|Ian: Yes, you usually went
into rushes and saw the film from the previous day (or
even earlier that day) and decide if it was passable or
if we had to re-shoot. I must say that the operation
became pretty slick because you had a good team of boys
who had been there some time and we were usually pretty
good at what we were doing. There were some re-shoots
because you would go to rushes and maybe see some silly
little thing that you didnt like and if the set was
still there then you could re-shoot, but often the set
wasnt there and you had to evaluate if it was worth
rebuilding. Once again its the old thing of
schedules and money, because you had to stick to a
certain schedule and get a certain amount of shots done
you usually manage that or was there a lot of overtime?
|These things varied in size from
about two-feet long to one that was four-foot long; that
one spent most of the day sat in a box at the back of the
stage and we covered it in wet rags to keep it moist.
Over a period of several days you would forget that it
was there then one day someone shouted Look
out and we turned round to see this big crocodile
walking across the stage which cleared of people
Then there was the day when they were shooting some publicity photographs with it and a puppet of Lady Penelope. The puppet was standing right next to it and this crocodile was absolutely static, it was just stuck there without a single movement for what seemed like hours. Then suddenly it just turned round and got hold of this puppet and violently shook its head several times and there were bits of puppet flying in all directions (laugh). And I can remember the puppeteer, who was Christine Glanville, was in tears because this puppet was her baby. Poor Christine, but thats the fun of filmmaking!
everything you did storyboarded?
Was there any competition between the units to
see who could get the best shots?
Did you have any particular friends on the crew?
Roger Dicken worked on Thunderbirds
for a bit didnt he?
What sort of day-to-day jobs were you expected to do
there as an Effects Assistant?
Did you have a daily target for how many shots you had to
So the landscapes were literally just thrown together
from a collection of bits?
If we were doing the road we would colour the roadway not with paint but usually with grey and black powders. And you would put in the wear marks in the road where the cars had been; again doing it using brushes and powder paints so it was quite artistic to do that sort of stuff.
Behind the model mountains we would have cutouts of painted mountains and behind that we would have more mountains painted on the actual backing. There used to be a lot of work involved in doing it and we all used to jump in and get involved with doing the colouring of the set, which often meant changing the colour of the rocks if they didnt suit that particular story. The rocks might have been in a desert the previous episode, or the Moon, so you had to get a spray outfit out and change the colour to suit the episodes requirements.
We used to use different scales of grass matting and lots of real stuff too, like lichen. That was a great lifesaver because you could use it for trees and hedges. For some trees we would build them from real bits of small tree branch and then spray them with this white adhesive material, I cant quite remember what the product was but it was a bit like the snow-effect stuff we use today. Anyway we would spray this stuff onto the branches to create scale leaves and then spray it all green, and that used to work quite well for us.
The sky backgrounds always looked very good.
Did you ever have problems getting shadows on the
Who came up with the idea for the rolling backdrop?
Did the belts ever come off?
Ian: We did occasionally have problems; the sky backing was the worst one because obviously gravity was pulling it down. It was made from rubberised canvas and it was on rollers that you could tension at each end to hold it up there, but it did move down. At a later stage it was modified and wheels were put around the top to support it and stop the problem.
I guess that one of your jobs would have been to light
the Jetex motors, I assume that they were ignited
In Alan Shubrooks book Century 21 FX:
Unseen, Untold theres a good picture of
you trying to catch the big Thunderbird 2 as it
leaves the launch ramp (feature film version). Was
catching the models a common job?
Ian: Yes, you usually were due to the space restrictions in the studio. If you were shooting at high speed and you wanted a model to come through fast you had to get it up to speed very quickly. We pulled the models through on running wires, we had a running wire above, a very taught piano wire, and we used to run a tube along it with the model hanging from what we use to call a crucifix with screw-eyes in. That model had to get up to speed very quick, because youre shooting at high speed, and youve got to stop it quickly as well. So these things were hanging there on very thin tungsten wires and so we use to try and catch them, to save them from smashing into the tower that was supporting the wire and also to try and stop the wires from breaking. Because you often wanted to do a second take and you dont want to have to rewire the model again. So it was very important that you caught this thing.
Did you ever build any of the models?
Ian: No not a great deal. I wasnt involved in the model workshop, I used to get involved in repairing them but I wasnt actually one of the model makers. If I remember rightly Ray Brown ran the Model Workshop and there was also Peter Ashton and they were both very good.
Apparently some of the models were made from Balsa wood
at the beginning to keep them light, before fibreglass
ones were used?
The worse one was Thunderbird 2, because it was so big it was quite heavy and then on top of that every time it crashed down on the floor it was a case of rushing it into the model shop for a quick repair with Cataloy (car body filler) and then back onto the set. As time went on this model actually got heavier and heavier (laugh) and it was falling off as much as it was staying in the air! So it was almost counter-productive to repair it in this way, but thats how it happened.
With it's crew disabled the massive Crablogger
ploughs a 'Path of Destruction' in a classic Thunderbirds
David: I guess the models
were designed to look good and so were not always very
practical. I was looking at the Crablogger photos
and thinking how was such a massive model moved through
|It was harder to get the models to
turn, the vehicles all had small axles on them with a bit
of steering so the wheels could turn and suspension,
which was usually done with foam rubber, to get the
movement. Basically we had a slot in the centre of the
set and they were pulled by someone underneath, or
someone at the side.
We had a system (which worked on the overhead models as well) that if a model was on a wire and we again needed to get them up to speed we would use bicycle wheels, and we put a little drum on the bicycle wheel so it was like a gear, so it was 2:1 or 6:1 or something like that. So you pulled the cable on the small drum and just ran with it and the model wire was attached to a large drum, so this gearing allowed the model to get up to speed very quickly.
There were times when you had a very long run and you had to run out the stage door and into the corridor just pulling this model. The fact is we didnt have the time or money to get more sophisticated than that, it was pretty much all manual where possible. We did have motors on a few things - but very few things!
When people talk about wires they often think of just
did you attach the wires to the models?
Ian: A lot of the time if there wasnt a little hole or something we would put little dress pins into the model, and just go round the pinhead. But where you had to be careful with tungsten wire is that you mustnt kink it, you must not turn it back on itself, or it just breaks very easily. Thats actually how we used it, once wed run a length out we would just kink it and it would break. But obviously you didnt want that to happen on the model so you had to be very careful how you tied it on and we used to use things like a Fishermans knot where you wouldnt kink it.
With some models, like Thunderbirds 1 and 3, you could attach it with a single wire through the nose. On the take-off shots we use to try and get it so that the support wire was directly above the model so that it wouldnt want to move in any other direction. But sometimes you did see the odd one where the model used to spin a bit, but we usually got it looking pretty good with the rockets firing underneath.
Did the person holding the model activate the rockets?
David: Has anyone ever
pointed out to you that the four rockets that fired when Thunderbird
2 landed, or took-off, were actually put into the
holes for the legs not the holes for the
David: Were you often
pulling the models along?
I think Derek also referred to Thunderbird 2 as
being a bit of a pig too!
Talking of Pods, how did it actually stay in position,
did you just normally jam something like Plasticine
(modelling clay) into the gaps to hold it?
In a lot of these behind-the-scenes pictures we can
clearly see the roof and the crew are actually up against
Did they have extractors installed?
Did you usually wear masks?
So how big were these explosions and did you mix them at
Derek sometimes called them soft explosions,
did they have much power to them?
And they worked fine in the water tank?
I noticed in some of the shots in Captain
Scarlet that when an explosion occurred all the
powder paints on the floor would lift into the air, which
looked very realistic.
Ian: That was basically the shockwave from the explosives, sometimes it used to work for us and sometimes it didnt and that used to work quite well. Sometimes things happen better than you think they would, and occasionally unexpected things would happen. At times you can spend hours trying to get something to work and then something else would just happen spontaneously.
John Richardson who did the first Omen film, where they cut the head off on the pane of glass and then the head spun on the glass, said to me We didnt do that, it just happened. Everyone said that it was Terrific but he said they just got lucky! Funny enough I thought Derek was one of the luckiest special effects guys I ever met because when we did things we would say to him Shall we do this, and that, to make sure that it works and he would say No forget about it and it would work just fine. But if you did it the next day it wouldnt work at all, he was lucky that way.
Did things ever go wrong?
Ian (centre) working on the set during the
filming of Thunderbird 6. The camera
shoots through a partial model of the Tiger Moth wings to
get an aerial view of Lady Penelope's home.
They started making Thunderbird feature films, do
you remember much of this. You did actually get a screen
credit for Thunderbird 6, did that
mean you got more cash?
So you couldnt answer the question Why was
|Ian: I cant answer
that one, I cant remember if we had photographs of
Mars at that time so we obviously didnt know if the
surface was actually that red. Maybe they did tests using
different coloured surfaces and they found out that it
really didnt work, or perhaps it was the most
practical and best looking for that scene in the film.
Did the team split at this point because Captain
Scarlet was being done around the time of the
later Thunderbird film?
What did you think to the puppet programs?
With Captain Scarlet they
introduced the more life-like puppets.
Heres another daft question but I have to ask. On Captain
Scarlet the SPV had tracks on the back
that pivot down, but they were never used. I wonder if it
was an effect that couldnt be made to work?
I remember one day that some comedian had gone up into the roof and put two large eyes there and underneath had written Derek Meddings is a Mysteron (laugh). But no one ever admitted to it.
I believe that you worked on Doppelganger.
Was it good to be working on a proper film
with real actors?
So it was more like the glamour side of the business and nice to be doing it, and once again the models were bigger and there was better stuff to do. Like for the rocket take-off where we built it outside between the two stages, and we had two big 40-foot towers with a ladder beam across for the rocket to be pulled up on, so you were looking up at real sky away from the Slough Trading Estate. Unfortunately something happened on the first take and it got jammed on the launch platform. When we fired the rockets the support arms were supposed to jump back to release the vehicle and then off it went. However when we were shooting it the arms didnt move, I cant remember exactly what the problem was but one of the cables must have snapped. So suddenly we were sitting there and found that we couldnt move it, and those rockets were going and once they ignite thats it. There were three 2-inch diameter rockets in that thing, they we BIG, and they did quite a lot of damage. And you couldnt really put it out easily, just trying to get up to the model in the first place was hard work and then spraying it to try and put it out, by the time you got there the damage was already done!
Did you have any problems keeping the miniatures in
When these new models appeared on stage were there any
times that you thought How are we going to make
I think UFO was the high point in the
effects work, the Shado Mobiles driving through
the forest looked pretty real.
The flying effects were slightly different this time with
what looked like real clouds.
I think that you had more space to do the UFO
effects as you had taken over the empty puppet stages.
Ian: Im not sure as I think there was an overlap at some point with some puppet stuff still being done, as they may have still been filming The Secret Service. It was a shame really because they did still have the opportunity to continue shooting puppets, but Gerry just didnt want to know as all through his life he had wanted to shoot live-action. I think he made a mistake then and should have found a way to keep shooting the puppet stuff, trimming it down so that it wasnt so expensive. That way I think it could have carried on for several more years. However you have to give him credit with what it did at the time, but I guess he had a love-hate relationship with the puppets and just wanted to get away from them and do live-action only and he did shoot some good live-action stuff.
Did you see Gerry or Sylvia on the sets much?
UFO was coming to the end did you
realise that it was the last show?
Ian: It was difficult to believe Ill say that. I was one of the last people there and I can remember having to chuck all these models in skips and I actually ended up with a Thunderbird 2! We were throwing everything out because in those days there wasnt a market for film memorabilia, it just wasnt valuable until years later. I saw this Thunderbird 2 and I thought Im going to have a memento and so I said to Gerry Could I have something and he said Take what you want, and so I had it and everything else was skipped.
So I actually had this model but
unfortunately over the years Ive lost it!
It would probably be worth about £50,000 now!
Ian: Tell me about it (laugh). But I do now bitterly regret not having that Thunderbird 2. Id love to have it, not necessarily to sell it, but just to have it. Because that was an important part of my life, where I first learnt about special effects. It was like a film school and you were paid to learn these things, and it was so much fun working on those models and it was so creative. I really enjoyed it there and it was a great bunch of people. Good days, they really were good days.
I would like to thank the following
Ian Wingrove for kindly inviting me into his home and answering every question I could think of!
Dennis Lowe for his enthusiasm and taking the time to arrange and film the interview.
|CLICK HERE to visit Dennis
Lowes website to view the filmed version of this
Martin Shubrook for
generously allowing the use of their photographs from
Other photographs supplied by Ian Wingrove and Phil Rae.
production photographs ITC Entertainment Group Ltd
No infringement of copyright is intended - non-profit fan interest site only.
David Sisson 2011
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