Thunderbirds Are Go! at Brand Licensing Europe

Thunderbirds are Go! Tracy brothersThe Countdown Is On!

Visitors to London’s Brand Licensing Europe exhibition today got their best look yet at Thunderbirds Are Go! as they were treated to tantalising glimpses of ITV Studios’ new series for 2015.

A 7 foot tall model Thunderbird 1 welcomed visitors, flanked by screens showing some of the amazing model work that’s been created for the new series by Weta Workshop in New Zealand. Posters tease us with the backs of the Tracy brothers, and an interactive “Thunderbird 5 Hub” hints at the interactive experiences that ITV are planning to support their new show. Viewers will be able to upload their own Thunderbird designs, play games, solve puzzles and much, much more in order to gain points which move them through the ranks of International Rescue. There will also be augmented reality displays in shops that give viewers in-depth information on the toy they (or their parents) are about to buy.

BLE runs at London’s Olympia Exhibition Centre until 9th October.

Thuderbird 5-bag competition prize
Thanks to our friends at ITV Studios, club members can win a Thunderbirds promotional bag!

Produced specially for BLE, the black bag carries the series title along with the silhouette of Thunderbird 5. Inside the bag is an A5 flyer and a costume patch, sealed in silver foil.

To be in with a chance to win this special prize that money can’t buy, just answer this simple question:

In its Kepler orbit, Thunderbird 5 can only ‘see’ part of the Earth. How many sister satellites are needed so that International Rescue has total global coverage? (Clue: The answer’s in FAB 78)

Send your answer to along with your full name and club membership number by 23:59 BST next Monday, 13th October 2014

The winner will be drawn at random from all valid entries on Tuesday 14th October, when we’ll have another competition for you! Two runners-up will be send the Thunderbirds Are Go! flyer.

Thunderbirds Are Go! at Weta Workshop: a report

Fanderson's New Zealand agent, ready to set out on in her next mission on her FAB1/3.

Fanderson’s New Zealand agent Sereena Burton reports on her trip to Weta Workshop, the company behind the special effects on Thunderbirds Are Go! Armed with a list of questions from fellow fans, and her pink FAB1/3, she set out to discover more about this most eagerly-anticipated series…

First things first…

In the immortal words of a character from a classic TV series a little younger than Thunderbirds: “Don’t panic, Captain Mainwaring.”

Right, now that I’ve hopefully relieved your concerns, permit me to go over some of what I did during my visit to Wellington in April 2014. I’m as keen as the next person to ensure that Thunderbirds is done with respect for those who created it (especially Gerry Anderson) as well as us fans. So when I decided to visit our capital city this year, I also decided to include a visit to Weta Workshop’s workshop.

As I’m sure you all know Weta Workshop is a New Zealand company that has produced the special effects for such film luminaries as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, The Hobbit, The Chronicles of Narnia and others. They, along with Pukeko Pictures, have been charged with the weighty task of producing the next Thunderbirds series.

When we last holidayed in Wellington we visited the Weta Cave; a museum/store dedicated to all things Weta. But at that point the closest they had got to anything remotely sounding like Thunderbirds was the Tintin movie. Since then they have added a tour to their itinerary, offering a glimpse through the window into their workshop, and I have to say that originally I figured that peering through a window was all that we’d get to do.

I was wrong. It’s not so extensive that you get to stand at the shoulder of each craftsman and watch them work, but we did get to see more than I’d anticipated.

It was a typical Wellington day, although maybe less windy than we might have expected (the nation’s politicians must have been having a break from expelling their usual excess of hot air), so we were a little bedraggled when we got there. As we’d pre-booked our place on the tour a month ago we were assured of our spot, and we got there with plenty of time to look around the museum. Having seen few of Weta’s movies, apart from Forgotten Silver and Under the Mountain, we were only interested in the craftsmanship that went into the models on display. However I did take some photos for movie lovers to enjoy.

Unfortunately these were the only photos I was allowed to take.

Does that “caterpillar” remind you of anyone?

Does that “caterpillar” remind you of anyone?

The museum/shop is not very big and we were crammed in along with the 20 other people who were waiting for the tour, and a bus group admiring the sights. No one was willing to join the trolls outside in the rain, so we spent our time trying to keep out of the way of people getting selfies with Gollum.

At 11.00am we were greeted by Warren Dion Smith (whose credits credits include The Hobbit films, King Kong, and a couple of Lord of the Rings movies). He escorted us outside into the rain, around the corner, through the locked door (which sadly for those fans was not a wardrobe), and into a kind of foyer room. There we got the usual pre-tour talk; although maybe it wasn’t the usual talk as it was only the second tour that Warren had led. The first being the 10.30am one before us, where he’d run himself ragged trying to control them all.

But Warren was great. He was witty, entertaining and more than willing for us to experience these things that he’d helped produce. His role in the company was for creating makeup and hair, but he’d done all that and more. He said that Richard Taylor’s (Weta Workshop creator) vision for employees is to be passionate, innovative, creative, and then have skills. If you have the first three traits then they’ll teach you the last one.

He showed us how props such as weapons are made. The weapons designer makes up to 500 designs and five or so of the best are chosen. Then the CAD (Computer Aided Design) department makes the plans for the individual components. From these moulds are created and the whole thing is made out of nothing more sophisticated than skateboard wheel plastic. Then the finished prop is painted, “dirtied down” (a term we followers of Derek Meddings know well), until they are finally used in the movie… Unless the director decides that scene isn’t going to work and it’s cut from the whole show.

A “miniature” of King Kong’s head. Miniature in that it was about 700mm tall.

A “miniature” of King Kong’s head. Miniature in that it was about 700mm tall.

We all got to hold a ray gun and see the various stages that it had gone through to reach the final product. Warren also let us hold a sword and a flail; the handle of which was held together by a wooden dowel. What’s amazing is that although these have been decorated to look like well-worn pieces of iron weaponry, they’re actually fairly soft, flexible, and light enough that even I could heft them off the ground. Everything’s been made in two halves, so all the props will have a seam running down their length (something to zoom in on with your blu-ray machine); but that seam or any other imperfections are not to be visible on screen. (So much for blu-ray.)

It was about this point where Warren asked if anyone had any questions about past shows or future ones. “…such as Thunderbirds?” I put my hand up. “I’ve got a list!” He suggested that I talk to Abbey later on.

We carried on, seeing a giant rabbit (appropriate for Easter) that both Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor had great delight in wearing and scaring little children with. I’m not surprised really. A lot of Peter Jackson’s early films were quite frightening, so he obviously has a love of putting The Frighteners on us all.

We were introduced to giant WotWots; a children’s TV show Weta produced with Pukeko Pictures in 2009, and one that has generated more income than any of the blockbuster movies mentioned above.

We were also shown the head moulds of various actors and these had been used to create the prosthetics they wore for their films. The manufacturing process that goes into creating these moulds sounds pretty arduous. The actor has to sit very still, with straws up his or her nose to breathe, while dental alginate is applied to their head, neck and shoulders. What follows is 20 minutes of being in darkness and constrained by a suffocating head case; and I would think that if you couldn’t hack the claustrophobia you would wind up as a head case. Warren told us that Elijah Wood was able to cope better than most, because he didn’t need to use the straws and survived by taking shallow breaths.

Replicas of costumes. Weta museum.

Replicas of costumes. Weta museum.

Moving on we came to a working model of the armoured car in Perfect Strangers, with a frozen Sam Neil sitting in the driver’s seat. The dummy was good enough that I knew who it represented even before Warren let us into the secret. So now I can say that I’ve shaken Sam Neil’s hand (and that he’s got a rather limp handshake.) And, as I said, the car was a working model – one of the staffers used it as a wedding car.

Behind a window a master armourer would normally work at making replicas of swords (out of steel) for over US$25,000.00 a pop. It could be even more expensive if you wanted extra details like writing engraved on it. Through another window was all the CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machinery. One boy left school with few practical skills, worked the Weta CNC machines gaining experience, and now he makes one-off perfume bottles for men to give to their wives for $100,000.00 each.

That’s nothing to sniff at.

Warren showed us the various types of chainmail that they used for different shows and characters. They were quite heavy, but were made by slicing up PVC pipe, linking them together, and electroplating them. (Which had to be lighter than using actual metal.) He also told us that he had a bedspread made out of scale chain maill  (which was made up of triangular steel scales). He found it good because it reached body heat no matter what the weather, and was warm in winter and cool in summer.

We learnt that when wearing the fake suits of armour (even though it was made out of the skateboard rubbery stuff), the actors had to limber up for 45 minutes before putting them on, because wearing it was such a workout. However the actors in those roles were so fit and flexible (they were dancers and the suchlike), that they were able to move freely and even skateboard when in costume. (We did wonder about other, eh-hem, human activities, but didn’t like to ask.)

Wellington Airport – there used to be two of these eagles soaring above the food court. That was until a 6.2 earthquake in Cook Strait on the 20th January 2014. Then the “unmanned” one fell, fortunately not hitting anyone. The remaining eagle, Gollum and the fish have all been tethered more securely since then.

Wellington Airport – there used to be two of these eagles soaring above the food court. That was until a 6.2 earthquake in Cook Strait on the 20th January 2014. Then the “unmanned” one fell, fortunately not hitting anyone. The remaining eagle, Gollum and the fish have all been tethered more securely since then.

When wearing armour, eating was done without removing the costume and at the end of the day the wardrobe department sometimes had to clean bits of food from the inside. They also had to clean out the gallons of sweat that the actors perspired, before disinfecting the whole thing ready for the next morning’s shoot. When you consider the number of suits of armour that had to be cleaned, and the fact that the call time on the set was sometimes 2.00am, and that shooting may finish at 7.00pm, then these suits didn’t have a lot of time to dry out! Many times an actor had to put on a wet costume.

Those actors who didn’t have to wear armour, but had prosthetics as part of their costume, had holes in the soles of their “feet” so the sweat could drain out – pooling around them. We were allowed to play with the prosthetic plastic that they use body parts such as arms and faces. This was quite an experience; if a little creepy.

The next piece of technical wizardry that we were shown was a wig that Warren had made by tying individual strands of human hair into a fine net, which gave us yet another idea of the level of detail that Weta go to.

After learning all that we came to a group who were working on various projects. One of the ladies was the aforementioned Abbey and Warren told her that I had a list of questions. I think both were surprised when I pulled a full sheet of A4 paper out of my pocket.

Detail of the eagle.

Detail of the eagle.

I didn’t want to hold her up too much as Abbey was working from a picture on a small scale model of Taipei for *trumpets sound* Thunderbirds! It was only about 20mm high and, like the model makers of 50 years ago, she was using various objects in ways they were never designed for to get the look that she wanted. (I didn’t see any lemon squeezers.) At this stage of completion, the city was painted grey and windows were made of roughly 5mm x 5mm craft mirrors, painstakingly glued side-by-side and in neat vertical columns to make skyscrapers.

If only I had been allowed to take photographs!

On the Fanderson Forum I had asked for people to supply me with the questions that they would like me to ask on their behalf, so I gave Abbey the list and she had a quick read and then asked me to ask her and she’d answer while she worked. So here they are (and I hope I’ve remembered her answers correctly.)


Is FAB1 going to be a Rolls Royce again, or have the rights to use the name been refused again, as happened with the 2004 film?

  • She believed that it was going to be a Rolls Royce, but wasn’t 100% sure.

Is Jeff Tracy going to be in the series, and will it essentially be a continuation of the story after the events of Thunderbird Six?

  • We’re going to be seeing many of the same characters, with a few additional ones, and some of the stories are going to be reworkings of the original episodes.

Are the Thunderbirds machines the same or been updated?

  • True to the originals, but slightly updated.

When are we likely to get our first trailer?

  • Abbey didn’t know.

Is it easier or harder to make the puppets than it was back in 1965? Are you still using the same techniques?

  • Sorry, I didn’t ask this one.

Is the production team immersing themselves in the original series whilst making these new adventures?

  • Very much so. She had a good grasp of what was what. And, as an aside, if you check out the crew’s biographies on Weta’s web site you will see that a number of them were inspired by Thunderbirds. One gentleman’s photograph has him holding Thunderbird Two, with Thunderbird Five and Sun Probe in the background; and his bio states that he made a Thunderbird Two with his dad as a child.  Also, apparently the office has Thunderbirds models about the place. (Sounds like my kind of work environment. The best I can do is a photo on my computer’s desktop and sound clips telling me when something’s about to happen, like Virgil calling me Brains and telling me when it’s time to go at the end of the day.)

Is it set in present day or the world-of-tomorrow kind of setting of the originals?

  • The Tracy Villa will have a modern retro feel. The date it’s set in is nebulous, but it’s in the future.

What does it look like compared to the 1965 version? Fresh, retro?

  • Faithful.

Is it going to respect the original material or be a cynical money grabbing abortion?

  • I didn’t quite phrase it that way, but Richard Taylor, the boss at Weta Workshop is – devoted, I think is the word Abbey used – to Thunderbirds, so he’s determined to be true to it. Right down to the way that the palm trees leaves hang. And if that one fact doesn’t inspire confidence, nothing will.

What has happened to Jeff?

  • He’s sitting at Tracy Villa waiting for filming to start.

Will we see Fireflash? That machine was legendary

  • Abbey wasn’t sure about that one. But we do get the Mole and the Firefly.

Will Barry Gray’s Thunderbirds theme be used in any capacity?

  • Abbey didn’t know if they’d managed to get the rights to use the original music.

How different will the series be from a real world tech position? (Green energy, social media, dangers of smoking, factual space exploration, voice interface / A.I. computing?)

  • It’ll be faithful to the 1960s version, taking into account today’s technology and values, but with an eye towards the future.

Has ITV stipulated any specific elements that must be retained from the original series?

  • Abbey is only a model maker, and “only” sounds wrong because without the model makers where would the series be? But she isn’t privy to the machinations at head office level, so she couldn’t answer that.

Was there a specific reason why the episodes are 25 minutes rather than 50?

  • Sorry, I didn’t ask that one.

Will Thunderbirds Are Go! hint at any other Anderson formats (the existence of Spectrum from Captain Scarlet for example) or be a standalone series?

  • She wasn’t aware of any crossovers.

Besides Fireflash, will any other guest vehicles or pod vehicles show up from the original series?

  • Definitely the old favourites, and if, as Abbey said, existing stories are reworked, then quite probably.

What year will Thunderbirds be set in and what will the relative ages of the Tracys be?

  • Abbey didn’t have definitive answers and thought that those questions would be left up in the air.


Did I have fun?

Very much so, even when I missed out on part of Warren’s talk because I was gleaning all the information I could about Thunderbirds Are Go. (I could have quite happily popped out the door and followed the next group back in – except that tour was full.)

If you ever get the opportunity to take the tour I would thoroughly recommend it. And if Warren’s the one who’s leading you around you’ll probably hear about the woman who actually had a long written list of questions about Thunderbirds ready and waiting to be asked. Fame at last!

So now you can hopefully relax. International Rescue is in good hands.

  • Thank you to Magnus of Weta Workshop and ITV for validating my report.
Wellington Airport – a giant Gollum fishing above the food court.

Wellington Airport – a giant Gollum fishing above the food court.

David Graham returns as Parker in Thunderbirds Are Go!

David Graham will play Aloysius Parker in Thunderbirds are Go!

Credit: ITV News

  • Thunderbirds Are Go! Voice Cast Revealed
  • David Graham reprises the role Parker
  • Rosamund Pike to play Lady Penelope

Fans of Gerry Anderson’s original Thunderbirds series got their dearest  wish today, as ITV Global announced that David Graham would reprise the role for which he is most fondly remembered. Almost 50 years have passed since his last appearance, but the voice artist will once again be playing the much-loved chauffeur and reformed crook, Aloysius Parker in ITV Global’s Thunderbirds are Go! Rosamund Pike (The World’s End, Gone Girl, Die Another Day) will play his aristocratic employer and International Rescue Agent, Lady Penelope.

Other cast members to be announced include:

  • Brains – Kayvan Novak (Fonejacker, Facejacker)
  • Alan and Scott Tracy – Rasmus Hardiker (Saxondale, Lead Balloon)
  • Virgil Tracy – David Menkin
  • Gordon and John Tracy – Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Love Actually,Game of Thrones)
  • Grandma Tracy – Sandra Dickinson (Amazing World of Gumball, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy)
  • The Hood – Andres Williams (M.I. High, Foyle’s War).

It appears that no announcement has yet been made as to the role of Jeff Tracy, the head of the Tracy family. However it has been confirmed that Thunderbirds Are Go! will also feature a range of brand new characters. Kayo – the Tracy brothers’ friend and fellow island resident – will be played by Angel Coulby (Merlin, Dancing on the Edge) and Colonel Casey voiced by Adjoa Andoh (Invictus, Doctor Who).

Giles Ridge, Executive Producer of Thunderbirds Are Go! said: “Each member of the cast has brought a brilliantly fresh and unique approach to these wonderful characters. I can’t think of anyone better than Rosamund to bring back to life the fabulous Lady Penelope and we are honoured that David Graham has joined the cast to revisit his role as Parker.”

Rosamund Pike commented: “I’m very excited to bring Lady Penelope’s wry wit and taste for adventure to a new generation. Exploring the scenes with David Graham has been an absolute delight. The scripts are very modern, very fresh and very funny. We’re all eagerly anticipating our next stint in the recording studio!”

David Graham, playing Parker, added: “I am triple chuffed to be on board the new series of Thunderbirds Are Go! and reprising my role of dear old Parker with such a distinguished cast. My driving skills are in good nick and I am delighted to be behind the wheel again with M’Lady. Cheerio!”

The series features an innovative mix of CGI animation and live-action miniature sets and is due to debut in 2015. Thunderbirds Are Go! is produced by ITV Studios and New Zealand-based Pukeko Pictures, with world-famous Weta Workshop (Avatar, King Kong, The Lord of the Rings) designing the series and producing the miniatures. The 26 x 30’ major new children’s series will debut on ITV and UK’s CITV Channel in 2015.

So, who would believe it? David Graham returns as Parker in Thunderbirds Are Go! What do you think about the casting decisions? Let us know on the Fanderson Facebook Group and Fanderson Forum.

Want to celebrate the exciting news with an episode of the original, ‘classic’ Thunderbirds? Check out our Thunderbirds episode guide and choose your viewing pleasure!

Breaking News: ITV Studios and Pukeko Pictures to Re-invent Classic Thunderbirds Series

Iconic Series is Back After 50 Years for a 2015 debut on CITV

ITV Studios is to re-invent Thunderbirds 50 years on from its first television debut.

ITV Studios and New Zealand based Pukeko Pictures, in collaboration with Weta Workshop (Avatar, King Kong, The Lord of the Rings) are to co-produce Thunderbirds are Go! (a working title), a 26 x 30’ major new children’s series set to debut on ITV and the CITV Channel in 2015.

The series will be produced using a unique mix of CGI animation and live-action model sets. Showcasing Pukeko Pictures’ and Weta Workshop’s creative and technical excellence, it promises to deliver a whole new level of action-adventure animation for today’s audience, whilst paying tribute to the legacy of original series.

Thunderbirds are Go! will be executive produced by Estelle Hughes for ITV Studios, Giles Ridge for ITV Studios Global Entertainment (ITVS GE) and Richard Taylor and Andrew Smith for Pukeko Pictures. The series head writer is Rob Hoegee (Generator Rex, Teen Titans, Ben 10, Slugterra.)

Thunderbirds are Go! is commissioned by Jamila Metran, Head of Programming for CITV, and is currently in pre-production.

Denise O Donoghue, Managing Director ITV Studios UK, comments: “Thunderbirds is a highly respected brand that continues to hold recognition around the world. This cult series is often credited as changing the history of animation and action-adventure, and we look forward to taking the show to another level while retaining the much-loved heritage that has endured over the past fifty years.”

Jamila Metran, Head of Programming for CITV, adds: “Thunderbirds Are Go! will be a hugely exciting new show for the CITV audience. We’re delighted to be working with ITV Studios and the talented teams at Pukeko Pictures and Weta Workshop, whose success and innovation is renowned across the film and television industry. Thunderbirds is a much-loved British institution with significant global recognition, and our audience will relish this timely opportunity to discover the new series fifty years on.”

Richard Taylor, co-owner of Pukeko Pictures and Weta Workshop, says: “Thunderbirds was a hugely influential television series in my childhood. Having watched it originally in black and white, it was only years later that I discovered the full and rich world that Gerry and Sylvia Anderson, Derek Meddings, Mike Trimm and their team created. It is thrilling therefore to think we have the opportunity to work with ITV on this new series inspired by this most wonderful of British shows. I personally, together with the teams here at Pukeko Pictures and Weta Workshop, look forward to designing and creating an inspirational world that will engage the imagination of a whole new generation as it did for us nearly half a century ago.”

Andrew Smith, CEO of Pukeko Pictures, adds: “Pukeko Pictures is focussed on high-quality value-based programming, and we are thrilled to be associated with such an iconic brand, one that brilliantly encompasses family values, heroism and generosity. We are very proud to partner with ITV Studios to create a new era of Thunderbirds.”

ITV Studios Global Entertainment retains worldwide rights to the Thunderbirds brand and is the global distributor for the Thunderbirds Are Go! television series and consumer products.