Manimation ’15 Report – Masterclass: Thunderbirds Are Go!

Posted on: Thursday 19 November 2015 11:33pm by Tom Jordan


  • The new Thunderbirds aimed to retain the DNA of the original, but combine it with more modern production techniques: CGI characters and handmade sets and vehicles
  • Working with a partner (New Zealand’s Weta) who understood what audiences loved about the original was essential
  • High value was placed on sound, including a talented voice cast and big orchestral score
  • The target audience was multigenerational


Giles Ridge took delegates through the stages involved in remaking the Gerry Anderson puppet classic ‘Thunderbirds’, including how they dealt with the challenge of keeping the essence of the original while updating certain aspects of the production.

Long-term ‘Thunderbirds’ devotee Giles described the moment ITV asked him to lead the remake as one of great excitement, but also of apprehension – with huge pressure to do justice to the much-loved programme.

He said that it had long been the intention of ITV, who own the rights to the whole Anderson portfolio, which includes other classics such as ‘Stingray’ and ‘Joe 90’, to do the remake.

The starting point for Giles was to identify what made ‘Thunderbirds’ a classic in the first place. Bravery, heroism, and selflessness are all core themes, and even without the success of the original, he said the pitch is still pretty appealing: five handsome young people, saving the world from their paradise island base and travelling by a fleet of super-flash vehicles.

They didn’t want to mess with the DNA of the original, but at the same time they had to make it work for a modern, 2015 CITV audience. Focus groups told them definitively that the 7-11 audience didn’t want marionette puppets, so they decided that a mix of CGI for the characters and handmade sets and rockets was the way forward.

As ITV doesn’t have an animation department, they needed to partner with an organisation that had a passion for the brand, which they found in Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor’s Weta company in New Zealand.

Sound was a crucial element too. A top-class voice cast was assembled, including the original Parker, David Graham, and big names such as Rosamund Pike as the new voice of Lady Penelope (although in a nice twist the original Penelope, Sylvia Anderson, agreed to take on the role of Penelope’s aunt). Giles was keen as much as possible to have the voice artists all together for the recording, as he thinks it helps with the comedy if the actors can interact with each other.

The musical score of the original wasn’t neglected either; they wanted to keep the essence of the epic Barry Gray orchestration, with big brass and strings. They worked with composers Ben and Nick Foster, and a live orchestra, to keep that, but with a style and modern motifs that brought it up to date.

Another nod to the original was to retain the relatively slow of pace of the rocket launches, as Giles feels that kids love the seeing the process of how things happen from start to finish.

A positive for Giles was the discovery of some great new British writing talent for the project – nine writers are onboard, split between the UK and the US, with a head writer ensuring that the overall output is consistent.

The talk was interspersed with some great clips of the new visuals, which look stunningly tangible, and the reaction from the delegates to the footage was really positive.

The question of the audience demographic was raised in the Q&A, and Giles said there were as many adults watching as kids, which they anticipated. But there had been more girls watching than they expected, partly due to the new female Kayo character. The overall aim though is for it to be a family viewing experience, with the ‘Thunderbirds’ opening countdown acting as a call for everyone to come and watch together.

The second half of series one is currently airing, with production on series two currently a third of the way through. Thunderbirds are, most definitely, Go… once more…

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Tom Jordan

About the author

Tom Jordan

Freelance, Writer

Tom is a freelance writer and editor based in Sheffield. He has over a decade of experience in travel publishing, writing for National Geographic Traveller, Sunday Times Travel Magazine and CNN, among others, and editing for travel guide books. His recent focus has also been as a development editor in… Read more