Thunderbirds TV show launches Wellington business Pukeko Pictures to the world

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The remaking of cult TV show Thunderbirds has launched Pukeko Pictures to the world.

The Wellington-based animation studio has been working with ITV Studios in Britain to produce 26 half-hour episodes of a computer-generated remake of the classic 1960s puppet show, Thunderbirds Are Go!, and has been commissioned to make a second series.

Pukeko was founded in 2008 by Weta Workshop leads Richard Taylor, Tania Rodger and author Martin Baynton.

The children’s TV company that had international hits with the animated Jane and the Dragon and The WotWots, has branched out to prime time drama.  It employs about 35 people in Wellington and a full time executive in Los Angeles scouting for potential shows.  As Pukeko continues to grow it is expanding its staff at its production company Stirling Road Productions, which mainly uses new graduates, giving them a start in the industry.

Former Chief Executive Andrew Smith, who finished up on Friday, left Pukeko in a good place.

Thunderbirds, which uses a mix of model work and computer generated “CGI” to create new adventures for the Tracy family, had put the business on the map.

The show was currently broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and the UK, which had lifted Pukeko’s profile around the world.

It would soon be broadcast in in Japan, where the original series was a massive hit in the 1960s.

The show was not broadcast in United States yet but significant negotiations were going on with potential partners.  “It is too early to say what will happen but Pukeko are pretty confident and hopeful to get a deal in the US.”

There were potential deals for other countries, which Smith could not discuss because of confidentiality.  “Pukeko and ITV are pretty happy with how sales are going.”

British toy company Vivid is making Thunderbirds Are Go toys and Planet Fun will be the New Zealand distributor. The toys were released to the Australian market in July and were expected be available in New Zealand sometime in August.

“When you get involved in children’s TV business, you know this industry does not make a lot of money from broadcast fees for income. It needs to be supplemented with clothing, toys, books and games and we will share every [Thunderbirds] income stream with ITV and it’s Pukeko’s hope the toys will sell around the world and generate a decent income stream.”The “long tail” of TV shows meant it usually took a few years before any returns are made.

Pukeko was investing into projects to build up as much intellectual property as it could to be in a cash positive position.  “The goal is for Thunderbirds to start earning royalties, which can be reinvested into the next show.”

Pukeko would like to be working on another project now to maximise the business but getting a green light on a new show was incredibly difficult, he said.

The company would like to be in a place where four shows could be in production at one time.But this is contingent upon the wider industry – it depended on crews availability or if feature films are being made, he said.

Pukeko’s immediate plan was to finish another season of Thunderbirds (about another two years of work) and prime time series Cleverman, which stars Game Of Thrones and Downton Abbey’s Iain Glen.  The show about about indigenous myths and legends from Australia coming to life, is co-produced with Australian company Goalpost Pictures.  “It’s a bit like True Blood and District 9 coming together,” Smith said.

Meanwhile, Clive Spink has just replaced Smith at Pukeko.  Spink has been Chief Operating Officer at the company for about one year and said he will continue to drive business growth including its development and production momentum.

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