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"The Unaired Pilot" refers to the pre-production test episode of Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends that never aired on television.
In 1980, Britt Allcroft acquired the rights to produce episodes based on the Railway Series for television. She spent over two years meeting animators deciding on what style of animation would be used for the series- classical, stop motion, clay and CGI. After meeting David Mitton it was decided that live action model animation would be used. A low budget, pre-production test pilot episode was produced to pitch the series to several networks. The pilot was based on the Railway Series story Down the Mine and differed from the final aired version. After the series was green-lighted by ITV the episode was later refilmed and aired as the twenty-fifth episode of the first season.
Differences with Final Version
The pilot version had simpler sets, fewer characters and flatter lighting. The models of Thomas and Gordon were also different. The models used were scratch built, including the wheels, by Martin Gill and were more simplistic in appearance. They were never tested before being filmed in front of the camera and proved to be unreliable.
The pilot was never publicly released, only appearing in test screenings, and it is currently unknown as to where the footage is or who possesses it. No stills are known to exist, however Thomas' pilot model was briefly seen in the aired version of Down the Mine.
- According to crew member Christopher Noulton, the Gordon model used in the pilot was rebuilt by him for the second season for use as a stand-by model. It was later cut up and used as scrap set dressing.
- According to Robert Gauld-Galliers, it is currently unknown as to where the pilot footage is, he also stated that although he was unsure who watched the first screening of the episode, the response was positive.