Posts Tagged ‘special effects’

Video on the Use of Toys as Models in the Gerry Anderson Shows

November 23, 2021

Here’s a bit of fun for a Tuesday morning. I found this short video on the Gerry Anderson channel in YouTube, in which the hosts talk about the times the show used toys while filming the various cult series Anderson created. Sometimes it was simply a case where a commercial toy was cannibalised for its parts, which were then used in the creation of one of the shows’ models. This happened to a model tank, which was taken apart and its pieces used for a number of models, including the armoured vehicle hunting down the aliens that made it down to Earth in UFO. At other times commercial toys of the spaceships and other vehicles seen in the show were used while filming, including one of the spacecraft from Terrahawks.

I was interesting in this, because I had a Super Eight cine camera when I was lad, and like many others me and a few friends went and made our of SF films with it using action men and spaceships made from plastic model kits. These were hung from strings across a painted space background and flown about by hand. We really enjoyed making them, but I always felt a bit frustrated as I would have loved to have been able to make something of more professional quality. Of course, this was far beyond my boyhood capabilities. I knew that the SF films used matte work and TV series like Dr. Who and Blake’s 7 used Colour Separation Overlay, or Chromakey, to superimpose their spaceships on a space background without strings, and wished I could do the same. You were supposed to be able to do something like it with Super Eight by exposing a section of film twice to produce ghosts etc. Or so I was assured by the manuals. In fact you couldn’t with Super Eight, as one you reached the end of the cassette holding the film, that was it. It was all over and locked. I think you could do it with Standard Eight, however.

Since then I’ve found out that many of my favourite SF shows hadn’t used such sophisticated optical techniques, but instead had models dangling from wires. If I’d known about this at the time, and particularly about the use of commercial toys as props, I would have felt better about my own efforts.

Making these short films – Super Eight lasts only 3 minutes 20 seconds – were immense fun, and like a number of other children I dreamt of being a film director like George Lucas or Spielberg. Well, that hasn’t happened. But I do think Super Eight filming did encourage creativity among the children and young adults who used it. If you can remember that far back, Screen Test with Michael Rod also used to run an annual competition for the best Super Eight film created by the show’s young viewers. Some of these were very good, others not so impressive. I think several of them were about a future in which everything was done on computer. Obviously, it was very far-fetched!

Super Eight was rapidly made obsolete by videotape and the new video cameras, which have also been superseded by DVD, Blue Ray and digital media. Editing software is available for computers so that people in their homes, using footage from their phones or digital cameras, can produce their own films for YouTube and other social media platforms of extremely high quality, far above what could be done with ordinary amateur cine film. And it’s great that the technology has moved on, so that more people are able to do this and share their creations with a wider public than just themselves, their family and friends in the privacy of their own homes.

The hosts here also talk about how they threw their model Gerry Anderson spaceships into the ground, or pulled them along in the hope that it would look like the special effects sequences on screen. Its says much about Anderson’s series that they’re still so fondly remembered after decades. They’ve even revived Thunderbirds, though it’s now computer generated rather than puppets. Which, I have to say, is a bit disappointing for fans of practical effects, but you can’t have everything. I hope Anderson will continue to inspire new generations of young SF film-makers for some time to come.

Model-Maker Bill Pearson Talks About His Work on Blake’s 7

February 25, 2021

This is another video from the film about the work of the talented peeps behind the models and miniatures used in some of the classic SF films and TV shows, A Sense of Scale. In this short video of about 4 mins in length, the late Bill Pearson talks about his work on the Beeb’s cult SF series, Blake’s 7. He describes the series as the Magnificent 7 in space, and says that the heroes were all bad guys, but not as bad as the people they were fighting against. They were anti-heroes. It’s a fair description, as the heroes were nearly all convicted criminals – Vila was a thief, Jenna a smuggler, Avon an embezzler, Gan a murderer, while Blake was a democratic agitator, a political criminal against the totalitarian, fascistic Federation, who were the real bad guys. Cally, a freedom-fighter from the planet Auron, was the only one who hadn’t been arrested, sentenced and convicted by the Federation she was pledged to overthrow.

Pearson says he was persuaded to join the effects team as he was told it was going to be wonderful and big budget, which it never was. He was recruited to the series as he had impressed the Beeb’s head of special effects with what he had been doing at college, and started work at the Corporation with a couple of episodes of Dr. Who. He was on Blake’s 7 from the start and did most of the spaceships in the last series. He says there were very little miniatures. There were a couple of hero ships, but they’d been built by the time he joined the SFX crew. The London, the ship used in the first episode, ‘The Way Back’, to transport Blake and his future crew to the penal colony of Cygnus Alpha, had already been made by an outside company. Other model-makers on the series included Martin Bower, who also worked on Space 1999 and the film Outland, and who worked on a couple of models of the heroes’ ships, the Liberator. There, and I thought the effects were all done by Matt Irvine and Mike Kelt. He only got involved with the miniatures in the final series. Pearson says that he’s notorious on the internet for making the gun that Avon uses to kill Blake in the very last episode. This, he says, is still around and getting more appreciation. I think here he’s referring to the series, rather than the weapon, as it’s just after that he talks of Blake and his crew as being bad guys and anti-heroes.

Pearson states that model-making for the screen isn’t as glamorous people think. One of the downsides is unemployment and there are many special effects firms now going bankrupt. However, it is the closest we’re going to get to immortality at the moment. A century from now someone’s going to pick up a packet of cereal and get a free 4D recording of Alien, put it in their viewer, and see his work and his name on the credits. And that’s pretty cool. The video also includes stills of Pearson working on some of the models used in the series and on Alien along with the interview.

BLAKEĀ“S 7 (TV) miniature effects – YouTube

Pearson gave the interview in 2012, and the state of the effects industry may have changed somewhat since then, but I don’t doubt that CGI has had a devastating effect on the use of practical effects in movies and television, although they’re still used to a certain extent.

Blake’s 7 was made over forty years ago and was low budget SF. Matt Irvine said once that the money spent on one effect in the cinema was far in excess of what they had to spend on the series. But the show had memorable characters, great actors and some excellent stories. The effects work varied in quality, but the main spaceships, the Liberator and the Scorpio, looked good, as did the three sentient computers in the show, Zen, Slave and Orac. Blake’s 7 is, along with Dr. Who, Thunderbirds and Space 1999, a classic of British SF television and still retains a cult following all these decades later.

Beat The Ancestors on Medieval Cranes

October 12, 2013

On Monday the team on Channel 5’s Beat the Ancestors will attempt to build and improve upon the design for a medieval crane. According to the blurb in the Radio Times

‘Dick Strawbridge challenges a team of engineers to re-create a vast crane of the kind used to build Salisbury Cathedral in the 13th Century’.

Beat the Ancestors is a strange mixture of Scrapheap Challenge and the living history experiments from Time Team. Every week a team of engineers, including a lady special effects technician, are given the task of recreating an historical machine, and then improving the design. In one of the earliest programmes they were required to build a piece of late medieval artillery. This consisted of a number of small cannons fixed into a single gun carriage. These were all fired at once to create a lethal barrage. The crane was invented in ancient Greece in the 3rd century BC, and was introduced into medieval Europe from Egypt in the 12th century during the Crusades. The example in Salisbury Cathedral has survived because its physically built into the structure of the Cathedral itself. It’s hidden in the roof.

The programme should be worth watching. It never ceases to amaze me how technologically advanced the Middle Ages were. I’ve blogged before about how medieval scholars, such as Roger Bacon, knew about diving helmets, and these may even have been used by medieval divers on the bottoms of rivers. Windmills were used not only to grind corn, but also to forge metal, full cloth, and pump out mines and drain marshy land. Spectacles were invented in the last decades of the thirteenth century, and printing was used to decorate cloth in Provence as early as the 12th century. It was also used to print the capital letters in manuscripts produced at the monastery in Regensburg. There is therefore plenty of material for the team to explore in future episodes.

Channel 5 has produced some very good programmes on archaeology and history, which is surprising given how the channel is owned by the pornographer Richard Desmond, and how much of it really is aimed at the lowest common denominator. If you have an interest in historic technology and industrial history and archaeology, Beat the Ancestors can be interesting viewing. The programme’s on Mondays, Channel 5, at seven o’clock in the evening.