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Behind the Scenes with Chris Tulloch

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Information Provided By Chris Tulloch

Taken from Model Boats July 1990


Chris Tulloch was kind enough to take the time to answer many of my questions by email over a number of weeks. As one of the Directors, Model Makers and Voice Actors he made one of the largest inputs to Tugs. Its an honour to be able to bring you this interview.

Where was Tugs Based and Why?

Well, that was a decision made before I joined, but I know that the Star Tugs are based on San Francisco tugs, and the Z-Stacks were based on Moran tugs out of NY City.
And why the date setting? Well, I guess because it was the real high time for tug boats and marine transport; romantic - before regular air services and cargo-carrying rail networks really took away the maritime traffic - and still with mixed overtones of Al Capone and "On The Waterfront". It also allowed us to have sail-boats around, and lots of smoke billowing out of chimneys!! Tugs without smoke wouldn't have been nearly so photogenic.

How did you get involved in working with Tugs?
I was working as a modelmaker in Shepperton Studios, when DM [David Mitton] and RC [Robert D. Cardona] came in.  As part of the team, I researched and designed the boats, built Ten Cents (the first) and subsequently Zip and Izzy Gomez.  The other tugs were allocated around the rest of the team.  Before the Production got underway, RC asked me and Spike (the guy who sculpted most of the faces) to go on to the Production.  Spike didn't want to, but I did!  Then, about a week into the production, the original Art Director left, so I took over ... and went on from there I guess

How long did it take to make the Tugs series?
A year and a bit

I noticed that The Boats in the harbour didn't run using propellers, like most boats, could you shed a little light on how they were actually powered?
Well, if you ever look at a real tug going through the water, it's so heavy and meaty that it never really rises or falls with the waves, it just ploughs through. So we decided to make a wheeled chassis to clamp the hull on to. It added that weight and realism.

We spent a lot of hours designing electronic underwater housings with motors and gears, but they never worked that well. In the end, we kept the wheeled chassis and the steering, but binned the motors. Good old fashioned string was attached to the front of the chassis and we PULLED the boats through the water! In Special Effects it's always the easiest solution that works the best.
There's a lovely set of rushes (the full unedited print that the crew views the morning after) - I can't remember which episode, but it's possibly Sunshine. Two tugs were coming all the way in from the estuary. It required a long even-handed pull, and the model-makers were hidden behind the skyline. At the very end of the shot, two enormous human heads appear from behind the buildings, still pulling!
It required constant vigilance to make sure the floor was clean and free from obstructions (there was a lovely shot of Zug taking a leap "out of the water" as he hit a small stone!) To have had the tugs floating (bobbing would be a better word) would have made them LOOK like models and would have made the whole thing totally unrealistic.  Although the hulls were watertight, they would never have floated anyway; with all the superstructure and remote-control equipment mounted in the heads they threatened to turn turtle .... sometimes (especially in High Winds) we had to sandbag the trolleys to stop them floating away in the current.  However I do have a vague memory of one or two of the boats floating in a shot (once) where we ran out of operational trolleys, but needed all the boats in shot.  Maybe it was only as a try-out - it would have been early days anyway, as our "moving water effects" really started to take-over once we'd perfected them (again - see High Winds).  The whole shoot was pretty intensive, back to back with no stopping, and although some things are as clear as a bell, some things are a bit hazy.  Ha ha!

How big were the models ?

Ten Cents was 20" long, and his hull (fibreglass) was the basis for Zip and Zug. Hercules was about 36" (or something like). All were specially made or adapted to suit. The superstructures were perspex and plastic and the funnels brass (so they didn't melt when we pumped smoke through them).

Did you do control the Tugs much during the series
Ha ha! Yes, of course - I was in the team that built the things from scratch, designed the electronics and the mechanics. And yes, many of those eye movements are mine or David's - especially in the "lead actor" of the shot.

I have noticed that there were neumerous explosions during the series, this must have made the special effects fun?
"For all the explosions we had a really good and very experienced Special Effects guy, and yes, we had good fun, although the smell of the smoke from the train got a bit much after a while!

And lots of smoke machines, of course.

It was a really good team, dedicated and experienced, which I think shows in the quality of the models and the filming.  I remember seeing a shot from a tug movie called "Lucky Lady" about tugs in San Francisco (our 'Star' tugs) and always felt the final shot of the (real) tug going of across the bay was no more authentic or well-shot than some of ours, with models only 20 inches long!  But then we had the luxury of being able to spend large amounts of time making sure the bow-waves, the water currents and the level of smoke was just perfect.

Who were the voice actors in Tugs?

It was Patrick Allen who was the voice of Cap'n Star. Strike me, but I can't remember the names of any of the other actors, though (apart from my own that is heh heh heh!)

Sorry I just had to ask this one... Is there any part of the Tugs set that you took as a souvenir?
Everything was stored in a warehouse - we all hoped for (and dreaded at the same time!) a follow-up;  these things DO take over your life.  In a way I'm glad it didn't happen again.  I've done a lot of interesting things since Tugs and might have missed them if I'd been stuck as a "Tugs Person" - rather in the same way as the Thomas full-timers are .....
So, no, I would never have taken anything from the set;  they were all pretty mildewy anyway after being stuck in water 7 days a week for a year!

I've heard from various people that a second series was planned, but Britt Alcroft stopped it, could you shed a little light on this?
"All this thing about a second series?  You tell me!  It was discussed for a while but then I never heard anymore about it.  If it ever resurfaced I'm sure I would get to hear about it through the grapevine (at least I hope I would!)

I was very much hands-on in the series, and any politics that might have happened were nothing to do with me.  The rest I believe you have covered pretty fully."

Do you feel that Tugs reached its full potential?

I always think it a shame that the series never achieved the acclaim I feel it was due.
It was real quality, and was never really given a chance to shine. It's now just a memory, but seeing those 35mm film rushes in the big theatre in Shepperton Studios every morning was quite an event. No cheap video rushes, these. They were real feature-film quality (as, actually, were Thomas when I last saw them) due in main to the excellence of Terry Permane. And the standard of model-making was one of the best in the business.

Were you offered the chance to do further work at Shepperton Studios with Britt Alcroft on Thomas the Tank?
The Thomas show was always fully crewed
Given the chance would you have worked on TTTE?
If it had turned around that way, yes.

Do you have any other TV credits to your name?

I was one of the creators of "Dreamstreet", designed many of the characters and helped shape the storylines and the set design; but got no credit for it!
So what are you doing for a living now?
Running a Diploma course in Film & TV Production in the UK

And finally is there any chance of Tugs making a comeback in the future?
With modern technology and the TV industry like it is, the chance of ever shooting a series of such quality again could never happen - it was a little moment in time, and sadly, it's unlikely to get repeated!

Model Boats Magazine July 1990

The famous Clearwater Periscope Lens System
As used in both Thomas the Tank Engine and more importantly, Tugs

Thanks Chris for your time its been great.

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