A lifetime of Aardman animations

This 2017 Aardman Animations will turn 45 years since it was founded in Bristol by David Sproxton and Peter Lord.

Their incredible slow-motion work with plasticine is unstoppable and the proof of this are the several projects they will release this year and the next.

“Early Man will be out in 2018, we just delivered a 15th episode for Morph in SKY and there is a second Shaun the Sheep movie we are working on, so we are pretty busy at the moment,” says Sproxton.

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Early Man will be in theaters on January 2018. Credit: Aardman Animations.

Memorable icons like Wallace and Gromit, Morph and Shaun the Sheep were born inside the studio. To work in clay animation requires passion, patience and the eagerness for perfection.

However, everything started as a hobby in 1972, when Sproxton, a student looking for a Geography degree, and Lord, an English literature student, found out they had two complimentary interests: photography and creativity.

“I was more the technician into photography and camera work and Pete was more the artist and ideas person, we would write stuff together, but these skills between the two of us, meant we had the complete set,” explains Sproxton.

According to him, the future of animation is constantly growing, but one of the issues is that computer generated imagery (CGI) is less expensive and technology is improving faster in that field, while stop frame has a limiting factor to how quick animations can be.

“That’s kind of what we are up against, however people love it and we love it too, so its visible, definitely, there is a future there,” says.

Sproxton explains why Wallace and Gromit are the most beloved characters:

For Sproxton the reason why movies like Shaun the Sheep or Chicken Run have had a global success is because of the need to protect the family. “We believe in the phrase ‘universal stories for universal audiences’ and mostly the universal storyline is about the family.”

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Credits: Aardman Animations

But why Aardman? Lord and Sproxton created a character for the TV show Vision On, who was like a superhero, but clumsy and not entirely useful.

They called him like that because of the aard from “aardvark”, a dutch word they thought it sounded funny and it is used to name a nocturnal mammal native from Africa, and “man” from Superman.

After discussing other options like “Lord-Sproxton Animations” or “Pete & Dave”, they thought the name of one of their first animated attempts was ideal.

Young and with lots of ideas, the next step for them was to find different animated ways to tell stories. From latex, to paper, nothing seemed to work.

“Latex was quite clumsy and awkward to use, while clay was more spontaneous and easier to handle,” says Sproxton.

But then, after many experiments, they found the perfect material to play with: plasticine.

 

“I remember we were playing around with it and the camera in a spare bedroom at home. It was quite a magical thing to do, to bring to life this unanimated lumps.”

And from that moment on, a lifetime of possibilities were immediately available for them. Actually, that is how Morph, the iconic star from Aardman Animations, was born.

“In 1977 we made him out of pure clay, he is a bit like Chaplin, the fundamental character is exactly the same, even though it has been modernised now,” explains Sproxton.

Sproxton gives some advice to young filmmakers and animators:

It was only a matter of time for their work to become known worldwide thanks to another member of the team: Nick Park, who joined Aardman full time in 1985.

Less than five years after that, they won their first Oscar Award for Best Animated Short Film thanks to Creature Comforts. Nowadays, the studio holds three more Oscars for The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave and Wat’s Pig.

However, this achievement only makes them work harder as it can be a double-edged sword. “The Academy Awards are taken quite seriously in the States, more than here. That is how they judge talent, and it doesn’t necessarily bring a positive effect, because people may think we are expensive or busy all the time,” says Sproxton.

Getting typecast is another risk they had to face as well. After Creature Comforts, they avoided talking animals for a while and innovated with other ideas, as the only solution against judgmental effect.

On top of that, the animation process can also be a challenge, because it takes time to finish a movie and be memorable.

So, how long does it take to get a scene ready to shoot? Once the storyboarding, model making, writing and set building is ready, animators aim to shoot ideally 10 seconds a week, so takes about four or five years to release a feature film.

“Every sequence might be done at least 6 or 10 times to get the clay, change dialogues or ideas. It’s an ongoing,organic process,” remarks Sproxton.

Nevertheless, every Aardman character and every fingerprint people see on them in the screen always cause the desired effect: amusement and endearment.

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