Pre­his­toric Plas­ticine Per­fec­tion

Animation Magazine - - Features -

the new stop-mo­tion epic from di­rec­tor Nick Park and this team at Bris­tol-based Aard­man An­i­ma­tions, cen­ters on a soc­cer-play­ing cave­man with a heart of gold. By Karen Yoss­man

back­drops for green­screens, how­ever, Aard­man’s meth­ods have hardly changed in the 41 years since the stu­dio’s in­cep­tion. “I would say the only ma­jor dif­fer­ence is that we shoot dig­i­tally rather than on film,” says su­per­vis­ing art di­rec­tor Richard Edmunds. “Be­cause the pro­cesses are very much the same as they have been right through [from] when Nick Park was start­ing on his Wal­lace & Gromit ad­ven­tures, and Morph [cre­ated by Aard­man co-founder Peter Lord] with his plas­ticine, he’s still made ex­actly the way he was 40 years ago.”

What makes Aard­man’s com­mit­ment to clay all the more ex­tra­or­di­nary is that in ad­di­tion to the la­bor-in­ten­sive na­ture of stop-mo­tion pro­duc­tion, which re­quires each pup­pet to be mi­cro-ad­justed mul­ti­ple times per shot, there are the very prac­ti­cal chal­lenges of work­ing with the ma­te­rial. “The plas­ticine has a ten­dency to pick up dirt and dust,” ex­plains Nigel Leach, team leader of the pup­pet-mak­ing depart­ment. “It’s a con­stant process of re­new­ing the mouth sets and re­pair­ing the heads when­ever it’s needed.”

But for Park, who calls him­self a “clay man” at heart, get­ting his hands dirty is one of the best things about work­ing with plas­ticine. “I love the tex­ture and don’t apol­o­gize at all for the fin­ger­prints and the boil­ing fur that you get,” he says. “It’s all part of the charm.” StudioCanal re­leases Early Man in the U.K. on Jan­uary 26. Lion­s­gate will open the film in the U.S. on Fe­bru­ary 16.

When Stu­dio Ghi­bli an­nounced the shut­ter­ing of its pro­duc­tion fa­cil­i­ties in 2014, the shock­wave sent through the an­i­ma­tion world was pow­er­ful. Ar­guably the most crit­i­cally re­spected and in­flu­en­tial an­i­ma­tion stu­dio in mod­ern his­tory, cer­tainly the flag­ship stu­dio of the anime in­dus­try, it seemed a huge hole would be left in the an­i­ma­tion world. This shock was un­der­cut two years later when Ghi­bli’s famed co-founder Hayao Miyazaki an­nounced his re­turn to film­mak­ing, but nonethe­less the days of the beloved Ghi­bli style seemed num­bered. Yet, the stu­dio’s sea­soned team of an­i­ma­tors weren’t ready to re­tire the tra­di­tion. For that rea­son, we now have Stu­dio Ponoc and its de­but fan­tasy fea­ture, Mary and the Witch’s Flower.

Based on the 1971 Bri­tish novel The Lit­tle Broom­stock by Mary Ste­wart, Mary and the Witch’s Flower de­picts the story of an in­se­cure young girl who stum­bles across a rare flower in the woods that gives her magic abil­i­ties and opens a por­tal in the sky to a par­al­lel world of a uni­ver­sity for witches. How­ever, she soon dis­cov­ers this school holds a dark se­cret and finds herself in a fight for her life.

From the ac­tion-packed open­ing mo­ments,

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