The Gerry Anderson Supermarionation television series Thunderbirds and the subsequent feature films Thunderbirds Are Go and Thunderbird 6 (1965–68) featured a large variety of futuristic air, land and sea vehicles and machines, the majority of which were designed by special effects director Derek Meddings.
In the context of the series, most of the advanced machines appearing in the series belonged to the International Rescue organisation and were used during their rescues. These were known as the "Thunderbirds", of which there were five core machines and a variety of other rescue craft. It was after these that the series was named. In the series, all of the International Rescue vehicles were designed by the organisation's resident technical genius, Brains.
The use of these models in Anderson's Supermarionation productions beginning with Supercar was a significant advance in television production. Before Supermarionation, scale models had generally been limited to the cinema. Meddings's models introduced a new level of realism and quality; while most TV and motion picture aircraft and spacecraft of the time were clean and polished, the Thunderbirds machines (and most others in the series) show the effects of wear and tear. This dirt and wear was applied as a way of adding realism and countering the miniature models' toy-like appearance.
These effects were to be influential, and Century 21 modelmakers went on to work on Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey and the EON James Bond films. The relative scale of these vehicles is a matter of debate, especially the rocket-based designs. Many of the Thunderbirds machines have subsequently been made into toys, models, kits or other merchandising, although none of the original filming models survive.