah.– running! action! and he manages to knock outthe automatic tv cameras too. exactly. it's almostas if he's a phantom.

yeah. that's the one. print! print!cool. every single shot we dotakes a lot of preparation. days and days of preparation before you actually getit before the camera. david tremont for instance, spent a goodfew weeks building this beautiful mansion that we knew was going tobe blown up in seconds. the most exciting thing hasto be the mansion exploding. the initial stages is sitting down withthe directors, designers, whomever, and getting out of their heads whatthey see – what they imagine it to be.

what sort of explosion, how bigcan we can make the model. it has to be built specifically,so it destructs in a certain way. you don't want the modelto go "pffff" like that. you want bits of it to fly off, you wantdebrie flying off towards the camera. that's a huge staple ofthunderbirds explosions. little things flyingaway towards the camera. you have to build it extremely fragile.there is a lot more technology that goes into makingsomething come apart. and when we put the treesin, it looks fantastic.

and people, when we mentioned, "hey, lookat this... isn't it beautiful..." would be appalled when we said,"it's going to be blown up! it's not goingto exist next week!" i get this a lot. i've builtmany pyro-models over the years. and the first reaction is always "youdon't want to see your model destroyed". but no, completelyopposite to that. a pyro-model is purposebuilt to be destroyed. that's the whole challengeof the project. when we try to recreate thekind of explosions that

derek meddings and his teamproduced for the original thunderbirds there is a specific look to them. oftenbecause they used quite dangerous things. some of the chemicals werecarcinogenic which we cannot use now, but those chemicals producedvery specific sorts of looks. black smoke turns up everywhere inthunderbirds when there is an explosion – there is usually this toxicstuff you would not want to breath in and cannot usenow because it's illegal. one of the challenges forour pyro-technicians was to go away and lookat what they were doing

and then try and come up with theequivalent of what they were using so we could achieve thesame sort of look. it requires working a lotwith the pyro-technicians designing what sort of explosion, whatsort of sequences, how many, how big. that's the larger chargewe would suspend in a roof to blow the roof offand the timbers. and then we haveothers here that will fire vertically in the air andproducing flame at the same time. the pyro guys come in and putall their charges into it.

once they're all finished,they move out and i go in and i fill every gapi can with debris. tremont spent weeks and weeksbuilding this model and it's all in one shot. it's goingto blow up. and if it doesn't work we can't do it again. so we actually put two cameras onit, just in case, to make sure that we got it. because we wouldnever be able to set it up again. so you just hope that it works. so when it explodedit just went "pow".

if you were to come into the studio andwatch 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 athigh speed is very important. you're shooting at ahigher frame rate than normal film. normal filmruns at 24 frames per second. so in 1 second you get24 separate images that are taken by the camera.with high speed photography you could be doing 120 framesper second for our explosion shots.

it's a lot of pictureswithin that one second. you play that back at 24 frames per secondand everything happens really slowly. a tiny little "puff" becomesa really big "woooof". and that applies tothe models as well. when you've got models on stringsflying across the screen they tend to bump and wobble. if you shoot it at high speedand then play it back normally the bumps and wobbles becomea sort of gentle turbulence. it feels right. the crafthave weight. they feel

like they are actuallysuspended in mid-air. i think the original apfilms film crew formed a family. particularlyin the earlier days running up to andincluding thunderbirds. supermarionation is such asilly form of film making. as great as it looks onscreen, the actual day-to-day process of it, the realityis so silly that it would be very difficult not to form some sortof camaraderie with the team around you and to all work together to make thishas been a very special experience.

i think this type of filmmaking, with puppets, visual effects – hasdefinitely got a future. it's telling that everytime thunderbirds has made a comeback to differentgenerations of children each generation hastaken to it so much. doing something using these almostextinct supermarionation techniques isn't just a matterof nostalgia. it can't be. there are a lot of fans on ourcrew. but there are a lot of professionals who don't have a particularchildhood fondness for the series

and they are all ableto see the appeal. i think it has a huge future,because it's a physical art. absolutely all the traditionalarts should be retained should be passed on,should be taught, to the next generation ofspecial effects artists. to be embracing what they were doing50 years ago is very important because we are the lastgeneration doing this. and this is a real old-schoolfilm 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

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