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Mix-media television series Thunderbirds Are Go is a powerful example of how Wellington and international entertainment companies can build successful long-term franchises, together.
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 Pukeko Pictures, with Weta Workshop designing the series and manufacturing the miniatures. A truly international collaboration, the show is 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, and 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 Pukeko’s Theo Baynton. Working on the show has been a long-held dream for several members of the Pukeko team.
Response to the show has been “outstanding”, says Clive Spink, CEO of Pukeko. “It’s important we resonated not only with kids, but with the fans”. The UK premiere in April 2015 attracted close to three million viewers. In July 2015, New Zealand fans were able to join 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 with more lined up to launch soon.
Sales of accompanying merchandise has also been strong, particularly toys (some have sold out in in New Zealand!) and DVDs. Other merchandise includes clothing and accessories, posters and prints, party goods, stamps books and more.
Once the production got the green light, 30 crew were hired in 30 days: testament to Wellington’s ability to source top-notch talent to tight deadlines. “We’ve got great incentives to work collaboratively [here in Wellington]”, says Baynton, “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.”
Director David Scott is a great example of how Wellington experience can turn into an international career: having worked on The Lord of the Rings trilogy he worked on a number of international commercials and feature films, including Legend of the Guardians and Superman Returns. He returned to Wellington to be Pukeko’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”, says Scott. “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. “There’re also a lot of great people here in Wellington – the social side of things appeals to me” says Baynton, and Scott highlights “the drama of the scenery” and its “wonderful restaurants, great café culture and niche bars”.
Head writer Rob Hoegee concludes: “I’m constantly amazed at what Pukeko Pictures and Weta Workshop have been 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 goes to air in 2016 and a third series has been commissioned.
Love Thunderbirds Are Go!? Check out the authentic miniatures from the show at Weta Workshop's Thunderbirds Are Go Behind-The-Scenes Experience!