How the co­founder helped shep­herd Aard­man into one of the top stop-mo­tion stu­dios


When David Sprox­ton started Aard­man with Peter Lord in 1972, they had al­ready been col­lab­o­rat­ing on an­i­ma­tion at school. Soon, their stop-mo­tion Plas­ticine sen­sa­tion Morph would be in­stantly recog­nis­able around the world.

Since then, Aard­man, with Sprox­ton tak­ing on the role of executive chair­man and pro­ducer on the stu­dio’s re­leases – in­clud­ing Chicken Run, The Curse Of The Were-rab­bit, Arthur Christ­mas, The Pi­rates! Band of Mis­fits and Shaun The Sheep Movie, has be­come one of the premiere stop-mo­tion out­fits, while also dab­bling in CG an­i­ma­tion.

Aard­man’s most re­cent re­lease was Nick Park’s Early Man. Se­quels to Shaun The Sheep Movie and Chicken Run are cur­rently un­der­way, which, says Sprox­ton, points to a new resur­gence of stop-mo­tion an­i­ma­tion.

“I think more stop-frame films have been made now, in one par­tic­u­lar year, than have al­most ever been made in any other time in the his­tory of cinema. It has had this cu­ri­ous re­vival with Laika, our­selves, Wes An­der­son and a lot of in­de­pen­dent film­mak­ers.”

Sprox­ton cred­its a few tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments with this mini-re­vival. Although stop-mo­tion can still be a par­tic­u­larly la­bo­ri­ous frame-by-frame process, it no longer needs to be done on film. Dig­i­tal SLR cam­eras and ded­i­cated stop-mo­tion soft­ware aid greatly in shot pro­duc­tion. “Prac­ti­cally, it’s a lot eas­ier to do it now with com­put­ers,” Sprox­ton says. “There was a real cost of en­try when it was film. And I think au­di­ences have been keen to go back to the hand­crafted feel, some­thing they maybe even think they could do at home them­selves.”

That doesn’t mean Aard­man ig­nores the power of CG in their stop-mo­tion films. Quite the con­trary, as they learnt on Early Man. “We thought maybe about half the shots would need some form of CG en­hance­ment,” says Sprox­ton. “But I think just about every shot has some kind of com­posit­ing el­e­ment, whether that’s blue screen or adding in back­ground plates and skies.”

Early Man also em­ployed dig­i­tal ef­fects to add in crowds, lava flows and ex­plo­sions.

Other Aard­man projects have also em­ployed 3D print­ing, while the process of sto­ry­board­ing at the stu­dio has also largely moved onto tablets in­stead of pa­per.

“Dig­i­tal is a fan­tas­tic tool­box,” notes Sprox­ton. “Putting in dig­i­tal skies can re­ally change a mood, for ex­am­ple. I mean, we had hand-painted skies in Chicken Run. It was pretty much all done in-cam­era.

“It prob­a­bly makes you plan bet­ter, but you some­times can get quite locked in.

“Now we kind of bud­get on every shot hav­ing some kind of dig­i­tal ef­fect.

“There’ll be an order of mag­ni­tude, but we plan for every shot there be­ing some­thing, and we may save money by ac­tu­ally let­ting us plan for that.”

01 A fi­nal shot from Early Man in­cor­po­rat­ing stop-mo­tion pup­pets and VFX el­e­ments for the lava and back­ground

02 An an­i­ma­tor read­ies stop-mo­tion pup­pets for film­ing dur­ing pro­duc­tion on Early Man

03 A scene from Aard­man’s Early Man, di­rected by Nick Park

04 Be­hind the scenes of the film­ing process on the Shaun the Sheep TV se­ries

05 Morph was one of the first char­ac­ters that Aard­man co-founders David Sprox­ton and Peter Lord de­vised

06 Shaun the Sheep has been made into both a TV se­ries and fea­ture film projects

I think au­di­ences have been keen to go back to the hand­crafted feel, some­thing they maybe even think they could do at home them­selves

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