In response to people asking about Roberta from my XL reboot.
It’s been a while since I last paid a visit to this subject but when I came across this video in Facebook a week ago it just screamed for inclusion. It actually took a bit of effort to find the clip – Facebook had dropped it and my Google searches would just dig up clips about airliners, high-speed trains and why airlines hate high-speed trains.
Luck – or more rather perseverance – won out and I found the video…and as I look at it again I find it difficult to believe that wasn’t a prop from an episode of Thunderbirds or Captain Scarlet. Given a choice I’d have picked the first show – I always thought the switch from the big-head puppets to the smaller/more correctly proportioned small puppets was a mistake. Not only were the more life-like figure unsuitable for “walking” they looked creepy.
All I have to do is squint my eyes and I can see wires moving models and canned freon standing in for rocket exhaust….
Thought I haven’t written about it for quite awhile my Fireball XL5 reboot is never far from my heart and mind. Unfortunately, I am coming to the end of the named characters, so I’ll have to go through my DVD collection and come up with guest characters.
A lot was made of the fact that Space City is located on the equator on an island in the Pacific. Finding it has proved to be somewhat of a challenge as the “landing back on earth” sequences show a mirror image of South America with Brazil pointing to the West instead of the East. It looks like the Space City island is located roughly in the location the Galapagos islands exist in real life. How that works out with the reverse UNO card dealt to Brazil is beyond me.
Yep at this point I am definitely overthinking this, but while I was overthinking things it occurred to me that names on the personnel poster should reflect the Central/South American location so Commander Wilbur Zero became Commander Null Jade Jaguar of the Mayan contingent of the World Space Patrol complete with a pet flying serpent named Quetzalcoatl.
While wading my way though my XL5 reboot it has come to me that with all the attention Fireball Junior gets during the series would need it a separate drawing, especially when the nose area in the main ship rendering didn’t work out as well as wanted. If you’ll check the drawing on my XL5 reboot page you’ll see that I went for NASA-style inset windows much like those on the Space:1999 Eagles but at length I’ve concluded that they would give a claustrophobic feel to the control cabin,
…so I compromised between the old and the new, using a bug-like look similar to that on the Navy’s A-6 Intruder
Dimensional illustration ( or sculptural work photographed and used as editorial illustration) was a fairly short-lived discipline in the commercial arts. Used occasionally more as novelty it came into its own in the “80s and ‘90s and even had its own annual awards competition1 but by the turn of the millennium it had been thoroughly supplanted by computer graphics.
It was during that brief period of popularity that My Beautiful Saxon Princess and I were invited to be the Artist Guest of Honor at LibertyCon X, a regional relaxacon chaired seemingly forever by the late SMOF2 Uncle Timmy Bolgeo; given my interests at the time it was a no-brainer that I’d come up with something sculptural for the program book cover. As a subtle tip-of-the-hat to Sir Gerry Anderson’s work it has always been one of my favorites but at the same time it has been the source of frustration to me over the last 22 years, mostly because I’ve never had a decent image for my portfolio.
It was used for the convention program book and T-shirt – and while the shirt turned out pretty good the book cover was terrible, being printed black line on a dark-colored background. The original sold in the art show and while I was happy to have at least one month of my mortgage paid as a result of the sale the purchaser soon moved far away and all I had was a fuzzy ink-jet print to show in my book.
…then my good friend and digital ace Kent Gardener stepped in and did his magic smoothing out backgrounds and generally making the image presentable.
Production notes: The original measured approximately 24”X12”X5” and was constructed from Super-Sculpey, styrene plastic, wood, illustration board and paint.
- Go ahead and ask me: “ David – did YOU ever win an award for your dimensional work?” to which I humbly answer : “Aw shucks folks I did win me a Bronze medal in 1993”
- SMOF: Secret Master of Fandom
It has been one if those days. Somewhere between all the text on my Facebook turning into Spanish and a tub of Bondo tipping over and spilling in my studio cabinet I sat down with my markers and worked up a color version of Robert(a)
It seems only fitting that given the state of our current social/political world a little bit of gender-bending is in order for the synthetic member of the Fireball XL5 crew. As it is there’s plenty of room for change as Robert’s appearance was pretty bland to begin with and once you substitute Sylvia for Sir Gerry in the dialog department the aesthetic opportunities are almost limitless.
The biggest challenge would be to establish a feminine appearance without taking the Benny Hill route and resorting to chrome-plate T&A. Effective feminization required some basic research into the way evolution has hard-wired men to respond to feminine curves (hint: child-bearing and survival) and how that principle would apply to into cybernetic lifeforms (Hey Bay-bee! Will ya look at the power-cells on that one!) Just make sure that while studying the subject you DO NOT blindly Google “sexy robots” as the results will be most definitely NSFW.
However, if you were to type the name Hajime Sorayama to the search parameters you’ll find examples of sleek feminine form combined with gleaming chrome and streamlined automotive styling that made this Japanese artist the king of the sexy-robot field in the 1980s. He, along with the equally talented British artist Phillip Castle were powerful influences on airbrush artists and other illustrators of that decade but to be totally honest my inspiration was an artist whose work was popular even earlier than that.
His name was Russ Manning and he was a phenomenal illustrator who was tragically cut down in his fifties by Mean OId Mister Cancer. In the Sixties Manning bounced back and forth between advertising work and penciling Tarzan, Korak: Son of Tarzan and Brothers of the Spear for first Dell then Gold Key Comics but my personal favorite was Magnus: Robot Fighter , a kind of Tarzan-of-the-future who relied on martial arts (and the most totally bitching white go-go boots ever) to combat hordes of robotic enablers intent on weakening of humanity into a form of comfortable servitude.
Manning was a master of figure drawing and could draw a better figure with five lines than I could with fifty but was equally adept with mechanical figures prompting me to shamelessly hork the grace and form of his cybernetic aesthetic in every robot or android I’ve drawn … to include Robert(a)
One other important change: Robert was constructed out of Plexiglas but I’ve gone with an opaque exterior. It came to me that being able to see all Roberta’s inner, circuits, wires and structural components would be much like looking at my Beautiful Saxon Princess’s face and seeing all of the blood vessels, bones and sinus membranes under her skin…and while the ensuing suppressed gag reflex had me quickly changing my design I’ve had to work hard at keeping that yucky image out of my mind
…just like you will now be doing for the rest of this day!
As much as I love Fireball XL5 I have to admit that it was one of Sir Gerry’s earlier “sophomore” efforts and definitely aimed at young children, so there were often some rather broad liberties taken with actual science as in spacecraft speeds and most especially extra-vehicular activity.
(Even Sylvia Anderson groaned during an interview years later over the subject of “oxygen pills”.)
Well, this drawing will hopefully address some of those problems as I’ve incorporated aspects of the thruster packs with a life-support suit styled after the original pointy-shouldered World Space Patrol uniforms. The image is based on a sketchbook drawing I shared here a couple of years ago but there are two very important additions: The first and most obvious is the clear Plexiglas helmet while the second is the unit Steve is wearing on the lower right side of his harness used with the round disk held in his right hand – an “oxygen pill”
I’d like to say that I was the first one to think of a breathing unit based on an solid-form air supply but Wally Wood used it first in an updated SCUBA rig in his excellent apocalyptic adventure series M.A.R.S. PATROL /TOTAL WAR published by Gold Key Comics in the 1960s…but to be totally but to be totally fair Wally did some “borrowing” as well.
For several decades the United States Navy has used a breathing device that uses heat combined with potassium superoxide and sodium chlorate produce oxygen for personnel in fire-fighting operations. While it’s I’ve taken my own liberties with science in terms of the size and duration of the chemical air supply I think it solves the “Oxygen Pill” issue with a minimum of fuss
Granted today isn’t a Saturday and even though some of what follows has previously seen print, what I’m writing today isn’t really a Saturday morning re-run. It’s no secret that I am a big Gerry Anderson fan and of all his productions Fireball XL5 is my favorite …but as I check my stats each day it appears that the adventures of Steve Zodiac and company are highly favored by a sizeable number of my readers as well.
…and as it can be a little difficult at times to pick out all the XL5 blog posts I’m putting together a dedicated portfolio for the topic with a link on my blog’s task bar to make it easier to access. The portfolio will include most of the polished conceptual work I’ve come up with along with selected text – including this rework of a Fireball XL5 review I did for Amazon.com several years ago:
Fireball XL5 is one of Sir Gerry Anderson’s earlier “sophomore” shows produced before he hit it big with Thunderbirds and the prime-time live action shows like Space: 1999. It is not nearly as well-polished; indeed most commentaries refer to it has possessing a “naïve charm” but out of all his work it is hands-down my very favorite.
Great music: If the opening credits aren’t the best ever in the history of broadcast TV then they should at least be in the top ten. Classical brass orchestra music underlies Steve and Venus boarding the ship, then as the engine fires up the music breaks into a dirty bad saxophone measure as it accompanies Fireball as it is hurtling down the launch track and leaping into the sky.
All ages appeal: I can share these shows with my grandkids without them getting either terrified or bored. There are lots of explosions and action, but any suspense in an episode is usually brought on by some sort of count-down rather than having some psycho armed with an ax chasing people through an old house.
Great eye candy: For the conditions under which it was filmed, Fireball XL5 is visually stunning. Even though I liked the stories the budding artist inside of me was fascinated with the design aspect. Despite the slim budget the quality of their work made it very evident that the model makers and special effects crew would be going on to bigger and better things – most big-budget work like the Bond movies
Positive message: As I mentioned before, Fireball XL5 doesn’t leave kids scared at the end of the episode. These shows were pre-Star Trek and pre- Lost in Space and at that time most other science fiction on the tube consisted of the rare ‘50s sci-fi movie shown at odd hours – and to be honest I didn’t care for most of those shows. The plots usually revolved around the monster (there was always a monster) killing and/or eating the secondary characters one by one until the hero saved the remaining crew members by killing the monster.
None of that victim crap with Steve Zodiac. First off, Fireball XL5 (the ship itself) looked, flew and fought like a freaking F104 Starfighter rather than wallowing around helplessly like most other cinematic spacecraft at the time. Colonel Zodiac wasn’t above packing heat himself and dropped more than one alien foolish enough to try and see who would blink first – though I found it odd that his sidearm was extremely versatile, being able to fire any kind of ray or projectile the script required in a particular scene.
The only problem I had with the show as the stilted manner in which the marionettes moved. Personally my innate obsessive-compulsive behavior prevented me from a simple suspension of disbelief so I concocted a back-story about a galaxy-wide epidemic that left victims with arthritic joints – which caused the aforementioned stilted and stiff movements – but to each his own.
Out of the entire series Invasion: Earth is my favorite episode – for a very special reason. I belong to a very select group of people called The Fireball XL5 Club. It doesn’t sound like it would be that exclusive, but this particular Fireball XL5 Club is made up of people who were watching the show when the Great Alaskan Earthquake of 1964 hit. It was this specific episode that was playing – but for years I didn’t know how it ended; as the tremors hit our TV tipped over, pulling the plug out and cutting the episode off with about ten minutes to go. I spent the next twenty years wondering how Steve and the gang handled the vaguely Oriental-sounding invaders but then I found a fourth-generation bootleg VHS that carried me over until A&E released the DVD set.
I love the show and I while I wouldn’t have changed a thing “back in the day” it’s been fun to tweak details and exercise creative muscles. From the first time I saw Jim Ringo’s armored bat-suit worn by Michael Keaton in the 1989 Batman movie I’ve been a fan of tweaking details. For example in today’s post I’ve re-imagined Zoonie not as a goofy sidekick but rather the vital crew member Zuni, ready to lend the muscle where needed, but retaining the original character’s good nature, just as my “Chris Rock” post yesterday put Lieutenant Ninety in a much different light.
He gave us orcs, ents and halflings but I’ve always thought the phrase ‘the story grew in the telling” to be one of the most magnificent creations John Ronald Reuel Tolkien gave to the world. For me it neatly describes the convoluted trails the process of creation can follow…and my reimagined Lieutenant Ninety is an excellent example of that concept.
As I’ve written elsewhere FIREBALL XL5 is the Gerry Anderson program that I will always love the best. I’ve designed new vehicles and uniforms that echo the classic design and I’ve even compiled a list of suggested actors for a rebooted live-action series, but as I was reviewing that list it occurred to me that I’d come up with a group of people similar in composition to Ivory Soap (99 and 44/100 Caucasian). That prompted me to make some changes, not as a measure of political correctness but to stay close to Sir Gerry’s vision which was much more diverse than usual for the times.
…so out went Rob Schneider and in came Chris Rock.
I also wanted a dress uniform for the World Space Patrol and was favoring the long-tailed mess blues that the United States Army used up until recently, but it was a photo of Levar Burton as LT Geordie LaForge wearing that contrived piece of craptacular tailoring that passed for a Starfleet formal dress uniform that snapped the last creative Lego in place for me – add an outsized fedora and a couple of chains and –voila – you have a zoot suit.
It’s a concept that might not be all that far off as what goes around usually comes around. I swore in 1973 that I’d be wearing bell-bottom pants for the rest of my life, and I’ve seen halter-tops cycle in and out of women’s fashion a couple of times. Who’s to say that a “reet pleat” won’t be the height of military fashion in 2119?