Sunday, April 12, 2009


When I was in high school, my youngest brother was addicted to “Thunderbirds”, the British kids series filmed in “Supermarionation” a fancy way of saying “We’re not even trying to hide the puppet strings”. 

“Thunderbirds” achieved and maintains a special cult status among kid shows. It was bigger and more ambitious than almost anything else on offer at the time – and yet – some of its strongest appeal lay in the impression that its rocket ships, massive sets and characters with visibly hinged jaws were something any four year old could throw together from what happened to be in his sandbox.


Almost every FX whiz kid I’ve worked with has waxed rhapsodic at some point or another about “Thunderbirds” or one of the other Gerry & Sylvia Anderson creations for AP Films, such as “Fireball XL5” and “Stingray”. For many, those wooden astronauts and their dry ice spewing Rescue Rockets were what set them on the road to creating movie realism with models and camera tricks.

But while thousands of these people have perfected their craft to the point that virtually anything a writer imagines can be executed with realistic perfection on screen, there’s always gotta be somebody going in the opposite direction.

Australian photographer and filmmaker Keith Loutit is that guy. And he has achieved enormous success at reducing real people and machines to the FX level of the “Thunderbirds” using a technique known as “Tilt-shift”.

For the technically adept among you, "Tilt-shift" is a simple application of the Scheimpflug principle.

For those muttering -- “WTF is the Scheimpflug principle?” The short answer is that, while totally beyond me, it’s something an Austrian army Captain named Scheimpflug invented during WWI to overcome the distortion of aerial photographs. And when you apply it to sights and situations we’ve all stopped paying attention to – you see them with completely new eyes.

Here’s one of Ken’s films, made with the help of the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service in Sydney, Australia -- which like many of Australia’s lifeguard services depends on public donations to save lives. Donations you can make here.

Other than that – there are no strings attached.

Enjoy your Sunday.

Bathtub IV from Keith Loutit on Vimeo.

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