Friday, 29 August 2014


 Ah, "Thunderbirds" - the television series just refuses to die. First broadcast here in Australia way back around 1965, it was Gerry Anderson's signature show, a thrilling combination of Supermarionation puppetry and realistic miniature sets and models. Oh, and lots of explosions as well. What more could a ten year old boy ask for? Other shows such as, "Captain Scarlet", "Joe 90" and "UFO" developed even more audacious and bigger special effects and vehicle designs, thanks to Derek Meddings and his talented team and the puppets became more proportional and lifelike, however Gerry will always be remembered for introducing us to the exciting and dangerous world of International Rescue.
Before the advent of "Star Wars" and the merchandising phenomenon which swept the globe like a tidal wave, Gerry Anderson had already been there and done that with his hit TV series. As far as model kits of the various craft were concerned, a plethora were produced during the 60s and are still be designed, distributed even today, 50 years after "Thunderbirds" was first screened. Take a look at any SF modelling website and somewhere, someone will be creating models from the show. Not too bad for a children's show that's half a century old! Even as you read this article, a re-imagining of the classic show is being produced at Weta Studios in New Zealand. Will it become a bona fide hit, as its parent was? Will the craft designs be faithful to the originals? One thing is for certain - lots of people will watch it when it hits the screens in 2015, myself included.

Quite a few years ago, a good friend and fellow modeller, Michael Daczynski, created a resin kit of Thunderbird 1, which I promptly purchased from him. It sat in a box in my shed for about five years, the parts all cleaned up and ready to assemble. Well, the time finally arrived when I needed a break from building models for my short films and I hauled it out for another look. Apart from having to cut out the recessed wing area on either side of the main fuselage, the removal of a few "gnarly bits" in between the vanes on the lower engine section, as well as filling some pinholes in the resin, the model was just begging to be assembled. 

Michael had done a stirling job in creating the original sections in plastic and timber and then casting them in Fast Cast resin. I know how particular he can be when it comes to references and getting the model accurate, so I had absolutely no qualms about the model looking exactly like what it was supposed to represent. Of course, in the original show, many different models of Thunderbird 1 were produced in order to fulfil particular requirements and to replace damaged models during the months of rigorous filming. All of these models differed from each other, less so with Thunderbird 1 than with some of the other Thunderbird craft. TB1 markings differed from model to model, landing gear was changed. shapes of nosecones too, not to mention the many colour differences displayed. (None of this had concerned a ten year old boy enthralled with the show in 1965 however.) Nevertheless, minor variations occurred on a regular basis. Michael had closely studied all the versions of TB1 and decided to pick the one he liked the best and to replicate that one.
The kit came in a total of fifteen sections - three hollow cast pieces (the lower engine area and the two pieces for the main fuselage), four angled fins, two wings, four "corner pieces" for the engine area and a nosecone with a separate ribbed piece to fit to it. If Michael had cast the model as solid sections, then it would have weighed a couple of kilograms. The completed model would be 487 millimetres (19 inches) in length - quite a decent size and, as far as I can work out, at about 1:72, to studio scale with the largest complete version of Thunderbird 1 used in the show.
 After removing those annoying "gnarly bits" with a sharp scalpel and filling the remaining resin pinholes, I glued the upper ribbed piece to the nosecone. Two epoxy Araldite was used throughout the build. To add strength to the nosecone, I drilled a small hole and inserted a 3mm section of brass tube. Eight millimetre brass tube was also inserted through the largest of the main jets on the very bottom of the engine section and this protruded enough to add the main fuselage cylinder for strength and alignment. The idea for displaying the model was to have it in launching position above a thick wooden base that just happened to be lying around from a previous model. The base had been painted grey, lines drawn on and weathering applied, so it seemed silly not to use it just as it was. I drilled three holes into the base to accept a trio of brass tubes, the middle one being longer so it would telescope into the tube secreted within the main body. The intakes on the upper cross-shaped engine section were detailed with eight circles of fine wire mesh.
The wings could be positioned in either flight or landing mode and I opted for the former. Because of a lack of fixing points within the hollow cast shell, having the wings swung out just seemed a little difficult to achieve. A Dremel made short work of the areas where the wings would slot into the fuselage and a drill was used to make the rectangular holes in the ends of the cross-shaped engine section where the angled fins would be glued.
 As far as colours go, there was a lot of guesswork involved. I emailed Michael and another friend for information and on their advice I chose the best reference photographs I had and took a trip to my local car accessory shop for some acrylic spray cans. For the main body and wings I selected Champagne Glow Metallic (co-incidentally the very same colour as a previous car of mine), while Centre Red was picked for the nosecone. I already had a Sky Blue for the lower body, stripes and wingtips. Although the colours were fairly light in tint, I reasoned that, with subtle weathering applied to the finished model, they would appear more like the ones in my reference photos. After priming all the pieces in acrylic, I gave a final once over with fine steel wool and applied the various colours to the sections, three light coats in all. So far, so good. When completely dry, Tamiya tape was used to mask the wingtips and tips of the angled fins at the rear. These were then sprayed with the Sky Blue. Black pinstriping tape created the lines on the fuselage near the nosecone.
The various sections needed to be permanently glued together at this point. I had delayed this part up until now in order to mask and spray the colour differences with relative ease. How to affix the wings inside the one piece main fuselage caused me a few concerns as there weren't any interior sections to actually glue them onto. Michael sent me some drawings he had made in order to position the wings, however I was unable to make heads nor tails of them. At this point in time, the wings are temporarily fixed inside the fuselage until I can find a more permanent solution. And yes, they are not positioned correctly, I know.
  Many of the original Thunderbird 1 models differed markedly in the lettering applied to the fuselage, probably moreso than with any body shape differences. Some had TB1 vertically, while others had the same letters horizontally. Some models had lines in certain areas, others left them off. Michael had provided an A4 sheet with the various lettering for the model he had created, so I scanned this at 100% and printed it onto a white sticky label sheet and cut all the individual letters out carefully. After application, a couple of coats of flat clear sealed them permanently, after which the weathering was added using a lead pencil and business cards to achieve the straight-edged panelling effect I was after. An airbrush and dark grey mixture provided additional panelling over the entire model, after which numerous coats of flat clear were sprayed.


The model was lowered onto its display base and the brass tube inserted into the interior support tube. For the billowing smoke from three of the engines, I used pillow stuffing, carefully tying sections to the three support rods with white cotton to conceal them and adding teased out stuffing in a realistic pattern. All in all, an enjoyable and very pleasing build, thanks to Michael's dedication and modelling skills. It certainly looks impressive on its base. Now all I have to do is to talk Michael into creating that hollow kit of Thunderbird 2, studio scale, to go with the Thunderbird 1!


Thursday, 12 June 2014


The Making of Another Short Film

Well, it was time to bite the bullet and take the first tentative steps in creating the next motion picture epic from GM Productions, entitled, "ANNIVERSARY", the story of a little girl who travels to Mars to visit her grandfather. As an homage to Derek Meddings, Gerry Anderson and Stanley Kubrick, I'm hoping to make something extra special that others can enjoy. The storyboards are done, albeit with some major revisions, a couple of the necessary filming models have been created, although certainly not all of them by any stretch of the imagination and I had been delaying the initial 'first day filming' for as long as possible, due to a hesitation in committing myself to some seriously difficult problem solving over the next few months. However, as Fate would have it, a filming window appeared in the shape of a few friends who were more than willing to help me out if I could take the first step and organise 'the day'.

This is the first in many entries on the filming of "Anniversary", over a many month period, so please excuse me if delays occur in posting them. I still have models to build, full-sized sets to construct (yes, there are live actors in this one!) and I'm working to pay for all of this, so it's going to take me a while before it's completed. I'm hoping that this effort will eclipse the work done in "Dogfight!" and be good enough to perhaps enter in a short film competition. More on that much later.

A special thanks goes to three friends who volunteered their time for the first day to achieve about ten usable shots for the opening of the film. They are Derek Romans from my local model club, Colin Woodfall who also helped out with "Dogfight!" and loved it and Chris Coxon, a very good friend from Brisbane who pushed me to make a start. Thanks guys. Without you all, this wouldn't have worked out at all.

Thursday 11 June 2014

Filming began on "Anniversary" at about 9:30 in the morning, with a couple of opening shots of the Aurora ETM Shuttle launching from its base and carrying a six year old girl on the first leg of her journey to Mars. The day before, Chris and I had spent nearly two hours attaching a pair of small pulleys onto the ceiling of the 'studio' so that 40lb fishing line could pass through them and be used to launch the shuttle. Another two fishing lines were attached to the ceiling and threaded through brass tubes on either side of the model in order to steady it as much as possible when lifted off the pad. A smoke machine had been positioned beneath the two tables to provide the majority of the rocket exhaust, while Colin had provided a very bright LED lamp for the engine glow of the rockets themselves. It was stuck to the bottom of the model with Blu-Tac, all very high-tech stuff here! A number of takes were committed to video and, after about six hours, I had about ten good shots that should be used in the film itself. With the exception of the initial pullback from the shuttle, all the other shots were filmed at 100 frames per second, four times normal speed, so as to smooth out the movements of the model as it was being raised into the air. With two fans blowing the smoke in manageable directions, banks of 500W tungsten lights and the flurry of human activity, it was quite a sight! Here are a couple of photos of what went on today...

Fans, lights, smoke machine, fishing line and two filming tables with sky background - all this just to achieve a couple of shots of the Aurora Shuttle liftoff.

Colin operating the smoke machine. A minimum of three people was needed to achieve just one simple shot.

It took over an hour just to set the fans in the correct position to push the smoke to where we wanted it to go. Sometimes we got a little too much!

The Director above the setup trying to achieve a downward view of the launch. Friend Chris is adjusting the lighting.

Wednesday 25 June
Another good friend from down south, Ashley Greenslade, turned up yesterday and was interested enough to help out with the second day's shooting. Colin Woodfall also assisted, once again, to get just two more shots after the initial launch sequence was completed last week. The three of us set the tables up with pillow stuffing for clouds, just below where the Aurora Shuttle was still hanging from the previous shoot. The idea was to achieve a shot looking down on the shuttle as it flies up from the cloudbank and past the camera. Colin operated the pulley system for raising the model, Ashley was on smoke machine duties and I perched atop a step ladder which was positioned on the table so that I was high enough above the shuttle as it flew past. After a dozen or so attempts, most of which were quite successful, I felt we had enough takes of this so we moved on to the second shot.
This involved separating the two filming tables, with enough space to pass the shuttle through, then covering both areas with "clouds" and getting a shot of the model rising up through the clouds and into the sky, tracking with the camera as it went. These two shots were filmed in reverse order, the second shot being shown first in the finished film, immediately followed by this second one. After another dozen or so tries, we achieved some excellent footage and retired for the day. It's a hard life!

Setting up for the second shot of the day. Plenty of light was needed to illuminate both the model and cloudscape on both tables, as well as the sky background.
The smoke machine was positioned on boxes directly below the model, with the nozzle pointed up so the smoke would follow the shuttle as it rose.
Ashley on smoke machine duties. The camera filmed from the far left of this shot, tracking the shuttle as it rose up through the "clouds".
Thursday 26 June
Just before Ashley left for the Deep North, I managed to capture a couple of shots of the Aurora Shuttle, filmed yesterday, as it will appear in the finished movie, shooting upwards through the clouds on its way to orbit.   

Ashley enjoyed operating the smoke machine for these simple still shots so much that he wants one for himself! Thanks mate, for all the help.
Tuesday 1 July
Both Colin and Derek joined me for the morning's shoot, however Fate had other, more frustrating plans in store for us. The idea was to get a couple of hand-held shots of the Aurora Shuttle against the rolling sky, the appearance of which would simulate footage of the real shuttle or Saturn V that I had seen on TV. I hoped that, with Derek on cordless drill duties, powering the rolling sky, Colin on smoke duties and myself on hand-held camera, that these shots would be "in the can" in a matter of half an hour. Not so! The rolling sky, constructed for the previous epic, "Dogfight!", had decided not to co-operate at all and it was constantly losing the cloth "sky" off the rollers, or, even worse, losing one of the rollers itself from the bearings they revolved on. What a pain! We did manage to get one or two reasonable shots that may be usable, but that decision will be made later on.
After effecting numerous repairs on the rolling sky, we positioned it on the table behind the suspended shuttle. the cordless drill at the lower right of the rolling frame powers the revolution of the "sky".
I had to film the shuttle upside down against the sky to allow the smoke at the bottom of the photo to be blown up and past the model.
I had drilled a small hole in the tail of the model to allow it to be suspended by fishing line in front of the rolling sky. With me in the foreground, Colin and Derek attempt yet another repair to the framework supporting the sky.


Saturday, 31 May 2014

A New Use For Children's Binoculars And a Tea Dispenser!

For my next epic short film, I had it in my mind to create a landing vehicle that would transport a small girl to the Moon in order for her to visit her father. After working on the storyboards for a time, the girl's destination changed to that of Mars, rather than the Moon. The lander was still a requirement however and it was decided to build it in two different scales so as to achieve a variety of shots for the film. One version would be in approximately 1:72 scale and a smaller one was to be half that size or less, to fit with the scale of a manned base and landing platform that had been constructed previously. A larger scaled landing leg, for closeup shots, was also in the process of being created.
A long time elapsed, in fact a year or two, before I began work on the landing vehicle, due mainly to the fact that I was constructing other models and I just couldn't find the right materials and shapes to begin the project. Some time before, I had purchased a trio of plastic children's binoculars for a couple of dollars, intending to use them in the future. What intrigued me about them was the fact that when a button was depressed, a section of the top would spring out, revealing a red LED. The light was of little interest, however the spring loaded action was something that I kept in mind to act as landing gear for a type of vehicle. Fast forward a couple of years and I really wanted to begin work on the Lunar Lander as it was called at the time. The binoculars were pulled from a storage box and I began the search for a cylindrical plastic body that would become the fuselage of the lander. Having a huge collection of bits and pieces, it was not long before I came across a Caddy-matic tea dispenser, the kind of thing from (I think) the 60s and 70s that, when one pressed a button on the side, a certain amount of tea would be dispensed into a cup. Upside down, however, it would definitely become the basis for my landing vehicle that I had sketched on scraps of paper. I think I paid $2 for this item at a garage sale and it was the correct type of plastic for ease of gluing.
Rather than write, ad nauseum, about how the lander was created, I thought I would just let the photographs speak for themselves. The major difference between this model and many others was that the lander had been designed to be videoed and, as such, was constructed rather differently from the average model. Built from the inside out, the lander possesses four, brass tube  points which would facilitate filming from a variety of angles to disguise how it was to be supported in the shots - front of the nose, the rear dome (heat shield) and either side of the main body. The 7.5mm brass tubing was carefully built into the ship in the early stages of construction and glued firmly with two part epoxy cement. One tube runs the length of the ship, from nose to tail and the side mounts join in the centre at this longitudinal tube. A pair of LEDs give illumination to the passenger section around the middle, as well as the pilots' cabin in the front nosecone. The battery case for the lights can be concealed inside the rear domed heat shield that is removable, as is the entire nosecone at the front. The model can also be suspended, via fishing line, from small holes drilled into the projecting tip of the brass tube at the front. This is disguised with the use of a kit part that fits over the top of the tube. Much work and pre-planning went into this model, far more than I had envisioned, but I think it turned out rather well and I look forward to "rolling cameras" on it in the very near future.

The plastic, children's binoculars that looked interesting enough to buy three of. The hatch on the upper surface would eventually become the landing gear cover.
The Caddy-matic tea dispenser before any work was done on it. With chrome-plated plastic parts and a bright red body, every kitchen should have one! The binocular bodies have been stripped and placed into one of a few possible positions around the main body.
The constituent parts have been trimmed and sanded, requiring a few hours to remove the chrome finish on certain pieces.
Adding the windows to the circumference of the main body required the use of Evergreen strips and tiny sections from guard railings.
Tank and truck wheels detailed each of the six main rocket engines, while engine bells were borrowed from a Chinese rocket kit. The black inserts, part of the original children's toy, were each detailed and then returned to their positions in the binoculars.
The nosecone, actually the bottom of the original dispenser, was carefully sawed at near right angles to create the pilots' cabin which was then boxed in with ribbed styrene and given a clear, frosted acrylic window.
The main body taking shape. The 7.5mm brass tube extends the length of the ship, providing a pair of mounting points for the model.
A pair of LEDs provide illumination for both the passenger cabin and the pilots' cockpit. The wires run down through the ship to the tail where a battery pack will be temporarily installed.

The landing legs, constructed from various diameters of brass tubing and three or four kits wheels, would slide into a slightly larger brass tube, epoxied to the inside of the landing gear cover. The legs were made removable to facilitate filming of the model. An additional, smaller rocket engine bell, from a Saturn V model, has been inserted between the larger, main engines on each binocular.

Pet bird feeding tubes, trimmed to size and with added brass tubes for strength would become a trio of fuel tanks, placed alternatively between each of the three large engine sections. To cap each of them off, I poured three resin casts of domes from a previous project.

To cap off the tops of the three binoculars, I poured additional casts of the same dome and glued them to discs of styrene.
Putting it all together to see what it looks like proved rewarding. The landing legs needed more details, however I fully intended to minimise the external detailing on the outer hull.
Most of the outer hull detailing, instead of being plastic strips and kit parts everywhere, would consist mainly of pencil lines, pinstriping tape and decals. A few kit parts were added to the engine areas to make them appear a little more 'busy'.
To firmly join everything together on the outer hull, pairs of holes were drilled and tank wheels added to the interior. Brass tubing and two-part epoxy pinned all six sections securely.
It's amazing how a coat of primer can tie all the different areas together, creating a sense of unity.
Extra detailing being added to each of the landing gear legs. This consisted of girderwork from kits and various other bits and pieces.
The basic red and white colour scheme looks a little too clean at the moment. Pinstriping tape is being added to give extra detail.
All thirteen pieces, fully detailed, decaled and weathered with lead pencil, await final assembly.
And this is how the Pegasus looks after being assembled...
My favourite part - taking the photographs. Here, I'm temporarily supporting the model in front of a black bed sheet. the computer will later remove the support and add some stars.
The very basic setup for the space shots. Just prior  to this, the model had taken an unscheduled trip to the concrete floor of my shed because of unstable support. Luckily it was engineered very strongly as the fall resulted in just a small hole in an almost unnoticeable area of the hull. I was extremely lucky!
What the model looks like after removing the support and adding in some stars with Paint Shop Pro. The difficult part was keeping the light illuminating the model off the black backdrop and allowing the interior lighting to be seen.
For this shot, the 'planet' was the cardboard base from a hanging potplant suspended just in front of the model. I knew it would come in handy some day!
For the landing shots, the model was suspended from a simple rig and a smoke machine provided some 'atmosphere to the shots. This was all set up in under an hour.
The resulting shot was enhanced by removing the support wire, ie. the fishing line, the only digital manipulation necessary.
Just the support removal was necessary in this shot, the smoke providing the diffusion for the background.
The astronauts came from a previous project, as did the Rover vehicle. The surface of the planet came from my back yard.
Being cylindrical in nature, the Pegasus has only one or two good sides when being photographed. Overall, I'm quite happy with the result and look forward to seeing it in my next short film.
Using a section of an old pine shelf, I managed to create a diorama scene in only a few hours. Pinstriping tape was added for detail, along with plastic thumbtacks for landing lights.
The building and vehicles are leftovers and the PAD 4 lettering is shop-bought. A protruding brass tube supports the model in the middle and it was removed in the computer.