Thunderbirds-style series filmed during UK lockdown scores release in Japan

Century 21 Films lockdown phenomenon Nebula-75 is due to air early next year in Japan and via cinemas too.  To celebrate, the Century 21 Films team have made a free preview episode available on Youtube that you can watch HERE

However, without the coronavirus situation of the past 20 months the series may never have been. 

Intended to evoke a 1960s Supermarionation series that never actually existed, Nebula-75 began its life during the UK Coronavirus lockdown of 2020. When the team at Century 21 Films found their planned projects cancelled as a result of the global pandemic, they made the decision to attempt to produce something worthwhile using the resources they had to hand in the London flat where a number of them lived. Fortunately, thanks to their work on productions such as Thunderbirds: The Anniversary Episodes, Endeavour, and UK television advertisements, they had numerous puppets, props and models to hand. 

Nebula-75 was filmed by a crew of three who happened to already live together during a time when travel was made impossible, with other members of the Century 21 Films team lending their talents remotely. It was originally intended as a one-off production and premiered as a ten minute short, but the resulting film was received so warmly and passionately by online viewers that plans for further instalments were soon made. A full length series of half hour episodes were produced throughout the course of 2020, introducing new vehicles and guest characters. 

Following the easing of lockdown restrictions, the team have also been able to leave their flat in order to continue production in more suitable studio premises. The result has been a second series of episodes that expand upon the scope and ambition of the original run. Transcending its lockdown origins, Nebula-75 has evolved into a fully fledged Supermarionation production in its own right. 

You can watch Season 1 of Neubula-75 on Amazon now and watch the first episode of Season 2 via Amazon Prime.
Nebula-75 Trivia

– Nebula-75 was created during the first UK lockdown and is intended to nostalgically evoke a 1960s series that never actually existed. It takes inspiration from the Gerry and Sylvia Anderson “Supermarionation” series of that era (Thunderbirds, Stingray, Fireball XL5, Captain Scarlet etc), while remaining its own unique entity.

– The series was created by Stephen La Rivière and Andrew T. Smith.

– Stephen and his two flatmates (his girlfriend Géraldine Donaldson and colleague Elliot Pavelin) filmed and puppeteered the first short film themselves in their small living room and used existing puppets from previous Century 21 Films Supermarionation productions.

– A couple of friends helped from outside – such as making the model of the Nebula-75 remotely and posting it to the flat.

– The voices of Commander Neptune and Lieutenant Solstice were delivered remotely from Canada. The rest were recorded in the UK.

– The sets were initially built onto the back of bookcases and dressed in vinyl and ordinary objects the team had laying around.

– The initial short film went live on YouTube and Facebook in May 2020 and received a huge response – at least a million views across different platforms – The team produced a second episode due to viewer demand and in response received an enquiry about buying from the Tohokushinsha Film Corporation in Japan. TFC have controlled Japanese rights to Thunderbirds and other Supermarionation shows for 50 years.

– BBC Front Row interviewed the team within the first three weeks which increased the series’ following. The team then turned Samira Ahmed into a puppet and she did the voice for the series’ Christmas episode. She later promoted the series on Channel 4’s Countdown.

– In a year Century 21 Films produced 8 episodes in the flat (by the second lockdown, Andrew was able to come to stay so the crew expanded to four). – The initial 8, plus a further 4 episodes produced recently outside of the flat, have been bought by Tohokushinsha Film Corporation to broadcast on Star Channel in Japan in Q1 of 2022.

– This is part of an overall campaign in Japan that showcases all of Century 21 Films’ new Supermarionation work including a theatrical release of Thunderbirds: The Anniversary Episodes, and a broadcast of the documentary Century 21 Slough.

– The first episode of Nebula-75 will be shown at the cinema, along with three new 50th anniversary episodes of Thunderbirds that Century 21 Films produced in 2015.

 – One of the four recently produced episodes has been directed by 90-year-old David Elliott, who directed on the original Thunderbirds series.

– David Graham – the 96-year-old voice of Parker in Thunderbirds – also provided a voice for Nebula-75. He played a character modelled on Thunderbirds director David Elliott to celebrate his 90th birthday.

– The series has spurned merchandise, including a DVD and Blu-Ray of the first series, and “Solar Smacks” badges.

A lone man in uniform responsible for a crew of lively civilian recruits, Commander Neptune’s overriding desire is to get his shipmates home. In a vast and isolated patch of space, he grapples with the loneliness of command at the same time wondering if his destiny might actually lie amongst the stars. 

Fastidious and knowledgeable, German Doctor Asteroid can sometimes care a little too much about the well-being of his patients. Even when distracted by his favourite snack, Solar Supremes, the Doctor’s heart is in the right place and whenever the situation calls for it, he bravely rises to the occasion. 

A mysterious telepath from a race known as the Space Maidens, Athena is an unexpected arrival aboard the Nebula-75 and a guiding light in a dark corner of the universe. Kindly and enigmatic in nature, she uses her extraordinary powers to assist the crew when she can. 

Ramshackle, rusty, and feisty, Circuit is nevertheless a valuable member of the Nebula-75 crew. Always at the ready, he is an all purpose robot capable of piloting the ship, combatting intruders and making the tea. 

Organized, positive, and a little playful, Lt. Solstice multi-tasks to keep the ship running. A calming influence, she uses her knowledge of the crew to bring out the best in them whenever she is able. 

Whatever the job, the crew of the Nebula-75 know they can turn to the dutiful Lieutenant Mercury for help. Wide eyed and enthusiastic, Mercury is equally at home on the bridge or in engineering and he aspires to some day be as capable an astronaut as his Commander. 
FILMMAKER PROFILES: Stephen La Rivière (Co-Creator, Writer, Director, Voice Actor), Andrew T. Smith (Co-Creator, Writer, Producer), Geraldine Donaldson (Voice Actor, Writer), Elliot Pavelin (Editor, Post Production Supervisor) 

Stephen La Rivière is a co-founder of Century 21 Films Ltd and the co-creator and co-writer of Nebula-75. He serves as the series’ lead director and co-producer in addition to providing the English language voices of Doctor Asteroid, Lieutenant Mercury and other guest characters. He has written numerous publications both for England and Japan, including his book Filmed in Supermarionation, which offers a comprehensive history of the puppet productions of the team led by Gerry and Sylvia Anderson. This in turn led to his 2014 feature documentary of the same name. In 2015, he oversaw Thunderbirds: The Anniversary Episodes – creating three new episodes of classic-style Thunderbirds using the techniques employed during the 1960s. 

Andrew is a co-founder of Century 21 Films and the co-creator and co-writer of Nebula-75. Andrew has acted as co-producer for the series in addition to overseeing the recording and editing of the English language dialogue tracks. His most recent documentary film, Cartoon Carnival, was released in 2021 and outside of production he has authored and co-authored books on film and television history. 

A puppeteer, script-writer, actress and costume designer, Swiss-born Géraldine Donaldson moved to England to join the crew of Thunderbirds: The Anniversary Episodes. For Nebula-75 Géraldine was responsible for the dressing, stringing and styling of the puppets, as well as lip-sync operating. She also oversaw all elements of the set design. In addition to puppet-wrangling and set-design, she performs the English language voice of Athena. 

A puppeteer and post-production supervisor, Elliot Pavelin’s first job with Century 21 Films was on Thunderbirds: The Anniversary Episodes and he has since worked on all their subsequent Supermarionation productions, including a Thunderbirds advert for the Halifax bank and the Endeavour TV series. He has turned his hand to many roles and for Nebula-75 he multi-tasked as the lead puppeteer, picture and sound editor as well as finding time to do visual effects work.