Behind the doors of a top secret base on a South Pacific Island…
A short note:
As I’ve used a number of Maori words in this report, I will try to give you some idea of how to pronounce them. But I’d like to apologise in advance to any true speakers of Maori. It’s only been in the last few years that New Zealanders have been encouraged to try to pronounce words correctly, so I wasn’t brought up listening to, and developing an ear for, the correct Maori sounds. Because of this it’s hard for me to know the true and correct way of saying words and translate them into sounds that any English speaker can understand.
The first time I visited England for a Fanderson convention, I was asked by someone doing a survey what ethnic group I identified with. I responded: “Pakeha.” (Pa-key-ha = New Zealander of European decent). The poor man looked very bewildered.
So how do you say Weta and Pukeko? Both words only have short vowel sounds and, as is standard with the Maori language, are said without emphasis on any syllable.
Photo taken by Wolfgang K – Copied from Wikimedia. Public domain
Wē – Like the same two letters in “wear”.
Tā – tuh.
Or the lazy way is Wet-a
Copied from desktop.dress.com. Public domain
Pū – Like the Pau in Paul.
Ke – Like the Ke in Kevin.
Ko – Like the co in cocoa.
Or the lazy way is Pooh-kek-ko
It’s a guide, anyway.
Should I thank Weta Workshop for giving me an enthralling, amazing, FAB experience before I begin this report, or leave it till the end?
I’ll get it out of the way. Thank you to Magnus, Amy, Reece, and Steven for giving me an enthralling, amazing, FAB experience.
As you can imagine, a company from a place the size of New Zealand (population 34.6 million – 30 million of which are sheep) that makes it big on the Hollywood scene, is going to be big news. Even in a country that suffers from the “Tall Poppy” syndrome, and has a tendency to cut overachievers “down to size”, Weta Workshop is universally admired. This means that it pays to book in advance if you intend to join either of their tours – the Weta Cave Workshop Tour or the Thunderbirds are Go Behind the Scenes Experience.
We had booked a week before our visit to ensure our place, and it’s here I’ll make a confession. I told you all that I was willing to ask your questions whilst on the tour. Well, the questions you gave me weren’t really of the sort that I expected a guide to know the answers to off the top of their head, so I forwarded them in advance to my Weta Guy contact, asking if he would be willing to give them to our guide as an advance warning of what to expect.
I wasn’t sure what to expect in reply.
As I said, Weta Workshop is a big name, and the chance of getting up close and personal with some genuine Hollywood memorabilia, and to see how it’s made, is a big drawcard for both local and overseas visitors. Having said that, there weren’t as many people on the Weta Cave Workshop Tour as I had expected. Whether that was the maximum number they could handle, or it was too early for most people, or because it was the week after the school holidays, I’m not sure, but it was great for little shorties like us, as it meant we could fight our way to the front.
I won’t go too much into this tour, as I covered it back in 2014.
Oh, what the heck. I’ve got new information.
Some of the other visitors on the tour, eager to get started.
This time our tour guide was Taylor, a self-confessed Weta baby. That is both his parents worked for the company and he’d practically grown up here – including taking his first steps. Now he is one of the prosthetics creators.
One of the first things we were told was that there could be absolutely no photographs (which was why I took notes.) To someone who’s a shutterbug, this was painful. But they’ve made this rule because Weta Workshop don’t own the copyright to the characters/props on display and they don’t fancy some hot-shot American lawyer slapping a lawsuit onto them when a photo appears on the Internet. Which I guess I can understand. They’ve got more important things to do than appear in court.
One of the first things we were shown was Sauron’s armour from Lord of the Rings. This character is supposed to be 14-foot tall, but, as it’s quite difficult to find a 14’ actor, the actual person who filled the costume was a seven-foot-tall Wellington policeman. And Taylor revealed that this wasn’t the only movie “cheat” relating to Sauron. The armour looked to have been hammered out of heavy metal, but was actually created from lightweight foam.
This same policeman was also the body double whenever they were filming conversations between Gandalf and the much shorter dwarves. The cop would be dressed in Gandalf’s costume, and they would film looking over his shoulder and down on the “dwarf”. To film the other side of the scene and give a sense of scale, they’d film upwards at Ian McKellan looking down onto a child stand in, or a 3’5” actor.
For the fight scenes, because for some reason everyone agreed that killing off or maiming your cast isn’t a good idea, the swords were either made of soft foam, or CGI’d in afterwards. This was mandatory for everyone, except for one actor was such a proponent of method acting that he refused to have anything except for real chainmail and a real sword. He also wouldn’t take the helicopter to the set, preferring to walk or ride a horse to location. He found himself arrested a couple of time for carrying a weapon in public.
“Statues” can be manufactured out of lightweight materials, such as fibreglass. They are then painted gold, overpainted with browns, scrubbed down to reveal the gold highlights, and then sprayed with green to simulate verdigris. To me it looked like a genuine brass statue, and I guess that was one reason why we weren’t allowed to touch it, because they didn’t want to spoil the illusion.
That’s not to say that Sir Richard Taylor and Weta Workshop haven’t been involved in creating genuine statues. This is part of the Dyslexia Discovery Exhibit in Christchurch on the South Island. It’s called “Inner Struggle”: Celebrating the imaginative power of the dyslexic mind. (Note the letters streaming off the page and away from the young girl?)
One thing that Taylor admitted, is that no fancy American lawyer can sue anyone over copyright breaches of the use of the human anatomy – either in the present or the past. Weta Workshop have a replica skull of “Lucy”; the human species’ earliest known link in the evolutionary chain. They used her facial shape as a basis of the Orc’s skull for Lord of the Rings.
Further on, Taylor introduced us to a castle that had been used in the Narnia series of films. At 1/100th scale, it stood taller than me on its platform and was constructed out of high-tech materials such as tin cans, takeaway containers, and toilet rolls for the turrets. But this wasn’t the largest model of this castle they’d used for the movie. They’d also made what they termed a “Bigature” – i.e. a model that’s bigger than a miniature. The tower of this castle was so tall that it couldn’t fit under the ceiling and had to be built, and filmed, lying on its side down the length of the room. Once the filming was completed it was CGI’d onto the top of the castle.
Other points of interest that I scribbled into my notebook:
- Some of the plastic that they use is APS. The same as used in Lego.
- When making prosthetics such as masks and gloves, they make it out of silicone. It moulds to the actor’s body; so if the actor’s got a bit of muscle, their character’s built too!
- Silicone for skin is impregnated with red flock (or blue for aliens) to simulate the blood vessels under the skin.
- It costs $150 to manufacture a silicone nose; and this can be used only once. (Wouldn’t you hate to sneeze and have it disappear somewhere over the horizon?) Some actors needed three noses a day. And we wonder why films are so expensive to make nowadays.
- Foam latex is also used, but can be toxic to some people. So much so that one actor in Lord of the Rings was mainly filmed using a body double.
- Real, metal chainmail (not the plastic chainmaille that Weta Workshop developed) can give you frostbite in the cold. Not everybody knows that.
I kind of covered this last time, but when Weta Workshop started making its own chainmaille it used plastic tube which was sliced up and linked together. Staff members did this assembling job for two years, at the end of which they’d worn away their fingertips and fingerprints. Something else that you may not have known is that the fingerprints do return – in a different pattern.
As it’s 100 years since WWI, Sir Richard Taylor helped create a display, Gallipoli: The scale of our war, at Te Papa – our national museum. Eight real people involved in the Gallipoli campaign were selected to have their story told, and to be reconstructed in Weta Workshop’s workshop. Each figure is 2.4 times human scale – so chosen because that’s the maximum height Te Papa’s rooms could handle – If there’d been more room, the scale would have been even more impressive.
It took the ladies six weeks to do the hair. That’s not just creating a new hairdo, but installing every individual thread of hair on the head or body. They listened to a lot of audiobooks to while away the time, including the complete Harry Potter series.
But that, for us, was in the future. The tour we were on in the “present” only takes in one room of the entire Weta Workshop complex. One side of the room, and the first part of the tour, is where you can get a close look at models from previous shows. The second part of the tour gives you the opportunity to actually see the craftspeople in action. This time we saw the sword maker that I mentioned in my last report, working on his latest creation. As they work behind windows, I wondered if he, or anyone in the CNC department, feels like an animal at the zoo? Or is it one-way glass they hide behind?
But, as last time, the second part of the tour also introduces you to future projects, and Taylor introduced us to a sculptor working on a Chinese dragon… Using Plasticine to sculpt the base of his creation. This is hardened by spraying it with “Freeze Spray”, which freezes surfaces to minus 51 degrees Celsius. To make the Plasticine malleable again, they heat it.
But I suppose all you model makers know that.
That tour took approximately an hour, and was worth the $25 price of admission. But I was waiting for the next event at 10.45am…
We followed the numbers painted onto the path leading from the Weta Cave door to the minibus: 5 – 4 – 3 – 2 – 1…
Note the line and the number three on the path
We were the only ones in the bus until right up to 10.45. Then another man got on board, and then a couple more, and then a group of six, and then…
And then there were more people on Thunderbirds are Go tour than on the Weta Workshop one. At this point I was a little disappointed, as I thought it would make it difficult for me to see what I’d come to see. (And had had people encourage me to go and see).
Not a problem. The tour is designed to be accessible and inspiring to Thunderbirds are Go’s target audience; even though there were no kids in our group… Except for one “biggish” one.
We were transported in the bus on a short jaunt, that almost seemed to double back on itself, to a rather non-descript warehouse-type complex with only a small “Pukeko Pictures” sign high on the wall to mark it out as anything special.
That was until we exited the bus and found ourselves facing a door with the Thunderbird One logo on it. We were invited inside.
The first thing that we saw was a model of Thunderbird Two.
THE Thunderbird Two! The original. Not the Thunderbirds are Go variant.
I wish I could take photos.
We were greeted by Amy, who informed us that we were in a top secret location somewhere in the South Pacific (no wonder the bus trip seemed convoluted). She asked how many people knew Thunderbirds and Thunderbirds are Go and a remarkably small number put up their hands. Of course mine went skywards as fast as Thunderbird Three’s launch.
Leading the way, Amy took us into another room which had more models of original Thunderbirds, FAB1, the Master Elevator Car and other International Rescue machines. All these had been kitbashed by David Tremont, after years of collecting bits and pieces off Trade Me (New Zealand’s version of Ebay), Ebay, and from other sources. He’d been looking for the exact same parts that Derek Meddings and team had used on the original models and, at a guess, he found them.
I want my camera!
But my camera had to remain in my bag and my bag was returned to the first room. Which was when I told Amy that I’d sent through your questions and asked if my helpful contact had passed them on. Amy said she’d explain more about what had happened to those questions later.
And so shall I.
We returned to the rest of the group and Amy started explaining the rationale behind making Thunderbirds are Go. Apart from the fact that Thunderbirds was one of the shows that had got many of Weta Workshop’s craftspeople interested in model making, they wanted to encourage young people to be creative. And if you’ve followed the Thunderbirds are Go web site or the magazine, you will see that both publications are continuing that ethos.
The creators also wanted to create a series with no weapons nor violence. They wanted to show a group of people who were anonymous, who helped others, and didn’t wait around for thanks. Anyone want to know why I love Thunderbirds and Thunderbirds are Go so much?
And I won’t mention that Amy said the series was from 1963.
After being thrilled by seeing vacuum cleaner tubes and other bits turned into the original Thunderbirds craft, we were introduced to the updated version. On a wall were various pictures of design sketches and drafts of how the various characters and craft could look.
I want my camera!
Amy pointed out that Gordon Tracy, with his love of loud beach shirts, wears one not with Hawaiian palms, but one with New Zealand Nīkau palms! (Knee-Cow) Tracy Island is clearly near to New Zealand as I’ve since noticed that it and its outlying islands also have Nikau dotted about the landscape.
I had to wait to get back to Auckland’s central business district to get this.
She said to keep an eye out throughout the show for the odd bit of Kiwiana. Translation: Items iconic to New Zealand’s people: aka Kiwis.
I asked if Virgil’s wearing a Swanndri when he’s off duty, and Amy didn’t know what that was. (Her’s wasn’t a Kiwi accent.) I told her it’s an iconic heavy woollen bush shirt; something I don’t think he’d want to wear on a tropical island.
Tin-Tin, of course, has become Tanusha ‘Kayo’ Kyrano, because they didn’t want to cause any confusion between our Tin-Tin and Hergé’s Tintin. And because ITV wanted to keep the big money lawyers at bay.
Thunderbird Shadow was designed by Shoji Kawamori, the lead designer on Transformers. He’d heard that Thunderbirds was being remade and sent his design in to Pukeko Pictures on the off chance that it would be of use to them.
They loved it.
Another thing that I found interesting, amongst all the interesting things on this wall (I want my camera) was a silhouette of the original Thunderbird One with the silhouette of the new Thunderbird One superimposed over the top of it. The similarities were clear, with the most obvious differences being the new version’s “dropped wings” and “tucked tail.”
Just a little plastic surgery.
Amy pointed out some hand drawn storyboard pictures… Including a hint of what’s coming up next season… 😉
Like the original AP Films team, the Pukeko Pictures team use various everyday items altered so as to be unrecognisable. A CD rack becomes a skyscraper. A circuit board becomes a futuristic city. (Think London in “Unplugged”.) A plastic, lidded, soap container, with a latch glued onto it and painted silver, becomes a safe door… One that Parker has to break into.
Since then, every time we’ve seen something that’s evocative of something else, we’ve thought, “I bet Weta Workshop would love to use that.”
Coloured mattress foam was handed around for us all to feel, as we were told that, in powder form, it’s used to add texture to structures. Shredded it becomes bushes.
Expanding foam is used everywhere; coloured in all sorts of ways; to create all sorts of shapes. It could be lava. It could be rocks. It could be expanding foam…
And of course we can’t forget the lemon squeezer! Amy asked what its relevance was. I was the one who explained that it was on the wall of the hangar of the original Thunderbird One and, as an homage, it’s also in the new Thunderbird One’s hangar… And that it’s the kind of thing that fans loved seeing.
Moving on we learned that we may be in the 21st century, but 3D printing and printers are used sparingly at Weta Workshop. If for no other reason than at this time it’s inordinately expensive. But it does have its uses.
As she passed around a 3D-printed model of a seated Lady Penelope, Amy explained that shadows are hard to replicate accurately in the CG world. So a scene is set up in, say, the model lounge of the Creighton-Ward manor, and then the plastic model is seated where the CGI Lady Penelope will sit. This gives the camera something to focus on and provides an accurate shadow for the digital team to work with. A model of FAB1 with functioning headlights and tail lights was used in a similar fashion to shine realistic beams of light through the CGI car.
Now it was time for the big reveal. We faced a sliding door.
A black door…
A door with the markings of International Rescue and Thunderbird One…
This was the door to the secret base. This door could only be opened by a voice activated password.
Anyone care to guess was it was?
I was saying “Five, Four, Three, Two, One. Thunderbirds are Go” as soon as Amy was. Everyone else was a number behind. (And the majority of the group were probably rather bemused by it all.)
The door slid back and I was the first to be allowed to enter. I think by this stage, the rest of the visitors had got the idea that I was something of a fan and were quite indulgent in letting me get to the front and take more of an active role. It wasn’t that I was wearing my interest on my sleeve or anything… More like on my jumper’s front and blouse’s lapel; both of which were adorned by the hand across the world International Rescue logo.
I entered a cavernous warehouse. “I’m in heaven.”
And I want my camera!
To my left was the model of the Tracy Villa used in filming. To the right, Tracy Island. Further on… Well, we had to yet discover what was further on.
To stop this from being a complete Purupuss epic (too late) I’ve bullet-pointed some of the things I learned.
- 1/12th scale
- The only things that were not built by hand were the chairs.
- It’s built in moveable segments to make filming scenes easier.
- There’s a trapdoor behind the piano that can be opened up to allow a lipstick camera to pass through for a different filming angle.
- When the first Thunderbird One launch scene was filmed, two ladies had to get underneath the set and slide the swimming pool back. It took three attempts before they could do it without splashing water everywhere.
- A smoke machine is used to create the smoke at launch.
- A leaf blower blows the deck chairs away from the swimming pool.
- Modelled on the Society Islands’ Bora Bora and New Zealand’s White Island. (Not learned today, but the cave at the waterline that Thunderbird Four exits out of is modelled on Cathedral Cove on the Coromandel Peninsula. That’s my neck of the woods.)
- The model has 3000 trees.
- It also has some “straw huts” and I don’t know why they are there.
- The famous palm trees are made up of screws and palm fronds.
- The water around the island (it sits in its own pool for filming) was coloured by ten litres of blue food colouring. By the end of the shooting it wasn’t only the water that was blue. (And the air was possibly blue when they discovered the staining.)
Further on was Thunderbird One’s launch bay – including the famous lemon squeezer. (“Juicer” said Amy) This particular model is actually a fraud, as they couldn’t find one to the right scale and had to make one.
At the base of Thunderbirds One and Two’s launch platforms you will see some round fire extinguishers. These, partly as a nod to the original show, are made from animatronic eyeballs.
Next stop was the Tracy Island runway with its cliff face and iconic palm trees. I was beckoned forward. Would I like to pull on that lever?
Would I? With a: “Hold this,” I shoved my notebook into my companion’s hands.
I had the pleasure of rotating the lever up and over, as the cliff face retracted into the ground and the palm trees fell back. Now I can’t watch Thunderbird Two’s launch without thinking: I helped make International Rescue go!
But then I was thinking… I want my camera!
On to the interior of Thunderbird Two’s hangar. One of the craftspeople, Sophie, spent three weeks preparing this model. She was the only one small enough to fit inside the cavern.
If you watch the scene where the pods/modules slide along beneath Thunderbird Two before the required one is selected for the rescue, the “tractor” at the front was, at the time of the first series, the only model vehicle used. As we know, series two is going to make a greater use of models.
The model of Thunderbirds Three and One’s hangars used an extractor fan tube for Thunderbird Three’s launch tube, and “Kinder Surprise” egg cases at the base of Thunderbird One’s storage platform, because they looked good painted.
Standing next to this model was a rocket ship that looked similar to SunProbe in the original series’ episode of the same name. This is Jeff Tracy’s rocket.
“Who’s Jeff Tracy?” Amy looks at me.
“The father of the boys and the creator of International Rescue.”
For the first series, the makers wanted children to realise that it was possible for kids to go out and help others without being told to do so. This is why Jeff has disappeared.
However, for the next series………
The Hood’s ship, which was also on display, is made out of (appropriately) rubbish.
- The main body is made of two washing machine drums.
- Dyson vacuum cleaners form the side bits.
- The tail is a rubbish bin lid.
- And some of it is made out of car parts.
- When the ship “flew”, it was lifted by a crane.
The next model was the Creighton-Ward mansion. The grounds are created by astroturf lawns, mattress foam hedges, and fabric flowers.
The gateposts’ figurines and the door knockers are modelled on one character: Lady Penelope’s dog Sherbet. Why has Lady Penelope, much to Parker’s disgust, acquired a dog when the 1965 version didn’t have one?
Amy: “What did Lady Penelope always have that she couldn’t have now?”
Me: “A cigarette.”
So Lady Penelope holds a Sherbet instead of a cigarette. Instead of having a puff, she has a pug.
The other side of the warehouse had the interior of the Creighton-Ward mansion. You will have spotted that there’s a picture of Sherbet on the back wall with a Banksy-inspired mural. Amy confided that a lot of Weta Workshop’s craftspeople were former graffiti artists… I’m not sure if that’s the legal term for what they did or not.
It was at this point that my pen ran out of ink. If I could only use my camera… Being a good Girl Guide, (thanks to those who offered me the use of theirs) I had a spare and was able to make these notes about the Creighton-Ward manor’s interior.
- The furniture inside the mansion is hand sewn.
- The teacakes actually been baked.
- There is a lot of Kiwiana such as Koru (an unfurling fern frond) and a Hei-tiki (a symbolic small carving) decorating Lady Penelope’s shelves.
- A sculpture of Sherbet inside the house has a nose that lights up blue when Lady Penelope is called.
Amy: “Instead of what used to be used?”
Me: “The teapot.”
Koru – Cou as in cough, roo as in rumour.
Hei-tiki – Hey-tick-quay
We were then shown some models from future episodes. I won’t tell you which, but if I say that one thing we saw was three scale models of the Hoover Dam of differing sizes, whilst another was a geodesic dome bioresearch facility, you may get an idea where we’re headed…
And that was the end of the tour.
As the rest of the group departed to get on the bus, Amy asked if we’d be able to stay behind.
Stay behind? Do I really want to? Stupid question!
One of the other people with us, Reece, was a trainee guide. He was one of those craftsman who’d made chainmail and had lost his fingerprints. Ever since then he’d been able to crack his knuckles. (Which he demonstrated.) He reckoned it was a small price to pay for the chance to be a part of something as exciting as a major motion picture.
That was something that was obvious and commented on; the enjoyment people got working for Weta Workshop and its subsidiaries. Someone would be working on their own project, and they’d look across at another craftsperson, who could be doing something fiddly like painting a miniature, and there would be a huge smile on the other person’s face. It’s a job that they all love.
Reece presented me with a gift from Pukeko Pictures of a Thunderbirds are Go poster, a Thunderbird Two logo badge, and a Thunderbird Two toy. Brilliant! (And thank you.)
I was allowed to wander around and look at anything and ask questions. By this point I had serious Thunderbirds overload and I wanted to look at everything, but was taking in next to nothing. I wish now that I’d asked to go back and look at the storyboard and design pictures, or had a better look at the future plot scenes. But I was just overwhelmed by these amazing, huge, detailed models. However, I did have another go at preparing Thunderbird Two’s runway for launch.
Amy offered to ask the Thunderbirds are Go models and miniatures supervisor, Steven Saunders, to come and have a chat. As with all the rest of Weta’s staff he was very open and welcoming to talk to. Of course now is when I think of all the questions I should have asked. (I’m not great at thinking on my feet. I’d be no good as a member of International Rescue.)
I did ask him what he liked specialising in and he said that he loved getting the casts from the rocks around the coast and using them in as many different ways as possible. A lot of the natural landscape that you see in Weta Workshop’s works, have been cast from the Wellington foreshore. As they owned those casts they can use and reuse them in different shows.
Steven told us that so far they’ve made 200 environments over the two seasons – obviously that’s roughly 100 environments per season. These are real, 3D, you-can-touch-them environments, onto which they can project (if that’s the word) the CGI figures and craft.
Our tour was finally over and the bus was waiting for us (and only us!) to take us back to the Weta Cave. We bought some more souvenirs (Weta notebook, Weta Badge, Weta mints – “Ah, was it you we got the gifts together for?” grinned the lady behind the till), and watched the video on the various Weta Workshop productions.
As we were leaving four people who’d been on the Thunderbirds are Go tour asked what we’d done after they’d left. I said been treated like royalty.
It was a brilliant morning, and I want to thank everyone who went above and beyond what I expected to make this a memorable day. I know, I’ve already said that. But there’s nothing wrong with reiterating the fact that, thanks to Amy, Magnus, Reece, and Steven – and the bus driver, I had a Thunderbirds experience that was simply F-A-B.
I only wish I’d been allowed to use my camera. I may have got photos like this.
(And the Wellington i-SITE (information centre) team had spelt Tracy wrong.)
And what happened to our questions? They’d been sent to ITV for answers. Their responses, and those answered by Weta Workshop, are provided below. (At a guess, those answers in the first section that are coloured blue, were answered by the Weta Workshop team. The green answers were provided by ITV.)
1) Why were the Tracys’ hair colours changed?
Rob Hoegee has answered in a Reddit thread that he is not sure about this answer, but it is probably to further differentiate the characters:
Why was the decision taken to make the Tracy brother younger and to change their hair colours?”
I honestly don’t know the answer to the hair question. My guess would be to further differentiate the characters. That along with greater variations in size and girth. The truth is, most kids are going to be seeing this for the first time with fresh eyes. They won’t have noticed the change. As far as the age goes, research has proven that kid audiences respond more favourably to characters closer to their own age. That poses a problem with this show because it begins to defy plausibility when you make them too young. So we had to strike a balance. Scott is early/mid-20s and the rest of the brothers fall in line with an appropriate age interval between.
2) Why does there appear to be a toy range with International Rescue in black uniform?
Weta Workshop doesn’t own the license for Thunderbirds Are Go toys, so this would be a question for the maker of those particular toys.
3) Has anyone considered, as a laugh and in homage to the original, to swap the characters’ positions when they are travelling underground to Thunderbird Three?
That’s an interesting idea! I’m not sure if anyone has thought of that. I will pass it on to the team.
4) Will we see more explosions in series two and three?
Series two will definitely be action-packed and will have more physical effects.
5) If circumstances had been better, would Gerry Anderson have been invited to contribute to the series in some way?
Richard Taylor – as founder of Weta Workshop, company director of Pukeko Pictures and executive producer on Thunderbirds Are Go – has an extremely high regard for Gerry Anderson and the original series. Taylor has met Gerry Anderson, who died in 2012, asking him for permission to re-make the show. Taylor: “I felt that was really necessary for me, to ask for that permission.”
Taylor has also met Sylvia Anderson several years later, who voiced Lady Penelope in the original series. Sylvia took on a small role in Thunderbirds Are Go, voicing Lady P’s great aunt.
6) In the toys, the characters are getting re-released in “covert ops gear.” Does this signal a change in the series writing? Ie, IR will have to start working more stealthily in season 2?
The writing is still being done by Rob Hoegee, as with all series, the writing evolves and there is a strong team behind him working very closely on storylines.
7) Will there be new pod vehicles and other types of vehicles carried by Thunderbird 2.2? Thunderbird 2.2 being the Thunderbirds are Go version as opposed to Thunderbird 2.1 – the original 1965 version.
There are new pods / vehicles for Thunderbird 2. There will be much more new vehicles being introduced throughout the second series.
8) Does Creighton Ward Manor get a bit more screen time in season 2?
Series two revisits multiple locations from series one, and the Thunderbirds travel to many more places for International Rescue.
9) Has new library footage shots been created for the take-off sequences?
Series two continues to use the miniature backgrounds from series one as well as many new miniature environments created specifically for series 2.
10) Any exclusives on how miniatures are getting used more for the vehicles in Season 2, particularly the Thunderbirds themselves?
Other than for shoot technique, the Thunderbirds crafts are CG. There are, however, miniature vehicles that will again appear in series two.
11) Thunderbird 5.2 and Thunderbird S had slightly less focus than the others in Season 1. Will that change in season 2?
Thunderbird 5 and Thunderbird S will continue to be an important part of the series, as with series one, different episodes and storylines will revolve around different characters and their relevant crafts.
12) (If known/ allowed to say) Are scripts a little more cohesive than in season 1?
The writing is still being done by Rob Hoegee, as with all series, the writing evolves and there is a strong team behind him working very closely on storylines.
13) I’d second the request for more info on what looks like a change to more miniature work in series 2, and what that is going to be used for.
ITV Studios and Pukeko Pictures will continue the ground breaking and creative and technical excellence in mixed media approach to the series. It delivers a whole new level of action adventure, animation for today’s audience whilst also affectionately paying tribute to the legacy of model locations from the classic series.
14) My other question is: Are Weta planning to release any figures of the characters? It would be nice to have some proper pieces rather than just the toys that are available.
Weta Workshop doesn’t own the license for Thunderbirds Are Go toys, but this would be a great suggestion for the toy makers.
15) I would be interested to find out how much influence David Tremont has when it comes to deciding how much, or how little, model and effects work there should be in the show and how much CGI. For example, his superb work on The Stately Homes Robberies episode of Thunderbirds1965, where his mansion is blown up with real explosions, shows he is a master of the art. Is he tempted to push for these types of effects in TBAG?
David has been ‘special advisor’ for Thunderbirds Are Go, and he has been busy with many other projects at the Workshop including our collectibles.
16) David is obviously a very nice guy and so is Giles Ridge. He gets thanked in the credits of Thunderbirds1965 and I would be interested to know what part he played in the Kickstarter project. I want the best blend in TBAG which allows for fast-paced action (CGI characters) and traditional model work (vehicles and explosions). What would be his preference if money was no object?
Dave contributed a selection of models and miniatures for the Kickstarter project, like the Sun Probe and the Stately Home. You can see photos of them over at the Kickstarter page.
17) Now that Series 2 is in production and Series 3 has been ordered are they being done against an overall “story arc” – either per series or across both (or even beyond)?
Yes, there is an overall story arc across the series as well as lots of action for each individual episode.
18) Just one question/ request; Please can the producers bring back Jeff Tracy. I think there could be so much done with the character now the first years story arc has completed.
Good Evening from South Wales in the UK Rob. Please can you tell me if the character of Jeff Tracy is ever going to be returning to the full series?
ITV has been understandably cagey about fully answering this up to now, and I think rightfully so. The straight answer is not in seasons one and two. After that, we’ll see. Please know that this is not a decision we took lightly and the reasons are many. I should also say this: just because the character isn’t physically in the show, that doesn’t mean Jeff doesn’t play an important role. It isn’t an out-of-sight, out-of-mind situation. “What would dad have done” has replaced what dad tells them to do. We spend a lot of story energy on International Rescue finding its way without Jeff, and this brings the six of them into leadership and decision-making roles that do not often come easy. And sorry for the delay in answering: it’s important and I wanted to get my words right.
19) And my last question: I suppose there’s absolutely, positively no chance of getting at least one photo while on the TAG tour…?
Sadly at the time you came through we had a blanket policy of no photos – but we have just installed a photo op at the end of our Thunderbirds Are Go Behind-the-Scenes Experience! You will have to come back and snap a selfie with Virgil in the driver’s seat! To see some of our first photos, see here
The following are questions I thought of AFTER my tour of the Weta Workshop – Thunderbirds Are Go Experience. Many thanks to Joaquin for his interesting and informative answers, and Kaliana for acting as an intermediary between ITV, Weta Workshop, and myself.
I am glad you enjoyed the tour, it’s great to have such appreciative fans like yourself being able to experience some of the stories and adventures we have had making the show. Being the longest serving model maker after Steven, I’ve had a hand in just about everything, so naturally I have been set the task of answering your questions as best I can. Here we go!
- When filming a scene that requires Tracy Island or one of the hangars etc., Are the models removed from the Thunderbirds Are Go experience, or do you rely on stock footage?
One of the benefits of having our shoot stage right next door is we can move them over to set whenever we want. We have also been known to shoot pick-ups on the sets when the tours have gone home for the day.
- Why did Tracy Island have some straw huts?
The huts are the beachfront bar and leisure area, an homage to the original show. It is only seen on the 100th scale model at distance. By having it represented on the model in our current episodes, it gives us the option of visiting that part of the island in the future.
- I think Amy said, but what were the palm fronds on the Tracy Island model made of?
We have three scales, 100th, 35th and 12th. The 100th scale trees we scavenged leaves of model railway trees that we wired to wood screws painted and stuck into the foam island. The 35th scale palms, famously from the tb2 launch sequence were quite technical. The trunk was sculpted with a piece of dowel wrapped in string and textured with Plasticine. The fronds for these were made of laser cut overhead projector film bundled together and spray-painted green. To make them springy, we molded the trunk and cast it in rubber over a piece of brass that only springs in two directions to give us that famous wobble. The 12 scale we only made two of. These were based off a dead cabbage tree stem I noticed outside my house one morning. We molded it, cast it in foam and stuck cycad leaves from the garden centre on the top.
SB/P: If you’re interested in knowing what a cabbage tree is, it’s a New Zealand native that is very palm like, although not a true palm – being one of the largest tree lilies in the world. Its Maori name is Tī kōuka and it has the botanic name of Cordyline australis. And if you’re wondering what it looks like, and you’re in the northern hemisphere, you may have one in your neighbourhood. It’s known in that neck of the woods as the Cornish Palm, Manx Palm, Torbay Palm or Torquay Palm.
- It all looks like the staff have heaps of fun, but what hours do they work?
We stick to a standard working week but if we are really in a pickle sometimes we can clock over 70 hours!
- When The Hood’s ship was pulled apart by Thunderbirds One and Two in “Legacy”, the final episode, was the model actually pulled apart?
The Hoods ship in “Legacy” was a digital scan of the practical model that was made first. The episode required some tricky digital tracking so it suited being full CG. Rest assured it was the exact dimensions and colours etc, so in a way the model we pulled apart was in fact the real thing!
- Why was the piano changed from white to black?
Tracy Island and the lounge had a very intensive design process over many months and the piano changed colour as part of the overall design aesthetic to suit the space.
- Will we see Virgil painting?
His paintings and easel you might see up on the mezzanine in the back of the lounge so he is definitely painting in our show, as to whether this will be featured in an episode, only time can tell!
- What’s the largest environment you’ve made for Thunderbirds are Go?
“*^&Cough splutter @#%$ something for season two….. “Cough cough splutter splutter”@#$….
What’s aired to date would probably be Penelope’s Mansion and grounds from designated driver, that set was huge! about 9x14meters or so. What you saw in the tour was just a small section of the whole set!
The smallest set was probably the cut away button shot, our only live action shot in the show. Little bit of trivia here, the hat in shot belonged to Richard Taylor’s wife Tania Rodger.
- Which was the most complex? (Even if it didn’t appear that way on screen?)
Most complex would be a Tracy Island house for sure. If we are talking only episodic I would say it would most likely have been HMEP underwater rig, It was fully radio controlled, carried its own lighting rig, and fully articulated in many directions. So complex in fact we all have almost unanimously decided to stick to puppeteer-able vehicles from now on…
- Which was the most fun to make?
For me it was the 100th scale Moonbase. Such a classic design and it looked great on screen!
- Why was Thunderbird One allowed to be displayed, and photographed, in the i-SITE?
The Thunderbird in the i-site is one of three that travel the world for promotional purposes and conventions. They have been displayed everywhere and have no secrets to hide. Hope you got some good photos!
Hopefully that answers everything fairly, I would have expanded more but I have to get back to gluing things! Keep a look out for Season 2, it’s going to be amazing! Thanks for being part of the Adventure!
Weta Workshop Model-maker, Thunderbirds Are Go
All photos, unless otherwise credited, copyright Sereena Burton