Spend this Christmas Eve in deep space
While many have felt restricted by lockdown, a group of filmmakers took the opportunity to launch a new creative enterprise – and launched it 33 million miles into space.
Andrew T. Smith graduated from the University of Sunderland with a MA in Film and Cultural Studies in 2010.
He is now the co-director of Century 21 Films, the production company behind reviving some of the classic puppeteering techniques that led to the creation of three ‘lost’ episodes of Thunderbirds in 2015, and more recently made an appearance on ITV’s popular series Endeavour in the episode Apollo.
Faced with a lockdown at the start of 2020, Andrew and the team came up with an ingenious idea.
Confined to their homes, and widely scattered across the world, they decided to launch a new puppet series. Filmed in Supermarionation and ‘Superisolation’ Nebula-75 took flight on YouTube in April and proved a huge hit, leading to a series, a Halloween episode, and now a Christmas special.
Andrew said: “Nebula-75 didn’t exist as even an idea before the British lockdown of 2020.
“My colleagues and I at Century 21 Films have specialised in Supermarionation for a number of years now and the pandemic threw all of our plans up in the air. Suddenly, the film and TV industry – which already moves at quite a glacial pace – was at a standstill and we were left with little to do.”
Andrew and fellow Century 21 Films co-director Stephen La Rivière noticed that in the early months of lockdown television was being almost entirely produced using Zoom; with actors and comedians looking directly into camera on low-res internet connections.
He said: “It occurred to us that – with the puppets, props, models and other resources we had accumulated over the years on different productions– we actually had the makings of a much more complex drama than pretty much any other studio was capable of attempting at that point.”
Nebula-75 began to take shape. They set to work producing a 1960s-style series that embraced the retro form of filmmaking.
“In the beginning, the whole idea behind Nebula-75 was that we should make use of items we already had at our disposal,” said Andrew.
“Fortunately, many of those items happen to be stored at Stephen La Rivière’s London home – a flat he also happens to share with our colleagues Géraldine Donaldson and Elliot Pavelin.
“We had a camera and we had our miniature actors, so we set to work producing what at first we genuinely thought would be a one-off, ten-minute-long film that would incorporate lots of the elements that people fondly remember about series like Thunderbirds, Stingray, Supercar and Fireball XL-5.”
The series follows the adventures of the crew of the spaceship Nebula-75, trapped in space 33 million miles from Earth.
Commander Ray Neptune is joined by robot Circuit, scientist Doctor Asteroid and the mysterious ‘space maiden’ Athena, who only communicates via telepathy. The “one-off” short had a massive reaction, with the first episode gaining half a million views with no publicity.
It was only a matter of time until the crew of Nebula-75 flew again.
Andrew said: “We couldn’t have anticipated people’s enthusiasm for the show. Almost immediately, beyond attracting impressive online viewing figures, the show seemed to catch the imaginations of fans who started to send us their own fan art inspired by the characters we had created.
“Comments and messages of support have continued to head our way and now – seven full length episodes later – it feels like there is a loyal community behind the series, which is lovely.”
But of course creating a TV series set in deep space, with a large cast of characters, space ships and special effects, has many challenges – factor into that the fact that it is filmed in a small London flat, the team have definitely had to come up with some creative solutions.
Andrew said: “As well as the usual problems we face when working with Supermarionation puppets, snapped wires and temperamental mouth mechanisms, our biggest challenges has been space.
“Not in the astronomical sense, but in the sense that the entire series has effectively been filmed in a living room. The team has sacrificed a good chunk of their flat in service of setting up the Nebula-75 studio, workshop, sound recording studio, and editing bay. It’s a far cry from the customised studio spaces we’ve enjoyed in the past.”
As the show continues to grow in popularity the next natural step was, of course, a Christmas special, and the crew of Nebula-75 will fly again with a seasonal special.
“On Christmas Eve, the episode The Grift of the Magi will make its YouTube debut,” says Andrew. “I’ve always loved the festive instalments of my favourite television series, so it has been a thrill to see our own characters embrace the holiday season. We’ve done as much as we can to make the episode feel warm and celebratory and… well, Christmassy.”