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Behind the Scenes

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This is a behind the scenes subpage for Thomas.
This subpage contains all behind the scenes material relating to said article.

Background Information

The Railway Series

Thomas is a fictional standard gauge tank locomotive created by the Rev. W. Awdry. He is the No. 1 engine on the North Western Railway.

He first appeared in the Railway Series book, Thomas the Tank Engine, which was published in 1946. His last appearance was in Thomas and his Friends, published in 2011.

Front of Thomas:

Rear of Thomas:

The Original Thomas

Thomasfirstwooden2

The first Thomas

When the Reverend W. Awdry created Thomas, he existed only as a wooden toy made for his son, Christopher. This engine looked rather different from the character in the books and television series and was based on an LNER J50 or a Hudswell Clarke with smaller side tanks and splashers. He was painted teal-green with yellow lining and carried the number 1 on his bunker on both sides in yellow and also carried the letters "NW" on his side tanks in yellow. Awdry claimed that this stood for "No Where", but later works would identify the railway Thomas and his friends worked on as the North Western Railway.

For the illustrations of Thomas the Tank Engine, Edmund Ward, then-publisher of the Railway Series, hired illustrator Reginald Payne, who decided to base Thomas on the LB&SCR E2 Class. (Awdry was annoyed that Thomas was obviously not the tank engine he had first drawn, but he was satisfied when Payne explained that he was drawn after a real prototype). Unfortunately, Payne did not receive any credit for his work; it is only since the publication of Brian Sibley's The Thomas the Tank Engine Man that he has received recognition.

Running Plate Problems

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Thomas with his flat footplate

Thomas' running plate was allegedly a source of contention for the Rev. W. Awdry during the course of the Railway Series. As originally drawn, Thomas had a distinctive dip at the front of his running plate, but not on the back. The story goes that to Awdry's eyes, this meant that Thomas' buffers would be at different levels, an operational inaccuracy and impossibility. This seems curious on Awdry's part, as all the artists had drawn Thomas as having an extra-deep rear bufferbeam to compensate, this putting the front and rear buffers at the same level.

Be it a matter of taste or inaccuracy, the issue of the running plate had to be settled: thus Thomas' excursion into the stationmaster's house at Ffarquhar was arranged. After his repairs at Crovan's Gate, Thomas returned with a new modified running plate that was flat and level from smokebox to bunker. In the television series, Thomas' running plate was never changed, even after the events of Thomas Comes to Breakfast were adapted. However, his buffers at his front and rear end are measured at the exact same level, regardless of the dip on his front bufferbeam.

Too Much Thomas?

While he may seem innocent enough, poor Thomas created a fair bit of trouble for Christopher Awdry and Egmont Books, publishers of the Railway Series, when the latter started asking for more books about the happy little tank engine. Granted, Thomas was the most popular character in the original Railway Series books, but Egmont went too far and thus the problem continues. With the advent of the television series, Egmont started asking for more Thomas and to this day Thomas has eight Railway Series volumes under his undercarriage. Two of the titles actually have very little to do with Thomas - "Thomas Comes Home" focuses on the adventures of the branch line engines during Thomas' visit to York, while "Thomas and the Fat Controller's Engines" only featured one story about Thomas, although he did appear in two of the other three stories. As a result of Thomas' fame, classic characters, like Oliver and Bear, have become largely neglected.

Behind the Scenes

The Original Thomas

A wooden push-along toy from the early 1940s is the original Thomas made by the Reverend Awdry out of a piece of broomstick for his son Christopher. This engine looked rather different from the character in the books and television series and was based on an LNER Class J50 with smaller side tanks and splashers. He was painted teal-green with yellow lining and carried the letters NW on his side tanks.

Awdry claimed that this stood for "No Where", but later works would identify the railway Thomas and his friends worked on as the fictional North Western Railway. Christopher Awdry lost this model when he was in the US, although it was recreated for a sizzle promo for the 70th Anniversary.

Awdry's model

The Reverend was happy to endorse Payne's account that Thomas was an LBSC E2, although the first Thomas on the Awdry's model railway, from Stuart Reidpath, lacked extended tanks. In the 1979 Thomas Annual, Awdry wrote:

"I bought Thomas in 1948 when I was writing "Tank Engine Thomas Again" and wanted to start modelling once more after a lapse of some twenty years. Thomas was one of Stewart Reidpath's standard models with a heavy, cast white metal body and was fitted with his "Essar" chassis and motor. Stewart Reidpath is now dead and his motors, let alone spare parts for them, have been unobtainable for years; but Thomas still keeps going! He is, as you might expect from his age, a temperamental old gentleman and has to be driven very carefully indeed".

After Hornby produced the E2 tank in the later 1970s, the Rev gladly adapted one to take the role of Thomas on Ffarquhar.

Television Series

Thomas's portrayal in the television series was originally faithful to the books, being sometimes stuck-up and arrogant but otherwise kind-hearted and cheeky. When the show started branching away from the books, he was lightened to be cheekier and jolly to appeal to younger children. As the title character, he has the most appearances, speaking lines and roles in the episodes. 

When Thomas and the Magic Railroad premiered, the character was voiced by Eddie Glen, who replaced John Bellis as the latter was cut from the early draft when the audience said he made him sound "too old". Both Bellis and Glen portrayed Thomas with a British accent. Kerry Shale originally auditioned for the character in the UK dub of Hero of the Rails, but was ultimately replaced by Ben Small, with Martin Sherman voicing him in the US. Both played Thomas in their respective dubs until 2015, when the producers decided to cast a fresh new voice for Thomas. They were replaced by John Hasler and Joseph May, respectively as of The Adventure Begins. Much like Bellis and Glen, Small and Hasler consistently portrayed Thomas with a British accent in the UK, while conversely, Sherman and May portrayed him with an American accent in the US.

Gauge 1 model

Thomas' original model was custom built to run on gauge 1 track for the Unaired Pilot. The model was built with a perspex body shell by model maker, Martin Gill. It was painted using automotive paint and lined with red automotive pinstripe tape with the numbers being custom cut vinyl stickers. The buffers and brake pipes were made by Tenmille. The chassis, which was built from scratch, was never tested before being filmed in front of the camera and proved to be unreliable.

The model was then fitted with a new chassis that was sourced from a gauge 1 locomotive made by Märklin, the BR 55. The model was also fitted with a lamp and lamp irons.

The chassis was originally AC powered as this is how the Märklin locomotives were powered. During a refurbishment, his AC motor was replaced by a DC motor to allow for easier running and maintenance.

During the production of Thomas and the Magic Railroad another model of Thomas was built. This was because the original Marklin chassis was very worn at the time and that the original model had been repaired and repainted so many times the crew was afraid some of these imperfections would be seen on the big screen and the model needed to be in top condition for intense use during filming.[1]

The new model was made out of brass and painted in a matte finish. It was equipped with a CNC machined aluminium chassis powered by a DC motor and the bufferbeam details were built from scratch. The perspex model was also repainted in matte finish during Thomas and the Magic Railroad and fitted with a new CNC chassis during the sixth series. The perspex and brass models were used alongside each other for a number of years.[1]

During production of the tenth series, three more brass models of Thomas were built due to the perspex model being 22 years old at this point and the tight filming schedules meant there was very little room for emergency repairs. By this point, the perspex model was retired from normal use after Calling All Engines!, but would be used in scenes that would damage the brass models.[1]

During filming of The Great Discovery, a lightweight stunt model of Thomas is made and used for any scenes where Thomas' model would be flying through the air across the ravine or covered in water. This was likely done so that the model could glide lightly in flying scenes, and to prevent damage to the model in water scenes with the use of wires and hidden rigs.

The eye mechanism had two servos, one for up and down movement and one for left and right movement. The up/down servo was attached to the body. The left/right servo had a rod attached to the arm, which connected to a bracket. The eye balls were coupled to the bracket and locked in by the face-plate, so whenever the servos were powered, the eye balls would move however the crew member desired.

38 different facial expressions were sculpted for Thomas, although 34 were used on-screen.[2][3] The faces were first sculpted in clay and from that resin casts were made of a silicone mould. Some of Thomas' faces were duplicated in case the crew needed a face to look dirty and clean on the same day of shooting. Some of Thomas' screen used and production made faces are now owned by Twitter users ThomasTankMerch and TomsProps.

The twelfth series marked the beginning of the show's transition into CGI and the characters' faces were animated through CGI with the aid of motion capture animation. The physical models' moulded faces were replaced by white targets with triangles to fix a computer-animated face in post-production. Thomas' resin faces were only used in background shots.

Thomas has been seen mistakenly wearing Percy's tired face mask in the first series episodes, Thomas Goes Fishing and Thomas and Bertie.

Percy has also been seen mistakenly wearing Thomas' tired face mask in the third series episode, Diesel Does it Again and the eighth series episode, Percy's Big Mistake.

Thomas' gauge 1 models had gone through several aesthetic changes in the television series:

  • Series 1:
    • Thomas has a realistic brake pipe which is tilted down to keep it from touching his face.
    • He shares a footstep design with Percy.
  • Series 2:
    • He gains a smaller brake pipe on both his front and back ends.
    • Thomas' blue supports under his whistle become gold.
  • Series 3:
    • His footsteps become smaller.
    • After Trust Thomas, the lining on the back of Thomas' bunker is removed.
    • Thomas gains a bucktooth on his shocked face.
  • Thomas and the Magic Railroad:
    • He sits higher on his chassis.
    • His eyebrows become thicker.
    • The gold supports under Thomas's whistle revert to their original blue colour.
    • His brass model's front windows are the same height as his back windows.
    • The bucktooth on his shocked face disappears for the rest of the model era.
  • Series 7:
    • Thomas' wheels revert to their original size.
  • Series 11:
    • His whistle is lowered, thus placing it closer to the boiler. This was first seen in the episode Thomas and the Big Bang.

During a few shots in the two first series episodes Thomas and Gordon and Thomas' Train, his headlamp has an additional handle, which later disappeared for unknown reasons.

Four of Thomas' brass models are now on display. One is on display at Drayton Manor, one is on display at the Hara Model Railway Museum and two are on display at Explore the Rails. The model that is on display at Hara Model Railway Museum had previously been on display at Nitrogen Studios.

In 2019, a faithful replica prop was made by CoolProps in Japan and sold to the public. They used the original models located at the Hara Model Railway Museum in Japan for referencing.

Gauge 3.5 model

During the fifth series, the production team were having discussions about scaling up the models to gauge 3.5. Models of Thomas and Percy were built to this scale for testing, but the production team ended up deciding to stick with the gauge 1 models. However, Thomas' model was used for some close-up shots of his wheels for some Music Videos.

Thomas' model would later be used alongside the models of the Sodor Construction Company vehicles, which had to be larger than the gauge 1 models in order in fit in all the components required for filming.

Eight different facial expressions were created for the model. The faces were first sculpted in clay and from that resin casts were made of a silicone mould.

The model was made from brass. The wheels and chassis were custom machined (CNC). The model was track powered, so pickup contacts were attached to the metal wheels, which ran into the motor to power it. The electricity ran from the track to the wheels/pickup contacts and went into the motor to power him. The model was also fitted with a smoke unit.

The eye mechanism had two servos, one for up and down movement and one for left and right movement. The up/down servo was attached to the body. The left/right servo had a rod attached to the arm, which connected to a bracket. The eye balls were coupled to the bracket and locked in by the face-plate, so whenever the servos were powered, the eye balls would move however the crew member desired.

The model was used in the sixth series, Jack and the Sodor Construction Company and The Great Discovery. It also appeared in some scenes in the eighth series episodes, Gordon Takes Charge, Fish, the Calling All Engines! special and the tenth series episode, Topped Off Thomas.

Thomas' gauge 3.5 model has gone through several aesthetic changes in the television series:

  • Series 5:
    • The model's appearance differs from that of the gauge 1 model; this includes:
      • The brake pipe, funnel and buffers increase in size.
      • His lamp becomes much more simplified in shape and increases in size.
      • Thomas gains a hole on the left side of his running board.
      • The counterweight on Thomas' middle wheel changes position, much like his basis.
      • The coupling rods become much chunkier.
      • His footsteps are painted red and have two additional rivets above them.
  • Series 6:
    • His footsteps are repainted blue and the additional rivets disappear.
  • Jack and the Sodor Construction Company:
    • The lamp is remade in order to be closer to that on the gauge 1 model.

The model is currently on display in Japan at the Hara Model Railway Museum. It had previously been on display at Thomas Town.

Gauge 3 model

A gauge 3 model of Thomas was built in the ninth series to be used alongside the large-scale models of the Skarloey Railway engines, which had been used since the fifth series for ease of filming and reliability.

The model was made from brass. The wheels and chassis were custom machined (CNC). The model was track powered, so pickup contacts were attached to the metal wheels, which ran into the motor to power it. The electricity ran from the track to the wheels/pickup contacts and went into the motor to power him. The model was also fitted with a smoke unit.

The eye mechanism had two servos, one for up and down movement and one for left and right movement. The up/down servo was attached to the body. The left/right servo had a rod attached to the arm, which connected to a bracket. The eye balls were coupled to the bracket and locked in by the face-plate, so whenever the servos were powered, the eye balls would move however the crew member desired.

Eight different facial expressions were created for the model, but only seven were used on screen. The faces were first sculpted in clay and from that resin casts were made of a silicone mould.

In the twelfth series, the physical models' moulded faces were replaced by white targets with triangles to fix a computer-animated face in post-production.

The gauge 3 model was used in Series 9-12 and The Great Discovery. The model was put on display at the British Museum during the 70th Anniversary.

Close-up model

A close-up model of Thomas was built to be used for scenes where he had to interact with the close-up scale figures.

The cab was made in pieces so it was able to be dismantled and resembled for use of interior shots if required. Most of the engines made to this scale were usually not built as complete models; Thomas was a rare exception.

Two faces were sculpted for Thomas. The close-up Thomas happy face was also used on the close-up Duck in the second series episode, A Close Shave. Also, the close-up sad face is used in another episode, Thomas Comes to Breakfast.

The model was also equipped with eye mechanism. The eye mechanism had two servos, one for up and down movement and one for left and right movement. The up/down servo was attached to the body. The left/right servo had a rod attached to the arm, which connected to a bracket. The eye balls were coupled to the bracket and locked in by the face-plate, so whenever the servos were powered, the eye balls would move however the crew member desired.

Thomas' close-up model has gone through several aesthetic changes in the television series:

  • Series 1:
    • The model has many additions which the gauge 1 model lacks; these include:
      • Seven rivets along each side of his cab roof.
      • Rivets around each end of his smokebox.
      • His tank filler caps gain hinges and handles.
      • He has rivets along his front and rear bufferbeams as well as the back of his bunker.
      • His front buffer holds are painted black and based on those of wagons rather than those on Thomas' model.
  • Series 2:
    • His front buffers are changed to more closely resemble those on his gauge 1 model.
  • Series 3:
    • The seven rivets along each side of his cab roof disappear.
    • He gains two screws on each side of his cab beneath the porthole windows.
  • Series 4:
    • The screws he gained in the third series disappear.
  • Series 5:
    • The bottom halves of his whistles are repainted from blue to gold.
  • Series 11:
    • The rivets around his smokebox disappear.
Whistles
Buffers
Outside
Inside
Series 9-12 TV Opening/Closing
Behind the Scenes

In the second series episode, Old Iron, Thomas' close-up model was reused for James with the lamp removed as his front model at the time was a cab controls and did not have bufferbeam. It was also reused for Percy in the second series episode, Percy and Harold and the third series episodes, Percy's Promise and Percy, James and the Fruitful Day as his close-up model at the time was an exterior shell and did not have cab controls.

In the second series episode, A Close Shave, Thomas' close-up happy face was reused for Duck as his face.

Life-size model

During production of Thomas and the Magic Railroad, a large facsimile of Thomas' cab, tanks and boiler were built for the cab shots featuring him. The scenes were filmed with a greenscreen method, so the life-sized model and the background for filming were green.

Thomas' Poster

As dressing for the large scale set, several posters of Thomas was made. The posters appeared in the ninth and tenth series at Knapford station toy shop and the Children's bedroom.

CGI model

In 2009, the series introduced Computer-Generated Imagery (CGI) as a replacement for the show's long-standing live-action models. Thomas was recreated from scratch in CGI by Nitrogen Studios. His model was "hand-sculpted" in Maya, a 3D animation and modelling software. However, test footage was created by Stardust Pictures as they recreated scenes from Thomas and the Stinky Cheese. Photographs of Thomas' gauge 1 model were used for referencing. According Greg Tiernan, every detail of the original television series models for each character is carefully reproduced in the CGI model. The models are subjected to many rounds of review before they are submitted to HiT Entertainment for final input and approval. 

In 2016, a new streamlined render of Thomas was made for The Great Race by Arc Productions. The render was completely made from scratch, the wheels, side rods and face being the only reused parts. The render was modified by Jam Filled Toronto for the 2018 special, Big World! Big Adventures!; most notably, gaining a new livery resembling Thomas' current one and a visor over his eyes. Both versions were only used in fantasy scenes in their respective specials.

Thomas has had modifications throughout the CGI era. These include:

  • Hero of the Rails:
    • Thomas' cab is open.
    • He goes back to his original size.
    • His number 1 became slightly smaller, and the red lining became thicker.
    • Thomas gains visible internal motion.
    • His whistle sound becomes softer in pitch.
  • The Adventure Begins:
    • The red lining on the back of Thomas' bunker returns.
    • His side rods become silver.
    • He temporarily gained a new livery.
  • Journey Beyond Sodor:
    • A bunker hatch is added in his cab.
  • Series 23:
    • He gained rivets across his bufferbeam front and sides, side tanks top and sides, around his cab side windows, on his coupling hook and buffer bases, on his bunker sides and rear, on the sides of his frames, along the sides of his roof, and around his smokebox.
    • He now has handrails on either side of his cab entrances.
    • He now has a step on the front of each of his side tanks.

Thomas in Popular Culture

Since his debut in the Railway Series and the launch of the television series, Thomas has become an extraordinarily popular character, appearing in over twenty series and starring in several direct-to-video films. Because of his popularity, Thomas has even appeared or has been mentioned in other popular shows and films, as well as appearing in many public events too.

During the Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends production, a large Thomas signboard was installed on the T-stage in Shepperton Studios where they were filmed.

Thomas appeared in the 2009 Children in Need charity single produced by the BBC. In it, he was voiced by Ringo Starr, the former narrator of the television series.

In 2014, a balloon of Thomas was launched for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade to celebrate the upcoming 70th Anniversary of the Railway Series and he continued to appear in the parade for the next two years. Thomas was also featured in the Toronto Santa Claus parade alongside Percy and Rosie on 15th November 2015.

In the 2015 Marvel film Ant-Man, Thomas made a cameo appearance in the form of a model train that plays a pivotal role in the film's climactic battle sequence. Bachmann HO scale models of him, Annie, Clarabel and Emily's coaches were used for the film, while a large scale model was used for close-up shots, with the face digitally altered to resemble the one on the HO scale model for continuity.

In the Robot Chicken parody sketch Blow Some Steam, Thomas was voiced by Harry Potter actor, Daniel Radcliffe. His Bachmann model was used throughout the sketch.

Voice Actors

References

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