Thomas and Friends Director - 2004 to 2008
Interviewed by Ryan (Feb. 2010)
How did you become involved in the industry
to begin with, and how did your involvement with Thomas come to be?
I joined Clearwater Films in the mid 70s as a model set designer working on commercials. In the early 80s I worked
with David on the pilot for Thomas. When David and his partner Ken Turner went their seperate ways, I stayed with David.
Were you ever aware of the Reverend
Awdry’s books prior to working with Britt Allcroft?
Having never had a train set as a child,
no, I was not aware of the books.
Which characters whether it be Awdry or TV Series born, would you count as being your favourites?
has always been Awdry's Magnificent 7 (Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy and Toby).
It’s not widely known that
David Eves actually came up with the idea for the Sodor Steamworks, which went on to be used in the CGI series –
did you ever have any great creative influence over characters, loco prototypes and settings for the series?
Series 6 onwards I had a good deal of influence on how the sets looked.
Were you ever involved
with Clearwater’s other model animation series, TUGS at any point?
In a word, no.
At the time, I was vainly trying to become a Commercials Director with a company called FilmFair.
David and Britt took a very keen
hand in writing material from Series 3 onward to develop the show in their own image. Did you ever fancy writing something
for the series yourself at any point, or did you want your visuals do the talking?
request I wrote several storylines, some of which he used and a couple of ideas of mine were also used on later shows.
What influenced the idea to write original material from Series 3 onward?
It was felt
that some of the original stories were repetative and too 'story-book' orientated.
David Mitton cleared up a long-standing
rumour about one of the Railway Series stories about the Scottish twins – The Missing Coach, which got half-way
through filming and was then dropped in favour of Thomas, Percy and the Coal. Throughout the 25 years you worked
on the show, were there any other episodes that made it to production, but were later chopped?
my knowledge or memory, the only episode that was completely reshot was the pilot episode, DOWN THE MINE.
Were there ever any stories that you felt would have made great episodes had they actually made it to production?
have always felt that we filmed the best of the stories involving the famous 7.
Did Britt ever have her heart set on
doing the third series earlier than 1991?
Britt always felt that there should never be too much over-exposure
with Thomas and generally worked to an eighteen month gap between series.
There have been rumours flying
around that things didn’t always go to plan in the model department prior to filming. The first rumour we’ve heard
is that Flying Scotsman was due to appear in 1991, and while the tenders appeared peering out from the Harbour Station, there
was likely no locomotive in front – the rumour goes that the model was dropped or damaged prior to filming, is there
any truth in that?
The simple fact was that we could not afford to build the complete loco, the
same applied to the City of Truro and to Bertram, and by the way economic decisions generally did not come from the studio
Another rumour suggested that the
City of Truro was binned around 1995.
It would not have been binned, rather the body would have been removed and repainted to look old and rusty and then used
as dressing in the scrapyards.
Who was responsible for choosing the prototypes used for the new characters from Series
David Eves took the brief and sourced the appropriate loco, the decision of whether to go
with it was either David Mitton's or later the Producer, Simon Spencer's.
Series 5 saw a lot of one shot
characters used – were Thumper, Derek, Bertrum and Old Slowcoach originally intended for greater things prior to the
changes made in Series 6?
As the series became more and more successful, the demand for more characters/toys
increased, making it difficult if not impossible to keep them in forthcoming shows.
A lot of the Canadian crew from Thomas and the Magic Railroad
model unit have shared their memories of working on the Movie with you guys in 1999, do you have any recollections
of the shoot you could share?
Ah, TORONTO! Wonderful city, great people, I will pass on the rest, suffice
to say it was not my finest hour. Two great locals stand out however: Franc Madden - may he live forever! And Gordon Bray,
who has sadly died.
Were the Splatter and Dodge models altered following Magic
Railroad to become the new ‘Arry and Bert models?
No, this was another case of economics. I think we simply took casts of the Splatter
and Dodge characters to make the new ‘Arry and Bert models.
The Jack and the Pack
episodes were your first official stint directing the series – for you, how did it differ from the ‘proper’
For me it was like being given the keys to Toys R Us. I had a better camera and a
better camera rig, the model shop bent over backwards to supply the floor, and other members of the crew were in a sense moving
up the ladder. So I hope I speak for all when I say that it was a very enjoyable experience. This does not mean to say that
on a rare occasion I might have behaved like a total prat! But directors are supposed to do things like that aren't they?
The major technical difficulty was the fact that the Jack characters were twice the size of the Thomas characters but our
sets were not!
Were you pleased at the prospect
of taking over from David Mitton for the eighth series onward?
Given that the choice was either
myself or a Director brought in by Hit Entertainment, yes, I was over the moon.
onward had a more condensed character-base than previous series – would you have preferred to have worked with more
characters and models?
No, as I stated earlier the cast of characters was simply too unwieldy.
Did it ever strike you as being a little unusual that from Series 8 onward foodstuffs were being carried
in open wagons?
It struck me and a few others a lot but our protests fell on deaf ears.
You shot two Feature Length specials
with the series. Did these differ much from the normal day to day shooting of a normal series?
a feature film, Thomas is shot out of sequence. So the specials, as they were called, were really no different in terms of
filming to the series.
The Great Discovery featured some of the most daring stunts of the
series, particularly in the mine shaft scenes and Thomas flying through the air – how did you guys manage to do these?
we used a lightweight model of Thomas on wires for the 'in air' shots, and hidden rigs under water for the flooded mine sequences.
Compared with the first 11 series of the show
– how did Series 12 differ in terms of shooting? Given the fact that the engines often wore targets for the benefit
of the CGI animators, and the human beings were no longer figurines – was it more difficult for you in terms of getting
your timing right?
The only two problems we had
to be aware of was to allow enough time for the characters to move, or to carry out the task they were supposed to on screen.
And secondly to ensure that no steam or smoke drifted across the space where the character was standing.
How did you feel when you were informed that the model series was coming to an end in favour of CGI?
great, but if you have worked as a Freelancer for most of your working life as I have, then these things are to be expected.
What have you been working on since
the model shooting ended, and what other projects have you been involved with before, after and during your time with Thomas?
David Mitton was shooting TUGS, I was working at FilmFair as a Commercials Director on stop-frame commercials. I also did
some consultancy work on a Childrens TV Series called Construction Site (Produced by the Jim Henson Company).
My last claim to fame was working as the production manager on a series called Dream Street. In 2008 I enrolled for
a Masters in Printmaking and am now trying to make a living as a Printmaker!
Out of the
episodes and scenes you shot for Thomas over the years, what would you say was the most challenging or enjoyable? And which
would you credit as being your favourites?
I was very pleased with The Great Discovery and the
episode, Percy and the Magic Carpet, although having told the Producer that the only way to make the carpet work was
to shoot it as a CGI element, and then have the model shop come up trumps with a physical model required the digestion of
an awful lot of humble pie on my part!
|Click on image to access site
Following completion of his last
series of Thomas & Friends in 2008, Steve returned to University and retrained as a Print-Maker, which is how he now makes
his living. He set up Saxonshore Press as a means of creating a facility where people can create prints, and for those
wishing to learn, he provides and teaches courses. For more details about his new venture, click the link above.
|Click on image to access site
When Steve set out with his new
venture, This Is Kent ran a feature article on his new business and his work for Thomas & Friends up until 2008.