“SY-3” and “Thunderbird 1” Comparison


OK – so first off, this *is* a somewhat random post but I’m mildly obsessed with tracking down design inspirations of hardware seen in films.

Nowadays it’s increasingly difficult and mostly pointless to ascribe real-world inspiration for sci-fi hardware seen in films since there are so many concept artists out there, all either allowing their imaginations to run riot or creating nods to their favorite hardware seen before, or just mentally “kit-bashing” to arrive at their designs.

The ‘”SY-3″ seen above depicted on a Japanese kit-box appeared out of a random Pinterest feed and immediately demanded my attention since it was a very cool design that leads to all sorts of questions, starting with “Where is it from ?”.

A clue is the odd red object in the upper left, which seems to be a UFO and also the red sticker at the lower right that features “Godzilla” in silhouette.

An internet search yielded some interesting answers and it appears that the design was featured in a Toho Studios film entitled “Destroy All Monsters” from 1968 – the year being an interesting detail for reasons explained later.

Studying the design in detail I noticed that it has elements in common with another very familiar design more familiar to viewers in the West, that of “Thunderbird 1” from the 60’s puppet show “Thunderbirds”.

“Thunderbird 1” made its small screen debut in the U.K in 1965 and along with the other Thunderbird vehicles, quickly secured its place in sci-fi pop iconography – it anticipated later real-world developments like variable geometry wings and vertical take-off and landing – or “VTOL” – by a few years and tellingly, the series was also hugely popular in Japan.

Seen in the gallery above are images showing various iterations of the design from the “Mark 1 ” TB-1 profile through to later re-designs from the past decade that are uncannily similar to the “SY-3”.

Japanese visual effects supremo Eiji Tsuburaya, who masterminded all the Godzilla films, has acknowledged the influence of Thunderbirds on his miniature work – mostly attributed to his counterpart Derek Meddings and others who worked in the Gerry Anderson stable.

This is very noticeable in the hardware in miniature work of many Japanese sci-fi genre films during the high point of the 1960’s and perhaps obviously so in the “SY-3”, a high-tech pursuit vehicle capable of space-travel – unlike Thunderbirds’ “TB-1” – right down to the swing-wings and cross shaped arrangement of thrusters at the back – the addition of extra smaller wings that flip out at the front end and a dorsal fin help to disguise any other obvious similarities and yet overall the design is still very cool and not at all like a bad pastiche of “TB-1”.

The nose and cockpit of the “SY-3” are vaguely reminiscent of the aborted U.K fighter design of the 60’s – the “TSR-2” – the only concession to the question “where does the pilot sit?” and not seen in Meddings’ original “TB-1” design, something that made “TB-1” very original and unique as a result.

This is interesting because Derek Meddings would often repeat his personal design philosophy that miniatures must feel that they could exist in the real-world to be believable, ie by including doors, windows etc.

You could be cynical and simply dismiss the “SY-3” as a pale imitation or worse, a bald rip-off, of the original that predated it by a few years and clearly inspired it but personally I think it’s stands up very well on its own merits as a cool design.

Now I just have to watch “Destroy All Monsters” to see it in action…