Supermarionation is a filming technique developed by Gerry Anderson and his peers, the name of which is a combination of the words "Super", "Marionette", and "Animation". Although Supermarionation were in the 1960 series, Four Feather Falls, the name was first applied to the show Supercar in 1961, and the technique was used in all of Anderson's series throughout the 1960s.
It combined the use of one third scale marionette puppets with an innovative Auto-Speak system which animated the character's mouths, as well as other models and miniatures. Supermarionation shows typically used live action footage for some close-ups, although the final Supermarionation series The Secret Service also used live action for the long shots as well.
The Supermarionation process was based on the techniques used in Gerry Anderson's early puppet shows and continued to be refined right through to it's final form used in the shows Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, Joe 90 and The Secret Service.
Notable stages in the development of Supermarionation:
- For the show Stingray genuine prosthetic eyes (made to a one third scale) were used to make the characters look more realistic. Another innovation during the filming of Stingray was to begin painting the control wires to match the background of each scene.
- Thunderbirds saw the first use of the Rolling Road technique for model shots.
- In Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, the solenoid used to operate the puppet's lip was moved inside the torso, allowing for the head size to be reduced. The ongoing problem of the puppet's unrealistic walk thus had to be solved by eliminating almost all shots requiring the puppets to walk.
- The Secret Service used live action footage for shots where characters were viewed from a distance. This eliminated the need to use small scale models of the characters. Presumably this technique was considered preferable to scale models, but could only be applied to here because of the contemporary setting.
- The Investigator, a pilot produced and directed by Anderson in the early 1970s in a failed attempt at reviving Supermarionation, further evolved the concept by being completely filmed on location, including sequences involving the marionettes. No series eventuated.
Successors to Supermarionation
As the 70s dawned Gerry Anderson, ever the innovator felt it was important to move on from techniques that he had been using in the 1960s. As a result he moved on to live action shows such as UFO and Space: 1999; many of the same techniques employed in Supermarionation were still used for exterior and vehicle shots.
In the 1980s Gerry Anderson developed a process known as Supermacromation. Like Supermarionation this was based around puppets, although this time they were hand puppets rather than a marionette style puppets. This new approach overcame the difficulties with creating a realistic walking motion and other problems that Gerry Anderson had found particularly frustrating.
In the 1980's, anime master Go Nagai along with Kimio Ikeda created X-Bomber (imported to the UK as Star Fleet), a series created using puppetry quite similar to Supermarionation -in a process dubbed Sūpāmariorama by the crew. The success of “Star Wars” and “Thunderbirds'” longstanding popularity inspired producer Kimio Ikeda of JIN Productions to try combining Lucas' space opera approach with the Andersons' marionette techniques to offer what he hoped would be a fresh alternative to the plethora of SF anime on Japanese TV.
The "Supercrappymation" process devised for the film Team America World Police was based heavily on Supermarionation; the similar name being used in homage to the original. Supercrappymation puppets merged modern animatronics technologies with the Supermarionation techniques to produce characters with an unprecedented level of expression in their faces. Although the Supercrappymation process is a more technologically advanced process the word 'crappy' included in the name alludes to the differences in many of its philosophies, for instance the control wires and limb joints were deliberately left visible, whereas Gerry Anderson would always go to great lengths to hide them.
Supermarionation series and films
- Four Feather Falls
- Fireball XL5
- Thunderbirds Are Go
- Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons
- Thunderbird 6
- Joe 90
- The Secret Service
In addition, the technique was used for one unbroadcast pilot episode: