Fireball XL5 marked a historic turning point for Gerry and Sylvia Anderson as it was their first true science fiction production. Although the Anderson's previous effort, Supercar, involved the exploits of an advanced flying car, Supercar was actually supposed to have taken place during the then 'present' time of 1959/1960. Thus, Supercar was not technically a science fiction series. Fireball XL5 was also the first true Supermarionation program. Indeed, the Anderson's coined the term to advertise Fireball XL5.
The premise of Fireball XL5 was much larger in scope than Supercar and the series required a larger number of models to support the stories. Being a space adventure series, the program required many different kinds of model spacecraft. The greater emphasis upon models forced the APF miniature effects crew lead by Derek Meddings to improve their standards of production and come up with time and money saving innovations. Probably the most important of these innovations was the extensive use of plastic kit parts, toys, and other store bought shapes to make and detail models. Another important technique was the careful application of paint to simulate the effects of normal wear and 'weathering' to enhance the appearance and authenticity of the models.
Derek Meddings stated on a number of occasions that many of the objects which flew across the television screen in Fireball XL5 were made from common kitchen utensils or squeeze bottles. Basically, the APF model makers would take a promising store bought shape, spray it light gray, and then stick various kit and toy parts to it using contact cement until it looked like some kind of spacecraft. Once the model makers had something that worked, they would apply paint or tape stripes, panel lines, and lettering. The final step of the model making process was 'dirtying down' with paint to make the model appear worn and used.
The sophisticated model making techniques developed for Fireball XL5 were the foundation upon which Stingray and all the Anderson's later Supermarionation productions were built.
Very few model kit versions of Fireball XL5 craft were produced over the years. In fact, the only kits ever produced were of the main Fireball XL5 spaceship. Kitmaster (Airfix) in England produced the only injection molded plastic kit of the Fireball XL5 rocket. This desirable kit was available only as a Lyons Maid ice cream mail-away premium around 1964. The Kitmaster Fireball XL5 was recently reproduced in resin and white metal by Comet Miniatures in England. In recent years, vacuformed 'garage kits' of the Fireball XL5 were produced by Lunar Models in the USA and by Comet Miniatures. Comet Miniatures also produced a small metal kit of the Fireball XL5 and they recently produced a resin kit of the Fireball Junior. For more information on past and present Fireball XL5 model kits or other merchandising, check out Dennis Nicholson's Gerry Anderson collectibles site.
The continued availability of many of the exact same plastic model kits used by the APF model makers under Derek Meddings make it possible for the talented hobby kit builder to produce truly accurate replicas of some of the miniatures seen in Fireball XL5. A few examples that come to mind are the Revell B-58 'Hustler' supersonic bomber/Invasion Earth alien ships, the Lindberg B-58 'Hustler' supersonic bomber/SL 6 supersonic airliner, and the Revell 'Bomarc' missiles/Space City defense missiles. Take another look at the models of Fireball XL5, read all the linked subordinate pages, take notes whenever I mention that ordinary model kits were used to make particular Fireball XL5 miniatures, and then take that list with you to your local model shop.
It is unfortunate, but short of having access to Fireball XL5 episodes on videotape or laser disk, digging up decent photographic reference materials can be very difficult. Even the old TV21 comics offered very little in the way of meaningful photographs of anything from Fireball XL5 other than the main Fireball XL5 spaceship. A few poor quality model photos can be found in John Peel's The Fireball XL5 Files published by Psi Fi Movie Press in 1986. A few other photos of Fireball XL5 miniatures, some of them in color, can be found in 21st Century Visions by Sam Mitchell and Derek Meddings. This book, which was published by Paper Tiger in 1993, is highly recommended to anyone who's interested in the subject of Supermarionation special effects. Other Fireball XL5 model photographs can be found in various Japanese photographic reference books on Supermarionation which have been published over the years. These English language technical references to Supermarionation may be useful to the Fireball XL5 modeler too.
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