A Wild and Woolly Ad­ven­ture!

Aard­man An­i­ma­tions brings some in­ter­ga­lac­tic fun to Shaun the Sheep’s sec­ond cin­e­matic jour­ney, Farmageddo­n.

Animation Magazine - - CONTENTS - By K.J. Yoss­man

Aard­man An­i­ma­tions brings some in­ter­ga­lac­tic fun to Shaun the Sheep’s sec­ond cin­e­matic jour­ney, Farmageddo­n.

Bri­tish stop-mo­tion stu­dio Aard­man An­i­ma­tions is bring­ing cinema’s best-known ovine baa-ck with an out-of-this world new ad­ven­ture in A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddo­n. In the mak­ing for over four years – the Aard­man team be­gan de­vel­op­ing the se­quel be­fore they’d even fin­ished its pre­de­ces­sor, Shaun the Sheep Movie – the lat­est in­stall­ment of the fran­chise sees our woolly-headed hero boldly go where no sheep has gone be­fore. In the process, he learns a valu­able les­son about re­spon­si­bil­ity thanks to a brand new char­ac­ter, Lu-La, a young (and adorable) alien with glit­tery, floppy ears, strange pow­ers and a taste for sugar, who crash­lands near Shaun’s farm.

“We strug­gled with lots of dif­fer­ent types of story un­til we kind of landed on the one we have,” ex­plains Paul Kew­ley, a pro­ducer on both Shaun movies. “Fun­nily enough, [a story] of­ten comes about be­cause you start talk­ing about some­thing per­sonal, and we ac­tu­ally ended up talk­ing a lot about be­ing an el­der brother.”

In Farmageddo­n, Shaun is de­picted as the capri­cious mid­dle child, while sheep dog Bitzer is the au­thor­i­ta­tive older brother fig­ure who is left to clean up the mess. It’s a paradigm that many of the cre­ators iden­ti­fied with.

Kew­ley says the team had been itch­ing to do a space movie for some time. “I’d pitched a num­ber of sci-fi ideas at Aard­man over the years af­ter join­ing [10 years ago],” he says. Some­what counter-in­tu­itively, it was the pas­toral en­vi­rons of Shaun’s home at Mossy Bot­tom that even­tu­ally pro­vided the op­por­tu­nity for a close en­counter of the third kind. “The farm en­vi­ron­ment and alien movies kind of be­long to­gether,” Kew­ley points out. Richard Phe­lan, who di­rected the film along­side Will Becher, was equally en­am­ored with the idea of tak­ing Shaun to space. “[We thought] we could bring an alien to the farm and it just sort of snow­balled from there be­cause we’re all such big sci-fi fans.”

The con­cept also meant

‘Adding the new char­ac­ter of Lu-La to such an es­tab­lished uni­verse was a real chal­lenge.We needed to bring some­one who is Shaun’s equal so au­di­ences will fall in love with her and see why Shaun likes her so much and hope­fully care about her as well.’ — Di­rec­tor Richard Phe­lan

there’d be plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to both pay homage to and, in typ­i­cal Aard­man fash­ion, gently spoof some of their fa­vorite sci-fi films and tele­vi­sion shows, with in­spi­ra­tion taken from H.G. Wells, Steven Spiel­berg, James Cameron, Robert Ze­meckis and Stan­ley Kubrick, among oth­ers. In one scene, a piece of burnt toast looks like the Mono­lith from 2001: A Space Odyssey; in an­other, the stains from a pizza box re­sem­ble the inkblot-like lan­guage in 2016 movie Ar­rival. “We’re just try­ing to find out the goofi­est way of do­ing these things,” says Becher. “There’s lots of nods and winks.”

It wasn’t all fun and games, how­ever. Lu-La’s pres­ence at Mossy Bot­tom proved nearly as much of a trial for the crew as for Shaun, it turned out. “Adding the new char­ac­ter of Lu-La to such an es­tab­lished uni­verse was a real chal­lenge,” ad­mits Phe­lan. “We need[ed] to bring some­one who is Shaun’s equal so au­di­ences will fall in love with her and see why Shaun likes her so much, and hope­fully care about her as well.”

The de­sign team were given a blue sky brief when it came to sketch­ing out ini­tial ideas for the alien, and she quickly took shape as a sim­ple, al­most 1950s style cone body with a large, cutesy head, which suited both her child­like char­ac­ter and her co-star’s al­ready-es­tab­lished world. “Shaun is such a clas­sic sil­hou­ette that he needs to be able to stand next to her,” Phe­lan ex­plains. “We honed in on try­ing to make her look in­cred­i­bly sim­plis­tic and then, as the film goes on, you find out she’s got all these pow­ers.”

To give Lu-La a more ex­tra-terrestria­l vibe, they asked con­cept artist Aurélien Predal, who also de­signed the farm, to cre­ate an alien world that was “al­most like a trop­i­cal fish, like bi­o­lu­mi­nes­cent,” says Phe­lan. “He did this al­most UV planet and then he did these dif­fer­ent color pal­ette tests of Lu-La next to Shaun. And the softer blue and pink, it just re­ally popped.” The prob­lem, how­ever, was that the shade of blue they wanted for Lu-La wouldn’t work against the green-screens, which meant fid­dling with the tone un­til they found one that suited both pur­poses. “The pup­pet is al­most like a baby blue but then on cam­era some­times it looks al­most pur­ple. It’s very tech­ni­cal,” says Becher. “There were many, many tests to get it to work.” For a fi­nal, ce­les­tial touch, the team added glit­ter nail pol­ish to her ears.

Like most char­ac­ters in the Aard­man cin­e­matic uni­verse, the Lu-La ma­que­tte boasts a plas­ticine face atop a wire ar­ma­ture cov­ered by sil­i­con. With­out a tra­di­tional body, how­ever, the crew ini­tially strug­gled to work out how she would walk. “Just kind of fig­ur­ing out who she was and where she came from, how she moved,” an­i­ma­tor Car­men Brom­field Ma­son says of the chal­lenges Lu-La pre­sented. In ad­di­tion to live-ac­tion video ref­er­ences, the team also made a life-size (4 ft.) Lu-La ma­que­tte. “We ended up us­ing that some­times to just try and get a sense of how fast she could move, be­cause we wanted her to be quite free of a body,” Becher ex­plains. That con­cept was taken to its limit in one mind-bend­ing scene where she gets hopped up on sugar: the an­i­ma­tors swapped the sil­i­con for plas­ticine “so she can squash and stretch,” says Phe­lan. “It was a real blast to push her as far as she could pos­si­bly go.”

Both Phe­lan and Becher are full of praise for how far their an­i­ma­tors – who num­bered around 30, in­clud­ing the as­sis­tants – honed their craft dur­ing pro­duc­tion. “There’s a scene, for ex­am­ple, where Shaun’s very emo­tional, it looks like he’s ac­tu­ally breath­ing,” recalls Becher. “The an­i­ma­tors have just come so much fur­ther since the

first film that they’re us­ing all their abil­i­ties and rigs and stuff to make the char­ac­ters feel more alive.” With the aim of pro­duc­ing 24 frames per sec­ond and 1.6 to 2 sec­onds of footage a day, it was, as al­ways, a pain­stak­ing shoot, made that much more tricky by fast-paced space scenes. “On this film we were more am­bi­tious in terms of the set pieces, so we had quite a lot of cam­era moves and quite a lot of re­ally com­pli­cated set­ups,” says Becher. “So it ac­tu­ally in­volved [the an­i­ma­tors] work­ing on more sin­gles” (in which ev­ery sin­gle frame re­quires the pup­pets to move rather than ev­ery other frame).

For Brom­field Ma­son, one of the most chal­leng­ing se­quences was in fact a lin­ger­ing shot in which Shaun’s eyes fill with tears as he waves good­bye to Lu-La for the last time. “I had to fig­ure out how I was go­ing to go from Shaun wav­ing hap­pily to re­al­iz­ing that he’ll prob­a­bly never see her again,” Brom­field Ma­son recalls. “You don’t re­ally want to go too big with emo­tional se­quences be­cause it could end up look­ing a lit­tle bit pan­tomime-y, so it’s all about the re­ally, re­ally small things – like a slight eye dart or the ears curv­ing down slightly – to get that sense of sor­row.”

Aard­man artists use a va­ri­ety of sub­stances – in­clud­ing jelly, glyc­erin and Vase­line – to cre­ate tears, al­though each so­lu­tion has dif­fer­ent prop­er­ties. “It de­pends how long your shot’s go­ing to take,” Brom­field Ma­son ex­plains. “You need some­thing that’s go­ing to hold its shape re­ally well be­cause you don’t want to go for lunch, come back, and then find that one frame to an­other it’s just gone or evap­o­rated or slid down the face.” Af­ter con­coct­ing just the right blend of sub­stances, the an­i­ma­tor pro­ceeded to ap­ply it onto Shaun’s eyes with a pin as they fill, drop by drop and shot by shot, with tears. “It’s that del­i­cate,” she says. The en­tire se­quence took Brom­field Ma­son two full days to shoot.

Equally tricky, she says, was po­si­tion­ing the pup­pets amid the cam­eras and lights in the tight in­te­rior of the space­ship, which was roughly the width of a lap­top. “You need to be re­ally, re­ally slow,” she says. “If you drop some­thing, like a mouth or an eye­lid, that’s gone. There’s so much rig­ging un­der­neath you can’t get it.” At the same time, Farmageddo­n also boasts some of the big­gest sets Aard­man has ever done, such as the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion. Some were so big, in fact, they would have gone past the roof, and so had to be set on their sides. “They tipped the cam­eras up side­ways to shoot them and it was a real brain-melter for the crew,” says Phe­lan. “Ev­ery­thing had to be built side­ways, but then we’d flip all the mon­i­tors so the an­i­ma­tors can see what they’re do­ing.”

Al­though they don’t know the ex­act size of the sets, they said the stu­dio space used for Farmageddo­n ex­ceeded even that of Aard­man’s last fea­ture, Early Man, which took up the equiv­a­lent of four Olympic-sized pools. “And Rich and I are ba­si­cally walk­ing around that all day,” says Becher. “So I think we fig­ured we did about seven kilo­me­ters (4.4 miles) each a day, quite eas­ily.”

The bud­get, mean­while, was roughly the same as for Shaun the Sheep Movie, ad­justed only for in­fla­tion.

Shaun has now been a fa­mil­iar face at Aard­man for more years than some of its staff (“He long pre­dates me,” laughs Kew­ley), which can make work­ing on his films an in­tim­i­dat­ing prospect, par­tic­u­larly with cre­ators Nick Park and Richard Starzak (who de­vised the first Shaun the Sheep se­ries) still in the build­ing. “Be­cause we’re first-time di­rec­tors — we know the world very well — [but] we were ob­vi­ously fol­low­ing on from some of the best an­i­ma­tion film­mak­ers at Aard­man,” says Becher. “And ac­tu­ally, it was a mas­sive joy to be given the re­spon­si­bil­ity, be­cause that was a huge task for us to try and outdo the first film or try and make it feel dif­fer­ent.”

“I think what ev­ery­body en­joys is that process of telling great sto­ries, mak­ing great films, en­gag­ing the au­di­ence,” Kew­ley agrees. “So no­body’s pre­cious about [the char­ac­ters] in those terms and ev­ery­body loves the char­ac­ters as well, so it’s fun. It’s a lit­tle daunt­ing at times when Nick walks into the room or Richard walks into the room and you think, ‘I hope we’ve done the right thing with their char­ac­ters,’ but they’re al­ways mas­sively sup­port­ive. And Shaun’s just a bril­liant char­ac­ter, isn’t he?” ◆

‘Be­cause we’re first time di­rec­tors — we know the world very well — [but] we were ob­vi­ously fol­low­ing on from some of the best an­i­ma­tion film­mak­ers at Aard­man.’ — Di­rec­tor Will Becher

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddo­n pre­mieres on Net­flix on Fe­bru­ary 14. The movie is nom­i­nated for the BAFTA for Best An­i­ma­tion Fea­ture and has al­ready made over $37.7 mil­lion in­ter­na­tion­ally.

Farmageddo­n di­rec­tors (left) Richard Phe­lan and Phil Becher

Sheep, the Fi­nal Fron­tier: A new visi­tor from space called Lu-La (voiced by Amalia Vi­tale) sets the plot of the new Shaun the Sheep movie in mo­tion.

Shear Genius: The Aard­man team pro­duced 24 frames per sec­ond and 1.6 to 2 sec­onds of stop­mo­tion an­i­ma­tion footage a day. The stu­dio space ex­ceeded that of Aard­man’s last fea­ture, which took up the equiv­a­lent of four Olympic­sized pools.

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