The series is currently produced byHiT Entertainment, who filmed the series since its acquisition of Gullane Entertainment in 2002.
In April 2008, it was announced that filming of the series would transfer to Nitrogen Studios in Canada and that it would be CGI animated. CGI was first used during the twelfth season for the faces of the engines, people and animals, although characters in background shots would still have the traditional clay faces. The first fully CGI production, Hero of the Rails was released in Autumn 2009. The remainder of the series will be CGI animated. In February 2012, it was announced that Arc Productions would take over animation duties starting with the seventeenth season in 2013.
Thomas and Friends revolves around the railway engines that live on the Island of Sodor. The show is mainly about the title character, Thomas, a cheeky little blue tank engine with six small wheels, a short stumpy funnel, a short stumpy boiler, and a short stumpy dome. Thomas and Friends takes place on the standard gauge North Western Railway and the narrow gauge Skarloey Railway. The head of the North Western Railway is Sir Topham Hatt, affectionately nicknamed "The Fat Controller" by the engines and staff. The Skarloey Railway is operated by Mr. Percival, "The Thin Controller". Since the second season, there has been a rivalry between the steam and Diesel engines.
The first known attempt to make a television adaption of the Railway Series was by BBC in 1953. It was decided that Hornby Duplo models would be used and everything went ahead. But it was sadly not to be. During the live airing of the first episode, Henry derailed and a hand was seen coming down to put him back on track. Nothing is known to remain of this project. There have been several other attempts, however. The first somewhat successful run was on the children's show "Jackanory" in 1970. The Railway Series books were read out loud by host Ted Ray. Five books were read in all until October 2nd, 1970. The current television series got its start in 1979 when the Reverend Awdry was interviewed for a feature on steam trains. The producer, Britt Allcroft, had read some of the books before the interview. She had became fascinated with the characters and after getting funding from her local bank, acquired the series so she could adapt it for television.
Allcroft rounded up a production crew, which included model director David Mitton, narrator Ringo Starr, and composers Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell. The first season premiered in September 1984 and with its success, came another in 1986. After two successful seasons, Britt Allcroft set another goal: bringing Thomas into the United States. Due to stricter broadcasting schedules, Britt had to create a half hour program to go with the five and a half minute episodes. The result was Shining Time Station, starring Ringo Starr as Mr. Conductor. This was another hit for Allcroft and was the beginning of the "Thomas craze" in America.
When the television series returned in 1991, there were some big changes. Instead of following closely to the Railway Series, Allcroft and Mitton loosely adapted stories and even wrote their own episodes, much to the Reverend's disdain. The fourth season only had one original episode however and featured many new characters such as the Skarloey Railway engines. The series was doing incredibly well after that and a full-length theatrical film soon loomed ahead. Britt Allcroft decided to drift completely away from Railway Series stories and the fifth season contained all original story lines. This was so Britt could showcase the series as her own before the upcoming film.
The film gained the title "Thomas and the Magic Railroad" and after many changes from the original script, premiered in July of 2000. The film was a huge failure and Allcroft was forced off the series. Her company was sold to Gullane Entertainment and they, in turn, were later sold. In 2002, the idea for a spin-off focusing on the non-rails vehicles was being tossed around at Gullane. It is possible that this idea later became Jack and the Sodor Construction Company. During the process, the sixth series was produced and aired, as was the seventh. The buyer turned out to be HiT Entertainment and the eighth season came with drastic changes. The episodes became more formulaic in plot with the focus on morals and education. This format was carried out for the next seven seasons with great success.
One of the most revolutionary steps in the show's history was in 2008 when it was announced that Thomas and Friends would be produced using computer generated imagery (CGI). The show would be produced in Canada at Nitrogen Studios. Season twelve used CGI for the faces of the engines, the people, and the animals alongside the traditional model format. The first fully CGI production was the 2009 special, Hero of the Rails, directed by Greg Tiernan. This was also the first time the engines had individual voice actors since Thomas and The Magic Railroad. However, the voice actors would also act in the regular seasons.
2010 saw the first year to have two seasons, the thirteenth and fourteenth. Another feature length special, Misty Island Rescue, was released that fall. Season 15 premiered in early 2011 and another special, Day of the Diesels, was released in Summer 2011. During that October, Mattel won HiT Entertainment in an auction by Apax Partners, HiT's owners. In February 2012 the money was transferred.
February 2012 also saw the premiere of the sixteenth season in the UK. It was the last season animated by Nitrogen Studios and the last to have Sharon Miller as the head writer. Blue Mountain Mystery was released in September 2012. It was the last special in involve Nitrogen Studios and Miller. After years of complaints from fans, HiT announced that Andrew Brenner will take over as head writer. Arc Productions have also been confirmed to animate the seventeenth season, which was released in the Fall of 2013. King of the Railway was released in late Fall of 2013, directed by Rob Silverstri, it was the first of a different sort of writing for the show. A theatrical movie is also in the works for a 2014 or 2015 release.
- Season 1 (1984)
- Season 2 (1986)
- Season 3 (1990-1991)
- Season 4 (1994-1996)
- Season 5 (1998)
- Season 6 (2002)
- Season 7 (2003)
- Season 8 (2004)
- Season 9 (2005)
- Season 10 (2006)
- Season 11 (2007)
- Season 12 (2008)
- Season 13 (Spring 2010)
- Season 14 (Fall 2010)
- Season 15 (2011)
- Season 16 (2012-2013)
- Season 17 (2013-2014)
- Season 18 (2014-2015)
- Season 19 (2015-2016)
- Season 20 (2016)
- Season 21 (2017)
Specials and Movies
These are theatrical films, specials, and special episodes:
- Thomas and the U.K Trip (Japanese film) (between Seasons 3 and 4; 1992)
- Thomas and the Magic Railroad (2000)
- Calling All Engines! (2005)
- Jack and the Sodor Construction Company (filmed 2002; released 2006)
- Engines and Escapades (2007)
- The Great Discovery (2008)
- Hero of the Rails (2009)
- Misty Island Rescue (2010)
- Day of the Diesels (2011)
- Blue Mountain Mystery (2012)
- King of the Railway (2013)
- Tale of the Brave (2014)
- The Adventure Begins (March 2015)
- Sodor's Legend of the Lost Treasure (September 2015)
- The Great Race (2016)
A theatrical Thomas film set in WWII is set for release in 2013, 2014 or any year.
These are the narrators of the show in the United Kingdom and the United States:
- Ringo Starr (US/UK narrator seasons 1-2)
- Michael Angelis (UK narrator seasons 3-16, US narrator New Friends for Thomas and Other Adventures DVD)
- George Carlin (US narrator seasons 3-4; re-dubbed seasons 1-2 )
- Alec Baldwin (US narrator seasons 5-6)
- Michael Brandon (US narrator seasons 7-16; re-dubbed six season 6 episodes)
- Pierce Brosnan (US/UK guest narrator The Great Discovery; original cut of season 12)
- Mark Moraghan (US/UK narrator since season 17-present; re-dubbed one season 13 episode and two season 15 episodes)
Around the World
- Main article: Other Language
English is by no means the only language in which the series is broadcast in:
- Wales: Tomos a'i Ffrindiau, narrated by John Ogwen and often broadcast on S4C's "Planed Plant Bach"
- Scotland/Gaelic: Tomas is a Threud, usually broadcasting on BBC Alba.
- Japan: きかんしゃトーマス, or, literally, Kikansha Tōmasu broadcasts on Fuji TV
- Norway: Lokomotivet Thomas/Thomas og Vennene Hans
- Germany: Thomas die kleine Lokomotive/Thomas Und Seine Freunde
- Greece: Τόμας το Τρενάκι/Tomas to Trenaki Broadcasts on Star Channel formally ANT1
- Finland: Tuomas Veturi
- France: Thomas et ses Amis
- Italy: Il trenino Thomas e i suoi amici found on Italia 1
- Poland: Parowóz Tomek i jego Przyjaciele/Tomek i Przyjaciele
- Portugal: Thomas o Trem Azul
- Romania: Locomotiva Thomas și Prietenii Săi
- Sweden: Thomas och Vännerna Broadcasts on TV4
- China: 火車頭日記
- Taiwan: 湯瑪士小火車
- South Korea: 꼬마기관차 토마스와 친구들 Broadcasts on EBS
- The Netherlands: Thomas de Stoomlocomotief
- Mexico/Latin America: Thomas y sus amigos shown on Cartoon Network
- Brazil: Thomas e seus amigos
- Hungary: Thomas a gözmozdony
- Russia: "Томас и друзья" (Tomas i Druz'ya)
- Ukraine: "Паровоз Томас і його друзі" (Paravoz Tomas i y̆ogo druzi)
- Denmark "Thomas and Friends"
- From 1986-2008, the show was filmed at West London's Shepperton Studios. The layouts were expansive and fitted in a hangar-sized room. The trains were at the scale of Gauge 1 and filmed using a 35 mm camera, in order to get quality shots from such small objects. More information can be found at Sodor Island Fansite's Behind the Scenes page.
- The seventh season was the last to use 35 mm film and the original theme tune.
- Mike O'Donnell and Junior Campbell composed the show's original main title theme, songs and incidental music from 1984 to 2003. In 2004 Robert Hartshorne took their place as composer, while Ed Welch wrote the new theme tune and the songs.
- Every UK narrator of the series has narrated at least a few episodes for the US.
- Three real engines have been featured in the show - Stepney has made a number of appearances and City of Truro and Flying Scotsman (tenders only) played minor roles in two third season episodes. The latter will also be featured in the 2016 special The Great Race. City of Truro also briefly cameoed in one sixteenth season episode.
- Beginning with the twelfth season, production moved from the UK to Canada and in a revolutionary step, CGIanimation (provided by Nitrogen Studios and later Arc Productions) is now used to allow the faces on the characters to move with their speech and have their eyes blink as well. The human characters and animals are also able to move on their own. However, the models were still filmed in Shepperton Studios.
- 2009 was the first year since 2001 not to feature a new season.
- In the third season episode, Escape, the Fat Controller clearly states that steam engines are rare, but from the sixth season and onwards more and more steam engines have appeared in the television series. To date, over twenty new steam engines have been introduced.
- Thomas, Edward, Henry, Gordon, James, Percy, Toby, Annie, Clarabel, Henrietta, Bertie and Sir Topham Hatt are the only characters who have appeared in every season of the series.
- Out of all of them, Thomas, Henry, Gordon and James are the only characters who have appeared in every special. In addition, Thomas, Henry and James are the only characters to have at least one line of dialogue in every special.
- The rolling stock seen from season 1 to season 5 were made out of modified Tenmille gauge 1 kits. Tenmille still make some of these wagons today. From season 6 onwards, they were all scratch built.
- There are over 400 episodes of Thomas & Friends, the 400th episode being The Thomas Way.
- In 2005, the series ranked 26th in Channel 4's 100 Greatest Kids' TV Shows vote. In 2013, the series ranked 34th in Channel 5's 50 Greatest Kids TV Shows vote.
- Several models from seasons one to twelve have been put up on display in the UK, the US, Canada and Japan.
- 2014 marked the 30th anniversary of the television series.
- 2015 marked the 70th anniversary of the entire franchise and the first time that two direct-to-DVD specials were released in the same year.