“In the frozen Himalayas, in the land of mountaineers,
Where the local folk are frightened, by the strangest kind of fears,
Though it may be just a rumour, its been talked about for years!
THE ABOMINABLE SNOOOOWMAN!”
Good, well now that’s out of the way we can get on with taking a look at the second episode from the Thunderbirds 1965 mini-series, The Abominable Snowman, based on the Century 21 mini-album entitled F.A.B. released in April 1966. Just a reminder, these episodes are available exclusively to Kickstarter backers and aren’t commercially available for the moment. Now that I’ve mentioned that, let’s go!
The Abominable Snowman
Written by David Graham and Desmond Saunders
Directed by Stephen La Rivière
Following the less conventional Introducing Thunderbirds story which focuses primarily on exposition, The Abominable Snowman is an opportunity for viewers to enjoy a typical Thunderbirds adventure full of rescues, explosions and intrigue. The teaser montage from the opening titles confirms this by expertly revealing glimpses of the episode without giving too much away.
It’s often difficult to pin down and define exactly what makes Thunderbirds so enjoyable, and I think that’s because there are so many different aspects and types of story that are told depending on the episode. That level of variety is something that the three Thunderbirds 1965 episodes capture very well, with each episode representing a different type of Thunderbirds episode, and where possible the team have made changes to the mini-albums to accomodate for further aspects of the series which weren’t originally present.
The best example: the uranium plant sequence which opens this episode. Big disasters are naturally a visual element of Thunderbirds so they don’t really form a part of the mini-albums, but they are of course an integral part of the television series. So this new sequence has been shot to provide the viewer with some big bangs. The Meddings Uranium Plant, named after the series’ special effects director famous for his explosions, has been sabotaged and International Rescue have to put out the fire before the plant overloads. It’s a classic Thunderbirds crisis. The episode opens with a fire truck whizzing past camera, akin to the opening of Terror in New York City. The eagle-eyed viewer can immediately spot that the various structures of the plant are constructed from model kit parts which is how so much detailing was often achieved on models in the original series.
A wonderful tribute to Derek Meddings. Not the first time his name has cropped up in a Thunderbirds episode – 5 Security Hazard points to the person that comments below to tell me when the first time was.
Two famous faces appearing from the National Television Broadcasting System – is that Troy Tempest of Stingray fame operating the wonderfully oversized camera here? And of course a lovely new Ned Cook puppet is in front of the camera, albeit with a slightly different voice. Every so often newly recorded bits of voice acting creep in to the action where absolutely necessary but they still retain that classic style of acting and don’t distract from the pre-existing dialogue. The new voice of Ned Cook passes perfectly for a young Shane Rimmer.
The fire and explosions look spectacular. Everything detonates as willingly as it does in the original series without holding back. Receiving credit for his work on the pyrotechnics is Malcolm Smith who has managed to create some incredible fireballs, bangs and flashes by carefully analysing the explosions seen in the original shows. He then had to source the right materials and chemicals to make sure they looked the same, whilst having to overcome the hurdle that certain elements used for the effects back in 1965 are now banned in the name of health and safety. An excellent job has been done to ensure that the effects have the same mass and energy on screen despite using safer materials. A full interview with Malcolm Smith all about his pyrotechnics work is coming soon to the Security Hazard blog!
Thunderbird 1 arrives on the scene and doesn’t she look amazing? The model was built by Mamas Pitsillis, complete with working wing motion which we get to see in action later.It’s a struggle to find two shots of Thunderbird 1 in the original series where the model looks the same, so the design for this model appears to be an amalgamation of markings and colours to provide an overall classic Thunderbird 1 look that viewers recognise.
The mighty Thunderbird 2 arrives carrying some fire extinguishing capsules. This model is huge and when you look at behind the scenes photos which show just how big the model is, the crew must have had a challenging time getting her to move on screen. After all, when making the original series Thunderbird 2 was a constant problem for the special effects team as she would often fall off her wires and need repairing!
The flames continue to roar as Barry Gray’s exciting music reaches its peak and Thunderbird 2 drops its capsules to extinguish the blaze. Brian Johnson who directed many of the special effects for Thunderbirds, visited the Thunderbirds 1965 studio during production and sent a letter to team saying that ‘seeing the footage made [him] do a Quantum Leap back to the Sixties and the Century Twenty One studio.’ Johnson also offered his original camera crane to the production which was used multiple times when shooting the episodes.
Following the exciting opening, John receives a mysterious distress call on Thunderbird 5 with someone claiming to encounter the abominable snowman. Then we get into the story as it appears on the mini-album with only a few cuts and additions made to enchance the drama.
Viewers are treated to another lovely panning shot of the Tracy Lounge, specially constructed for the production. It’s a typical scene of the Tracys at leisure with a few characters dotted around reading and enjoying the view.
John calls in to report the distress call. Rather than creating a new puppet of John and filming him on a reconstructed Thunderbird 5 set, footage from the series is cleverly recycled and manipulated to make the character appear to be speaking the dialogue from the mini-album. Nothing is lost from doing this for such a short scene and it’s a technique used throughout this episode. It means the production team were able to concentrate their efforts on the heavy workload that the rest of the episode demanded. Such are the marvels of editing on a computer and having characters that only speak by moving their lower lip open or closed.
Jeff’s fashion taste has calmed down a bit since Introducing Thunderbirds. Now that International Rescue has started operations his desire to wear flamingo-based clothing has diminished in favour of a similarly tasteless white cardigan and black jumper.
Scott has some wonderful 60’s style clothing in this scene which is also in-keeping with his casual costumes in the original series. The head of the puppet is slightly different to what we’ve seen before, particularly when compared to stock footage of Scott from the series. But this is nothing new. Scott’s face changes ever so slightly multiple times across the Thunderbirds series, as do all the characters, most noticeably in between series 1 and 2 when the puppets were cleaned up for their big screen appearance in Thunderbirds Are Go. As the characters are sculpted by hand, producing exactly the same result twice is near impossible. Spot the difference between these three pictures of Scott Tracy – all of them with slightly different faces.
Fifty years later, this version of Scott and all the other characters is an excellent composite of all the different variations that appear in the series.
Jeff contacts Lady Penelope and Parker, who happen to be in Delhi so that they can investigate the mysterious claims that the abominable snowman is prowling the Himalayas.
Back projection is used to show passing scenery while inside FAB 1. The temptation form modern film-makers would have been to use a green screen and add the background in post production, thus saving time and effort during shooting. It probably would have made for a more realistic effect too. But back projection was a technique used for driving scenes not just in Thunderbirds but in countless films and television series of the period. It may not stand up well when viewed today, but it gave the essence of driving and that’s often all a series like Thunderbirds requires. No-one would believe that the puppet characters are driving down a real road, so in a way the use of back projection fits in with this artificial world that the Andersons created. With great expertise, the back projection technique was therefore revived for Thunderbirds 1965.
We now get our first glimpse at the snowy Himalayas as the abominable snowman comes in to attack an innocent bystander (who looks remarkably like Jeff Tracy!). The P.O.V. shot of the snowman approaching the hut may not seem all that Thunderbirds-ey, but every so often shots just like it do appear in the series. Types of shots usually reserved for live-action photography were utilised regularly on the original series by directors who wanted to give the puppet stars some integrity. Filming the puppets and models as if they were real actors or vehicles is what gives Thunderbirds and the other Supermarionation shows such credibility and was Gerry Anderson’s way of making his puppet films stand above what had gone before. Using P.O.V. shots like those in The Abominable Snowman is just one way of going about doing this.
Spot the monotrain in the background of this shot – a really nice little easter egg for Thunderbirds fans.
One of the marvellous things about the miniature world of Thunderbirds is that everything had to be made, and that includes the rear end of the horse that viewers are treated to here. The horse and carriage which carries Parker, Penelope and International Rescue agent Gallup Din to the Ski-Copter airfield is also beautifully made with rich fabrics and materials.
Lady Penelope’s sari is a wonderfully elegant costume by Liz Comstock-Smith which respects the philosophy of the original series of not merely dressing her up like a child’s doll but giving her a real wardrobe that a fashionable, well-travelled agent would have. Gallup Din gave the production team an opportunity to create an entirely new character in the same way that characters were often designed for the Supermarionation series. Actor Sanjeev Bhaskar was the basis of the new sculpt made by Stephen Mansfield, in the same way that famous faces of the day were the inspiration for the puppet sculptors in the Sixties. It’s a great sculpt, making Gallup Din one of the most memorable Thunderbirds guest characters to date.
Penelope, Parker and Din arrive at the Ski-Copter airfield and we’re treated to this lovely shot making great use of forced perspective. I mentioned this in my last article but I love the little plasticine figures in the foreground, just like the ones used in the original series. The hangars, the Ski-Copters themselves and even the control tower in the background are well-detailed miniatures which could have been made by the AP Films model makers. This shot looks like one of the typical airfield shots that you see in Thunderbirds where the model workshop would have been raided and anything that fitted in found a place in the scene to make it look busy. The Thunderbirds 1965 crew appear to have had a similiar repertory of models and scenery that were used to fill the set.
The Ski-Copter carrying Penelope and Parker to the mountains is an inventive design which does what many a popular aircraft does in Thunderbirds – roughly taking the rules of aerodynamics to create an aircraft that looks like it could fly, and then adding lots of interesting and distinctive features to make it a vehicle of fantasy. The crash sequence shows off some lovely, detailed control panels made using gadgets and instruments sourced from some very 60’s piece of technology.
The Hood, disguised as Penelope and Parker’s guide, jettisons the fuel of the Ski-Copter. It’s the first use of a human hand! I do love this quirk of Supermarionation and I’m glad that despite the fact it always sticks out, no matter how well the set and costume is up-sized, these insert shots have been put to full use in this episode. A shot from the episode Martian Invasion has been re-coloured to show the fuel splattering all over the hull.
BANG! The Ski-Copter goes up in a massive explosion as it crashes into a mountain. Fortunately, Penelope and Parker are safe as the passenger pod floats to the ground on an emergency parachute. Unfortunately, the disguised Hood has led them into a trap…
Live action close-ups, as performed by Géraldine Donaldson, demonstrate that Penelope has twisted her ankle. I could be wrong but I’m pretty sure this is the first time a bare human foot is seen in Thunderbirds – the Security Hazard blog is your number 1 source for useless Gerry Anderson related trivia. It is remarkable, however, that not only have the puppets themselves been shot in exactly the same way on screen as they were in the original, but so have the live-action inserts which must have been a challenge to achieve in themselves.
The beard, moustache, eyebrows and wig form a typical disguise for The Hood here. Note how his hand is slightly larger than those seen on the other puppets. The same technique of giving The Hood larger hands was used 50 years ago on the original series in order to make him look stronger and more powerful. Also note the left-over kit parts attached to the door of the Ski-Copter.
The Hood and Parker enter the ice cave. Similar cutting techniques have been used to those often seen in the Supermarionation series in order to give the impression that Parker has walked closer to the steel door without actually showing him walking. The ice cave walls, much like the mountains in exterior scenes, have been carved out of polystyrene.
We don’t get to see their faces, but it appears that The Hood’s slaves are being played by puppets such as Jeff, Alan and Troy Tempest who appeared earlier. During the original series, the production team relied on their large repertory of puppets to populate crowd scenes, many of whom were recognisable for playing popular characters or even for playing a different character in the same episode. So if you happen to recognise any of the puppets you see in the background of certain shots in these episodes, it’s certainly nothing new.
With Parker captured in the ice cave and Penelope marooned in the Ski-Copter pod, it’s time for International Rescue to act. Director Stephen La Rivière certainly takes great advantage of having a full set of the Tracy Lounge to use with this lovely shot of Jeff and Scott standing on the balcony while the eyes of Penelope’s portrait flash in the background.
Some more great shots here. Eagle-eyed viewers might spot the fact that Penelope’s portrait has vanished while Jeff is talking to her – a classic Thunderbirds-style blooper! At least none of the portraits swap between uniform and casual wear in the same scene as we see in Trapped in the Sky!
Thunderbirds 1 and 2 prepare for launch and we have another first for the series. This is the only episode in which Thunderbird 2 is actually seen loading Pod 2! Could it be some never before seen footage of the original launch sequence, or could it be some clever editing? You decide…
Now you may be wondering why I’ve chosen to feature this short P.O.V. shot in the article. It’s because this is the only shot I was actually fortunate enough to watch being filmed when I visited the Thunderbirds 1965 studio for a day. And I can tell you that it took a real team effort to pull off even a short scene like this. Director Stephen La Rivière took a starring role as The Hood, walking towards the Ski-Copter door carrying the heavy camera used for filming. Justin T. Lee kept an eye on the monitor to ensure that the shot looked just right. David Tremont crouched down uncomfortably behind the set, trying to remain out of sight as he opened the pod doors. Lindsay Holung operated the Penelope puppet from the bridge above, just in case she was spotted through the window of the pod. Andrew T. Smith positioned himself next to the set with a box of polystyrene shavings doubling as snow which he poured into a fan held by Géraldine Donaldson on the floor. Several takes were made to get this very short and seemingly simple scene. Even though there were no complex effects or puppetry involved, the team worked to their limits to put this shot together with polystyrene flying everywhere, a heavy camera proving difficult to walk around with and everyone desperately trying to keep out of shot, making for really tough work. But the results speak for themselves: a great piece of film-making produced with everyone working their hardest using the modest techniques inspired by a pioneering group of film makers in the 1960s.
The Hood enters the Ski-Copter, Ray Barrett giving a charmingly melodramatic performance as he attempts to convince Penelope of Parker’s demise. Lady P isn’t convinced and comes out with the spectacular put down of, ‘You sir, are a blaggard.’ The Hood takes desperate action, knocking her unconscious with his mysterious powers. When I was a kid The Hood’s glowing eyes used to terrify me. Not in a traumatising way, but I would literally hide behind the sofa whenever his eyes glowed. I just about managed to contain myself this time round, but it still gives me chills.
The specially made mask which The Hood removes was incredibly thin and made this a very difficult shot to achieve under the hot studio lights. You can just about see a floor puppeteer’s fingers holding The Hood’s arm, reminiscent of the countless appearances the floor puppeteers made in the original series to make the characters move convincingly. This most famously extends to a shot in The Uninvited when Tin-Tin needs a helping hand getting out of her seat! Also, take a look at The Hood’s furious eyebrows. What a fantastic expression for a diabolical mastermind.
After the commercial break, Thunderbird 1 arrives on the scene in this lovely overhead shot as the wings open up. The ground whizzes past as the supersonic craft thunders towards the danger zone. It’s very similar to the overhead shot of Thunderbird 2 arriving on the scene in Attack of the Alligators, among many other examples.
Meanwhile, The Hood is threatening Lady Penelope who is tied to a steel girder. The Hood’s dominance is simply communicated with the camera positioned looking up at him – one of the most basic techniques of film-making but one which you wouldn’t ordinarily associate with the filming of puppetry.
I love shots like these in Thunderbirds when a laser cuts through metal and leaves a distinct burn mark. It doesn’t happen in the series so often that it becomes particularly noteworthy, but it’s certainly a recognisable element of the series which is always achieved on screen in a certain way. It would have stood out quite a bit if this shot hadn’t been done properly here, so I’m sure the people involved in making it happen would have looked closely at the original episodes to work out how the effect was done, and tried to replicate it as best as possible.
Having tracked down The Hood’s second Ski-Copter, Thunderbird 1 comes in to land, its jet blasting away the snow below. A slow and dramatic landing like this would only take a few seconds to actually film. When the jet was fired, the operator would basically pop the model down on the set pretty quickly. But when shooting the scene at high-speed, the motion is slowed down and makes the whole thing look much more grand and impressive as Thunderbird 1 settles down gracefully in the snow.
Thunderbird 2 enters the area, beautifully dirtied down with a sprinkling of snow to give the impression that the craft has been flying through the blizzard for some time. This was a practice championed by Derek Meddings and his team to make all the vehicles look well-used and less like models.
Meanwhile, Scott Tracy enters the ice cave, ready to face The Hood. Introduced here for the first time is the International Rescue cold weather uniform. Many may argue that because no such version of the uniform is seen in the series it shouldn’t be used here. However, similar to what I said in my Introducing Thunderbirds article, if nothing original was invented in these new episodes like new costumes, vehicles, characters, sets or props and everything was an exact replica of something from episodes 1-32, they wouldn’t have been made in the spirit of the original series. The 60s production team were constantly making changes or additions to what was seen on screen based on what the episodes needed. These episodes can stand up as episodes of Thunderbirds in their own right because they do something that every good episode of the original tried to do, and that was to bring something new and exciting to the screen and keep pushing and pulling the format of the show to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Yes, Thunderbirds 1965 attempts to re-create aspects of the original series, but these are new adventures which have their own set of demands and requirements. Making changes to things like costumes was a necessary element to keeping everything fresh. And let’s be honest, the cold weather uniform does look pretty cool… or do I mean warm?
Penelope’s struggle while tied to the girder is a particularly fine piece of puppeteering which demonstrates a great deal of control over the marionette. Even though she is standing still, her small and subtle movements bring the character to life. Combined with some well used live action hand inserts and the fast-paced editing, this scene captures the race-against-time drama of Thunderbirds superbly.
Scott enters the scene and aims his gun at The Hood. A hysterical outtake for this shot can be seen by clicking on the image above. Using a combination of live action and puppets in the same shot was ocassionally used in the original series with some rather surreal results.
With carefully timed pyrotechnics in Scott’s gun and the control panel, Scott is seen to shut off the laser beam by opening fire at the controls. The shot only lasts for a few seconds but if you watch closely you can see that the explosions are perfectly timed one after the other.The Hood has been shot by Scott’s tranquiliser and Penelope appears to be safe.
Parker arrives just a little bit too late to be of much help, but I love his little hat and his pickaxe all covered in just the right amount of snow.
While Scott, Penelope and Parker are distracted, The Hood jumps up and has just enough time to set off the destruction of the control panel and the entire ice cave before escaping.
Thunderbird 2 finally arrives on the scene but sadly doesn’t get to do too much before Scott orders Virgil to keep away from the impending detonation of the mountain. It seems unusual that, with the exception of Introducing Thunderbirds, Thunderbird 2 and Virgil don’t appear in the original mini-album recordings used for Thunderbirds 1965. These new episodes do a good job of adding them in where possible but it is unfortunate that they don’t have a true opportunity to shine – if only the mini-albums had been a little more geared towards providing some epic Thunderbird 2 action!
Thunderbird 1 takes off just in time before…
BANG! The whole mountain goes up in a ball of smoke and fire! True Thunderbirds style!
A lovely little shot of the snow covering up the footprints of the abominable snowman… but does that mean The Hood had special shoes when he was stamping around pretending to be the snowman? An important question…
Thunderbirds 1 and 2 rendezvous and fly back to base to mark the end of the episode. Barry Gray’s magnificent music swells to a triumphant climax as it rightly should. I’m sure the crew were glad to be finished with blowing polystyrene snow around!
Considering this was the first episode to go into production, Stephen La Rivière and his team utilised and improved upon their experience from their documentary, Filmed in Supermarionation, to produce a fantastic episode of Thunderbirds with so many classic elements faithfully brought back to the screen after a long absence.
Next time – David Elliot is back in the director’s chair, and the homes of the English aristocracy are being robbed, with Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward next on the list! It’s The Stately Homes Robberies.