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Spectrum Is Green: Gerry Anderson

by Dan Lopez

In 1955, Gerry Anderson's involvement with A.P. Films (a company he co-founded) led to the production of The Adventures of Twizzle, a British puppet show that was quite popular in its day. Because animation proved more profitable to produce—and that he was good at it—Anderson moved into the world of marionette animation that would soon become the domain defining most of his career. Eventually working under Lew Grade, Anderson produced projects like Fireball XL5, Stingray, and, of course, Thunderbirds, arguably his most familiar and popular production. Later productions such as Captain Scarlet and UFO cemented Anderson's reputation in the world of sci-fi television.

While his work in the 1960s and 70s is some of his most beloved, he has never stopped producing ideas and quality programs, including the extremely creative Dick Spanner series in the late 1980s. On August 23rd and 24th, 2002, Anderson was honored at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood, with a tribute program featuring select footage of his various projects as part of their 3rd Annual Festival of Fantasy, Horror & Science-Fiction. He took time from his busy schedule of activities to chat with digitallyOBSESSED! about some of his current projects.

dOc: Now that so many of your programs are being released on DVD, what is your opinions of the format?

Gerry Anderson: Well, it's opened up a whole new world. They're easy to use, they're very high quality, and they don't deteriorate. People are putting stuff on DVD because they're aware of the quality and they're making sure that the material is kind of rejuvenated up to its original standards. The sound quality is very good, they're easy to transport, easy to store...I mean, what else can I say, they're terrific!

dOc: Do you know which of your shows will be released on DVD in next half-year or so?

GA: Well, Fireball XL5 is set for the first quarter of 2003 and the second half of UFO will be out soon. Stingray is coming out in December 2002.

dOc: Beyond the commentaries you've recorded so far for episodes of Captain Scarlet and UFO, did you have any other personal involvement with the DVDs produced so far?

GA: Well, no. Mainly I'm really busy making films. All the technical work was undertaken by Carlton Television in the U.K. Because the films were originally filmed in color and because color negatives tend to fade after the years, they took the negatives, re-created them, and managed to bring the colors back to their original glory. They went through every single frame of the picture and took out the white spots, abrasions, scratches, and they improved the soundtrack to bring it up to present-day standards. The interesting thing, for me, is that if you watch, say, Thunderbirds, on DVD now, you're actually seeing better quality than the day the show was born and people are now watching them on modern television sets.

dOc: Well, the discs certainly are very impressive and I've often been amazed at the overall quality. I assume you're supportive of the direction Carlton has taken with the discs.

GA: Well, I'm glad to hear that because a lot of trouble was taken in creating them. Yes, I'm absolutely supportive of Carlton so far.

dOc: Do you know if you'll be doing anymore commentaries for future episodes of any releases?

GA: It depends how busy I am. I was able to do a few, but I work at Pinewood Studios, which is just outside London and if I have to go into London to do a commentary and then come back again it really wipes the day out of my schedule. So I guess the answer is where I can, I will, and when I have time.

dOc: I understand you're working on a new Captain Scarlet production. Can you offer any details on that?

GA: What we're planning to do, provided nothing goes wrong, is that we're aiming to make a movie out of it.

dOc: And this is computer animated, correct?

GA: Yes. It certainly isn't easy or cheap, but it was inspired by the fact that hundreds of millions of people know the show, and they know the characters. So using CGI, we're able to re-create the characters exactly as people knew them. We can bring them to life and they can do all the things they weren't able to do as puppets.

dOc: Are you planning on bringing back any of the original voice cast, or will it be a new group of people?

GA: Well, that's one of the problems we're faced with at the moment. We will need marquee names. A part of me would like to use the original voices that people know, but when it comes to the cinema posters, I think we'll need top, American names. We'll probably have the two central characters re-voiced.

dOc: Will the story revolve around the Mysterons like the series did?

GA: Oh yes, the format will be exactly the same, except everything will be bigger and better. Clearly it's a longer story and we can do so many things we couldn't afford to do on the television series. I suppose it will be like the transition of Star Trek to the big screen.

dOc: Is this continuing where the series left off?

GA: We will be restaging the Martian excursion and the initial encounter with the Mysterons. We really have to do that for the benefit of those who haven't seen the show. I've been working with the people who've been sending satellites to Mars and some of the terrain on Mars is really spectacular which, of course, we didn't know before. [Author's Note: During the time of Captain Scarlet's original production, no one knew what the surface of Mars looked like as there had been no orbital photographs yet.] I mean, one of the volcanoes on Mars [Olympus Mons] is 24 kilometers high! So, we'll now be able to show Mars as it really is and should be really spectacular. Once that sequence is over with, we're shooting a whole new story and everything is re-designed. The while process will take about 2 years.

dOc: Now, there's been a lot of news about a Thunderbirds movie in the works. Do you know anything about that?

GA: Well, I know as much as you do about that and no more. Over the last few years I've seen rumor after rumor that a picture is going to be made and it never happens. I'm hoping one of these days they'll come and ask me to make it. What a brilliant idea! [laughs.]

dOc: Would you be part of the film if you were asked to be, but it wasn't under your own production company?

GA: Well, the first answer would be: I wish you'd ask them. If they were talking in terms of a consulting fee and they seriously took notice of my suggestions, then I'd accept. If they just wanted to use my name and wanted me to keep out of the development process completely, I'd probably want a considerable amount of money.

dOc: I also understand you've been developing another animated project entitled Firestorm?

GA: Yes, that's being made in Japan. It hasn't started animating yet, but we [TV Century 21] were asked by two major Japanese companies to create a series for them to make in Japan. They paid very well and we sent it there and they put it into a media production, so now we go back-and-forth to Tokyo every 8 or 10 weeks. It's being made in Japanese language and it's a combination of anime and CGI. The basic story is about a big terrorist organization that's holding governments of the world ransom. We're talking billions and billions of dollars. This organization now has secret bases all over the world, they own a lot of military equipment and they're becoming quite a force. We learn they're actually aliens who are the vanguard of a major invasion force. That's the basic idea. We've got another Japanese project as well involving Sega [one of Japan's largest video games and video entertainment companies] and a live-action series called Eternity, but that's all still under discussion. So, I'm not going to have much spare time in the future. [laughs.]

dOc: There have recently been some video games based on your shows. Did you have any involvement with those?

GA: Not really. It's a very different process from making films. The problem is they can't really recap any of our stories, because the game has to be setup so there are hundreds of different alternatives. In the case of Captain Scarlet, we certainly will be working closely with a game company because we'd want to make sure they captured the spirit of the show.

dOc: With all the work you've been doing lately, have you considered revisiting any other shows for an updated audience?

GA: I'm sure you've heard of people who either write songs or create things and lose their copyright, and that happened to me. So, the copyright of all my shows belong to Carlton Television in London. It's something I would like to do, but on each occasion I have to negotiate with them and do a deal to update my own shows. It's an odd situation, but that's how it is. We've got the remake rights now for Captain Scarlet.

dOc: A lot of people are unfamiliar with the fact that you did shows with live actors and not just puppets. Was the transition from years of Supermarionation to UFO a positive experience?

GA: Well, I always wanted to work on live-action and couldn't wait to get away from puppet production, which I kind of fell into. My first impression is that it was absolutely wonderful because we were in a real film studio, working on full-size sets, and the actors could walk on their own with their mouths moving normally and such. All of that was wonderful. But then we came across one or two difficult actors and I began to think we might be exchanging one set of problems for another. [laughs.] Having said that, I would much prefer to work on live-action or, now of course, CGI, as the results can be so spectacular, so it's very satisfying.

dOc: What has being honored at this film festival involved so far?

GA: Well, a lot of interviews and live radio shows and, of course, the program at the Egyptian Theatre. They ran some of my pictures and then I did a Q&A session afterwards. I was delighted that it was filled to the brim. Then I'm moving on to New York for the same general thing.

dOc: Did you actually watch your own shows with the audience?

GA: Well, in fact, I've seen them so many times that I went out for a bite to eat [laughs.] But, I did get back for the Q&A.