Prehistoric Plasticine Perfection
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,