‘Thunderbirds Are Go’: An international team effort

A true co-production making dreams a reality

Gerry and Sylvia Anderson’s iconic 60s television show ‘Thunderbirds’ has had new life breathed into it thanks to a co-production between UK-based ITV Studios and Wellington-based Pūkeko Pictures.

Wētā Workshop designed the series and manufactured the miniatures. A truly international collaboration, the show was made by teams in the US, UK, Taiwan, the Czech Republic and New Zealand.

The series follows the heroic international rescue missions of the five Tracy brothers and is made using a mixture of live-action model sets and CGI animation.

“We’d had a lot of experience working with mixed mediums, through our production of the ‘WotWots’. We felt those techniques would apply really well to recreating ‘Thunderbirds’ and paying homage to some of the original techniques used in the show,” says Pūkeko’s Theo Baynton.

Working on the show was a long-held dream for several members of the Pūkeko team.

Episodic director of TV show ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ stands in front of rocks and the ocean in Lyall Bay as a plane comes into land.

Theo Baynton, episodic director of ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ says: “We felt those techniques would apply really well to recreating ‘Thunderbirds’ and paying homage to some of the original techniques used in the show.”

International reach for an international show

Response to the show has been “outstanding”, says Pūkeko chief executive Clive Spink.

“It’s important we resonated not only with kids but with the fans.”

The UK premiere in April 2015 attracted almost 3 million viewers. In July 2015, New Zealand fans joined in the action and since then rights to the show have been sold to 40 countries. Including the US, France, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Turkey, Brazil, Japan, and Canada.

Sales of accompanying merchandise were also strong, particularly toys.

Series director of the TV show ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’ David Scott stands on top of Miramar Peninsula with Wellington city in the background. He wears a blue and white check shirt and has wind-swept hair.

David Scott, series director, says: “One of the great advantages of doing the production here in Wellington is the close proximity to everything.”

Wellington’s scale means quick turnaround and a powerful talent pool

Once the production got the green light, 30 crew were hired in 30 days, a testament to Wellington’s ability to source top-notch talent to tight deadlines.

“We’ve got great incentives to work collaboratively [here in Wellington] and the scale of the industry means there’s a lot of CG talent to draw from. A lot of great educational institutions serve that, as well, and can help talented students cut their teeth on real productions,” says Theo.

Director David Scott is a great example of how Wellington experience can turn into an international career. He’s worked on ‘The Lord of the Rings’ trilogy and many international commercials and feature films. Including ‘Legend of the Guardians’ and ‘Superman Returns’. He returned to Wellington to be Pūkeko’s series director for ‘Thunderbirds Are Go’.

“One of the great advantages of doing the production here in Wellington is the close proximity to everything,” he says.

“The studio where we do the animation is right next to the miniatures set. We’ve got Park Road Post over the road — it just shortcuts all the travel time you get in other cities.”

But it’s not all work.

“They’re also a lot of great people here in Wellington — the social side of things appeals to me,” says Theo, while David highlights “the drama of the scenery” and the “wonderful restaurants, great café culture and niche bars”.

Head writer Rob Hoegee sums it up nicely.

“I’m constantly amazed at what Pūkeko Pictures and Wētā Workshop were able to do on the series. There’s a proven talent base for film and TV production in Wellington and it’s now become a destination for creative people.”

The second series went to air in 2016 and the third in 2018.