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Evolution of Icons. Discussing the Redesign of iconic vehicles.

Concept artist Chris Thompson shares his thoughts on how the redesign of various iconic Gerry Anderson craft have been handled.

The subject of redesigning classic iconic vehicles is a polarizing subject that I have seen a lot on the Internet over the past few years. Generally it comes down to a debate of whether the original iteration of something should remain unchanged or be allowed to evolve as time goes on.

The Redesign of Thunderbird 1 through the ages. (art by Chris Thompson)
The changing design of the “Best Thunderbird ever” (Art by Chris Thompson)

We live in a world that has (to name a few) over 21 iterations of the Batmobile, 11 Starship Enterprises and at least 20 separate versions of Godzilla. I have found that for those fan bases change is something that is not only praised but expected and a lot of joy comes in waiting for the next iteration to appear.

However for the Gerry Anderson fanbase things have remained largely unchanged since the 1960s and thus for many years fans became used to the designs they knew and loved. Things suddenly changed in 2004 and 2005 with the launch of Universal’s Thunderbirds movie and Gerry Anderson’s New Captain Scarlet. Suddenly there was a whole fleet of new vehicles with iconic craft such as Thunderbird 2 and the SPV having undergone redesigns.

For me personally, I found these two projects immensely inspiring and they very much influenced my future career from that point onwards.

What makes the newly designed vehicles stand out for me (and I’ll include ITV and Weta’s Thunderbirds Are Go! in this as well) is generally the level of thought that goes into them while knowing when to keep things the same or to do something different.

As an example Derek Meddings’ SPV is a hugely popular and iconic design and a real fan favourite and looked incredible with the comparatively rugged and down to earth feel that Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons was aiming to achieve.

Dominic Lavery’s ‘Rhino’ on the other hand manages to keep the iconic shape of the SPV, making it clear what it has evolved from, but stretches the vehicle, emphasizing wheels and suspension to make it a much more aggressive and outlandish craft to fit in the more advanced world of New Captain Scarlet.

Dominic Lavery's Spectrum Rhino.

As a bonus we get to see the spiritual “missing link” of these designs in Steve Begg’s artwork for Captain Scarlet and the Return of the Mysterons. Showcased is the SPV we all know and love, but stretched a little and now equipped with a row of boosters at the rear.

Steve Begg's Concept for a new SPV

On the Thunderbirds side, probably the most well known Thunderbird, TB2, triggers the most debate among its multiple revisions as Derek Meddings’ original design is held in such high regard. I have seen iterations of TB2 from eight different projects that have gone in bold and wacky directions.

The first of many was following Terrahawks, when Gerry Anderson planned to develop a whole new version of Thunderbirds re-imagined from the ground up. Steve Begg and Steve Kyte were brought on to give the show a whole new look and feel. Below is Steve Begg’s concept for Thunderbird 2, which had been altered around the concept that the pod was now a self contained factory and had the ability to assemble whatever was required for the rescue.

Steve Begg's concept for TB2's Facimilator

Fast forward a few years and a few further projects that never saw the light of day (but at some point we will do an article on them because we have the scripts!) and we get to Universal’s 2004 Thunderbirds movie (the merits of which are a whole other debate for another day, though I honestly think you should look into this very fair and even handed review by the co-host of this blog, Andrew Clements).

Dominic Lavery’s redesign has met a lot of flack from fans for its smoothing out of the craft and moving the wings further back towards the rear of the craft. Interestingly this was done by taking inspiration from a number of real world aircraft concepts, while at the same time trying to give the aircraft the feel of a flying wing. Personally I quite liked the look, it felt fresh and new while unmistakably Thunderbird 2. This new TB2 also came with a flashy new pod system that could be broken up into segments depending on the requirements of the mission.

The movie TB2 from 2004


Fast forward several more years and at least three attempts to resurrect Thunderbirds (four if you include mine) and we come to the current redesign of Thunderbird 2 designed by Christian Pierce for ITV’s new Thunderbirds Are Go!

Personally I have a great deal of respect for how the new designs were handled, adding new and interesting ideas while not taking away from any of the charm of the originals. Thunderbird 2 is no exception. The whole craft has been slightly sharpened to give a bulkier more ‘Apache-style’ look. There are folding wings, rotating VTOL jets, pitot tubes and sensors and a clear method for the Tracy brothers to get in and out of the craft. Also making a comeback is TB2’s pod assembly system that you may remember from earlier.

The New Thunderbird 2, Art by Chris Thompson

Ultimately the question of whether something that is perceived to be iconic should undergo a redesign is entirely up to the individual, but personally I really do embrace change especially when it is done well. I’d love to see how these famous craft look going into the future.

Whats your favourite redesign, or do you disagree with the idea? Let us know in the comments or on the Gerry Anderson Facebook page!

For more updates on the worlds of Gerry Anderson, sign up to the Gerry Anderson Newsletter!

Written by
Chris Thompson

A freelance Artist and Film-maker based on a not so secret island in the East Atlantic. Grew up up on the Anderson series reruns in the 90s and have always strived to create works that are as interesting and exciting.


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