Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Meddings magic miniatures - JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN : Gerry Anderson's big screen science fiction epic with long time effects designer Derek Meddings.

This is one of those films that had always escaped me back in the day though not through any fault of my own - it just never seemed to play here in New Zealand, and if it did, it was a here today gone tomorrow enterprise which is unfortunate as it's a really neat little sci-fi epic.  The idea of there being an identical planet 'Earth' at the other side of the sun is an intriguing one and for the most part the film really delivers some great concepts, though the whole show ends too abruptly to have properly developed that alter-ego strategy sadly.

Like so many others I'd grown up on all of the Gerry Anderson shows in the 1960's and couldn't contain myself in anxious wait for next weeks' episode, be it STINGRAY, FIREBALL XL, CAPTAIN SCARLETT, JOE 90,  UFO or best of all THUNDERBIRDS.  Naturally what bothered us most was the not so subtle "in colour" title card thrust into our faces each week - a slap in the face as all we had on offer in NZ until 1973 or so was good old black and white television sets.  Despite the Government mandated monochromatic viewing option and having just the one and only channel -  we kids just couldn't get enough of all Gerry and Sylvia and their ace special effects chief Derek Meddings had to offer - and boy, oh boy did they deliver!  Every week without fail some bloody big behemoth of a mechanised contraption would fall off of a bridge, slide down a canyon or just plain blow up - jeepers, who could ask for more??  Excitement all the way, amd so much so that it took like minded kids a day or so to 'come down' after the televised events of the night before.

When the feature length motion picture THUNDERBIRDS ARE GO! hit the screen around 1967 I was first in line to see my favourite characters, vehicles and explosions on the big screen in Technicolour AND Cinemascope - a double windfall.... and I was not disappointed for a minute.  That show was all I had hoped for.  I think I must have seen that feature around 25 times - often double featured with the Japanese epic KING KONG ESCAPES or ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS.

Meddings with UFO miniature
Gerry and; Sylvia Anderson
For me Derek Meddings was the first 'special effects' personality I'd ever heard of and as he created such marvels each week he became my hero.  As with so many other young people I built model sets out in the sandpit and blew them up with fireworks or burnt them to the ground while taking snapshots on a crummy old instamatic camera.  I owned all of the official THUNDERBIRDS models which came out around 1966 - and I just wish I still had them (in their original boxes) - but alas they are long gone.

Which brings me to todays' special effect blog entry... JOURNEY TO THE FAR SIDE OF THE SUN.  This blog is primarily a matte shot blog, though as I've mentioned previously that doesn't by any means discount the possibility of other traditional effects methods being a topic here - be they old style miniatures, stop motion, optical printing, and just simply amazing feats created by hand (though the true love is of the painted matte).
Superman Oscar win- Colin Chilvers, Derek, Denys Coop
THUNDERBIRDS - all the toys a kid could ever want

JTTFSOTS  (also known as DOPPELGANGER in some markets, which no doubt killed it at the box office)is a great case in point as it has many ingredients from the above list of effects and presents them all extremely well in my book.  The film naturally is abundant with Meddings miniatures, there are optical effects and travelling mattes,  painted backings (which kind of qualify as matte paintings), split screen effects with actors and models combined and terrific physical effects in the form of the Meddings explosions.  Of course Derek started off in the film business as a matte painter under Les Bowie at the old Anglo-Scottish pictures in the late 50's.

So sit back and enjoy some wonderful visual effects from a genius who departed this world far too early, Mr Derek Meddings......................

Special effects director - Derek Meddings
Special effects art director - Bob Bell
Optical effects supervisor - Roy Field
Visual effects lighting cameraman - Harry Oakes, BSC
Visual effects designer - Mike Trim
Visual effects supervisors - Jimmy Elliott,  Shaun Whittaker-Cook and Peter Wragg
Effects technicians -  Alan Berry, Tony Harding, David Mitten, Ian Wingrove, John Evans,             Richard Conway, George Gibbs and Warwick Embury.
Model makers - Alan Shubrook, David Palmer, Brian Smithies, Russell Page, Ray Brown, Peter Aston, Eric Backman and Charlie Bryant.

*I don't know whether Brian Johnson was involved as he was tied up with Kubrick's 2001 around this time.

Derek Meddings - quiet, unassuming - an artist in many guises.

A wonderful painted backing, probably orchestrated by Bob Bell, who himself would become a matte artist years later.

Expert miniature cinematography by long time Meddings cameraman Harry Oakes

Although uncredited it's likely that models were fabricated by Alan Shubrook, David Palmer and Brian Smithies

Some of the wonderful mechanised miniature effects that Derek was the master of.

Dereks' models always had that sense of weight and believable motion to them.

As convincing a model shot as one could ever expect to see.

Astronaut training centrifuge - a miniature effect Derek would revisit on MOONRAKER

A rare use of blue screen travelling matte adds that extra credibility to the miniature set up.
The miniature stood around seven feet tall, allowing excellent depth of field for the lighting cameraman.

Another blue screen travelling matte.
The dazzling tilt up shot of the rocket - superbly lit and featuring lots of small moving parts and little 'workers' on the gantry
A spectacular down view combining actors with model set via blue screen matte by long time Pinewood optical man Roy Field.

Lift off!!!  I love that authentic white hot exhaust - a Meddings trademark on many shows with his similar work in 1979 on MOONRAKER being a career high for such an effect.
Meddings and crew putting the final touches on the magnificently detailed craft.

Meddings was 'dirtying up' miniatures decades before George Lucas.

A rare matte shot from a Gerry Anderson show - this being a superb and convincing split screen of actors in foreground and matted in miniature set and painted sky backing - terrific shot that really sells the show.

Century 21 model making at it's best.

A terrific sense of scale here.

A magnificent shot - spaceship, starfield, rotating earth and a rising sun all beautifully shot and composited presumably in camera or perhaps shot as a one take deal due to the entirely credible interactive lighting on the ship and no signs of negative degradation from duping.  This too was a signature shot refilmed for MOONRAKER by Derek years later.

Blue screened miniatures matted against rotating planet - presumably using Meddings' trademark rotating painted cylinder method again re employed by Derek for the SUPERMAN films and SPIES ARE US.
Crashing onto 'Earth'? 

More Meddings exhaust glow expertise at work.

I was always fascinated with the miniature wheels and tires in these shows and just how realistic they looked with a supposedly heavy load atop of the chassis.

I love this shot - breaking the sound barrier.  Wonderfully atmospheric effect with utterly believable clouds and sky.

Blue screen composite of miniature and revolving Earth with totally believable atmosphere.

An excellent blue screen comp with similar elements all expertly lit and photographed.  This footage was years ahead of it's time and when compared to very mundane Oscar winning shots such as those in MAROONED at about the same time JTTFSOTS really is a winner I feel - though naturally the academy wouldn't agree as it's not an American film, despite Universal releasing same.

Reverse angel on above scene - again totally realistic cinematography, set detail and lighting.

The only giveaway is the dirt and grain build up on the dupe during the matting process.

Catastrophe strikes - the end of the Space Program courtesy of Derek Meddings and his pyrotechnics.
All good things must come to an end - Meddings style!

It was the best of was the worst of times.


  1. Great Movie !
    Perfectly executed special effects by Derek, but when nominated to the academy for consideration, it was overlooked in favour of "stock' footage used in "Marooned".
    This should have been Derek's first academy win?
    I used to write to Derek while he worked at Century 21. His replies showed a professionalism that went far beyond "doing the job". He was very interested in the way that the viewers saw his work, and seemed really happy to speak on the subject without reservation. I could hardly believe that a man in his position, could even find the time to make personal replies? He was a true gentleman. Sadly missed..

    1. I Love this Euroseccian ScrollDown to the best Derek Meddings catastrophic ending since, Thunderbirds and Craigsville are GO and the Dover Missile Base in TB6, plus fiery endings he and his talented team did for the Thunderbirds-UFO era that would lovingly carry over into the Meddings, Derek Meddings Bondnanzas we all ran to see theatrically. As we/I did for Doppelganger 09/20/69 and 11/28/69 before it was sold to networks starting at the end of 71...
      Yes, Brother Matthews HE shouldda been begged to accept that year's Oscar. Giving it to Marooned instead was like rewarding peanut butter over caviar...I met DM at UFOria 1 over in London and had him sign a few things. Am also a fellow Mike Trim worshipper and photo contributor to Alan Shubrook's 2007 salute to the C21 Productions he worked on under derek's keen humble eye.
      I also met his sons at Fanderson 2000 and am glad He had them carry things on to this very day. Much like Eiji Tsuburaya's sons with his effects house which created Ultra Man along side their father's Godzilla series work. Of equal optical elan..
      God bless the grabs above. As I went down the Barry Gray music went UP!
      Thanks from the bottom of my reversed heart

      Doug Pelton Canada

    2. BTW...I also love the work behind the film Crack In The World from a miniatures standpoint as well as the WW2 film and COMBAT!TV series pyro of AD Flowers who did the 20th Century effects from those disaster films and TORA TORA TORA with Bill Abbott and Art Cruickshank....
      But nobody could blow stuff up like C21 did with Derek, even small stuff had character along with the epic enders..those unique sound effects so common then throughout the British films and tv series.

  2. Hi Doug

    I share your enthusiasm for Derek and his astonishing work, and agree that this great little show should have taken home the FX Oscar. It was submitted to the Academy but was rejected even as a nominee. Even the great Albert Whitlock felt that Derek had been "robbed" of deserved glory there.

    Of note too for a number of outstanding optical effects and split screen shots by Roy Field. Beautiful effects art direction by Bob Bell,and model photography especially for the outer space shots.


    1. Pete,
      thanks.yes, that orbital sunrise from behind the rotating earth, the shot of the Phoenix extending it's sensor attennae,the split-second scene of one of His Captain Scarlet series guest transport trucks seen to almost drive the Rosses off the road, rousing Sharon's suspicions that her Glenn is "someone" else..the MEddings explosion trademark of anonymous debris flying towards the lense. Like from the fiery finale, that long steel bar bouncing off the ground away from the Pad. Did you like what DEREK did for the Series and the 2 Tbirds films???
      I even have a publicity still of his city-hovering-over surveillance Globe-thingie from Z.P.G.
      His Bond work should've gotten him that oscar,like THE SPY WHO LOVED or MOONRAKER,all gypped by IL&M domestic domination of the early Star Wars series and CE3K, but Hey, Brian Johnson and Nickie Allder SPACE:1999 and Anderson vets got one for Him for EMPIRE STRIKES... BACK..
      One Anglo publication I wonder about these days covered the fx biz in the late 70s, JUST IMAGINE, the carry over 1977-78 issue with Superman on the front and oodles of Meddings on the Inside!!!!!!PLUS the programme book for the tribute show exhibition after his death held around ten years ago with his kids in tow and the Bond People....
      I have dozens of Anderson 2 1/4s of his work throughouyt Thunderbirds to UFO with gorgeous behind the scenes ones attending to floor effects, model shape-ups, people barely off-camera ready to operate models, by the merest of tugging on a connecting line to bring down a stricken JOE 90 trestle...
      E-Mail me at so that I can adequately share these with you,should you be so interested.
      Thanks and I suppose nz is New Zealand....

  3. I grew up watching this movie and I too love it!!! Thanks for posting the miniature rocket with Derek and the other tech standing next to it! I just wish there were more photo's showing the how the "orbit" shots were done. Photo's of the techs standing next to the miniatures in front of a blue screen as the techs set up the "docking" shot would be great! I suspect (sadly) that no photo's exist as I'm sure they would have been published or posted long ago! Still..... if possible, could you look into such a possibility? Thanks.

  4. A film that wasn't the best the genre had to offer but still managed to do something few others could: Inspire me to read up on the science. Start with Arthur C. Clarke's short story "Technical Error", then some non-fiction by Martin Gardner and Neil F. Comins. No spoilers if you view the film first, as I had. And no question that Meddings and the Century 21 FX crew "sell the show".