Marc J. Frattasio

supercar is about the adventures of Mike Mercury, the test pilot of Supercar, and his friends Jimmy Gibson, Dr. Beeker, and professor Popkiss. Supercar is an advanced prototype flying car that was developed by Dr. Beeker and professor Popkiss in the American Southwest. Supercar, introduced in 1961, is in all but name the first of the Supermarionation television productions. Although the term Supermarionation was not coined to market until the Anderson's next program, Fireball XL5, Supercar brought together for the first time all of the elements that are generally recognized as characteristic of Supermarionation programming. For example, the super vehicle as 'star' of the show, a secret organization, futuristic themes, etc. So for this reason, Supercar has the honorary title of being the first true Supermarionation program.

Bill Gibson's Aircraft
Here is Bill Gibson's light aircraft, an unmodified Monogram Piper Tri-Pacer kit. This was the first of many aircraft kits to be featured in Anderson Supermarionation productions. The Monogram Piper Tri-Pacer kit showed up again in a later episode of Supercar as Masterspy's aircraft. The exact same model with modifications was also used in Thunderbirds as the Hood's aircraft in Martian Invasion and later turned up in Captain Scarlet in Codename Europa.
The Gibsons
Here are Jimmy and Bill Gibson at the controls of Bill's aircraft. Note that the puppet design was essentially the same as that used in Four Feather Falls. Note also the great attention to detail on both the set and the various props. As Supercar was situated in the then-present day of 1959/1960, most of the hardware used reflected the then-current state-of-the-art. Note Bill Gibson's headset and microphone. It looks real, unlike the strange devices often used by aircraft pilots and others later on in Fireball XL5, Stingray, and Thunderbirds.
Jimmy and Bill Gibson are about to crash at sea. The seascape in front of them is a film running on a rear projection screen. Rear projection was frequently used throughout the production of Supercar to provide the illusion of motion. Indeed, rear projection was used to a much greater extent in Supercar than in any Supermarionation program that followed. Much of the aerial scenes and cloudscapes shot for Supercar were filmed by Gerry Anderson and John Read from an Airspeed Oxford aircraft.
USN Helicopter
This appears to be an unmodified Revell Sikorski H-19 helicopter model kit hung on wires in front of a rear projection screen. A small battery operated motor was either placed in the helicopter to move the rotors or more likely, the rotors were given a quick 'spin' right before the model was filmed. If you watch this quick sequence very closely, it looks like the rotors are slowing down through the shot. This helicopter model kit was built so 'stock' that it does not appear as if the wheels under the floats were painted!
Puppets in the Raft
Here are Bill Gibson, Mitch the Monkey, and Jimmy Gibson in their raft after ditching Bill's aircraft at sea. The puppets and their model raft are positioned on top of a tarp which is being moved up and down by a group of technicians off camera to the left and right of the shot to simulate wave action. There is a motion picture film running on a rear projection screen behind the puppets and raft providing the ocean background. A smoke generator is making the fog effect.
Raft at Sea
Here is a brief sequence of live action film of three people in a small life raft at sea. Another advantage of Supercar's position in the 'present' was that stock footage like this could occasionally be introduced into the program to save money and enhance realism.
Supercar Lab
Here is the Supercar Black Rock Canyon base lab set. This same set was later reused in Fireball XL5 as the Space City Tower control room! Note the overhead walkway behind Supercar. This is very pronounced in both Fireball XL5 and Supercar. Consider it a sort of 'landmark' when comparing scenes of the two sets.
Supercar was designed by Reg Hill. At least two different sized miniatures were built in-house by the APF modelmakers. The puppet sized Supercar shown here was basically a thin plywood shell formed over a hardwood substructure. The smaller model was made from balsa wood. The clear canopy of the puppet sized model was blow-molded from plexiglas. The canopy used on the smaller model was built from flat sheets of clear acetate in the same way that canopies were made for flying model aircraft.
Beeker and Mike
Dr Beeker and Mike Mercury illustrate the cartoonish appearance of the Supercar puppets. Note the eyes which were painted wooden spheres. Painted wooden eyes would also be used inFireball XL5 and were not done away with until glass eyes were introduced for Stingray. The basic appearance of the Supermarionation puppets remained essentially constant through Stingray. For example, Mike Mercury appeared in the Stingray episode Deep Heat as a waiter at the Marineville
Live Insert
Here is what the APF people called a 'live insert'. That's a real person's hand being used to flip a full scale switch. Many of the hands used in these types of close-up shots (like this one) wore a painted rubber glove to make the hand look more 'puppet-like'. The live insert technique eventually got the APF studios in trouble with the actor's union as the people in these shots were usually just anyone who happened to be hanging around the set and not 'proper' actors! Note the actual aircraft RPM indicator on the console!
Here is Mike Mercury in the cockpit of the puppet sized Supercar. The very top of the canopy is completely open and clear of plastic to permit the puppet's control wires to pass through. Stringless under-control puppets, which could be operated from under the set, were not introduced until Thunderbirds and did not come into wide use until Captain Scarlet. If you watch very closely, you can see holes cut into the roofs and cockpit canopies of model vehicles used in Fireball XL5 up through Thunderbirds.
Clear View
The Supercar's 'Clear View' device illustrates yet another application of rear projection screens. The scene of the Supercar lab set seen on the 'Clear View' is a motion picture running on a rear projection screen behind the full-sized prop.
Black Rock Base
The Supercar team's Black Rock Canyon base, seen here, is merely a painting!
The APF effects team made their own pyrotechnic charges for Supercar from bits of paper soaked in a mixture of weed killer and sugar. When the treated paper dried out, it was stuffed into a metal cigar tube. These home made rocket engines were not entirely successful as they tended to produce a weak flame, spit out bits of flaming paper, and were unreliable. Later on, Schermuly Pistol Rocket Apparatus Limited would produce reliable pyrotechnic charges for APF out of compressed black powder.
Supercar in Flight
Here is a closeup of Mike Mercury and Supercar in flight. Both the large and small models of Supercar were used for flight scenes. Generally, the larger puppet sized model was placed on a wooden table (as seen here) in front of a rear screen projector to simulate motion. Note that the bottom of the model is out of the shot so you can't see the table it is resting on. Other shots often required the puppet sized Supercar to be strung up on wires so that the bottom could be seen but the table method was preferred.
Supercar Small Model
Here is the smaller model of Supercar seen in flight on wires in front of a rear screen projector. This was a fairly crude model that in many ways did not accurately reflect the contours of the much more finely detailed puppet sized model. Although the term Supermarionation was coined for Fireball XL5, many people begin the Anderson's Supermarionation era with Supercar. This series put all the elements in place which would make the Andersons famous through the 1960s and beyond.
This page published originally at the Supermarionation sfx WebSite
text ©1996 Marc J. Frattasio; not for reproduction for profit without his express permission