Ever since I was five years old, I have been charmed by the work of Aardman Animations. I recall my fifth Christmas, watching Wallace & Gromit in the Wrong Trousers repeatedly, and laughing hysterically at the greatest silent actor the world has ever seen; not Keaton, not Chaplin…but Gromit. I remember falling in love with Chicken Run at the age of eight and finding it increasingly hilarious on every re-visit. Each time I re-watched the film, I would get more and more from the comedy, props and characters; this is the Aardman way. Always full of satire and parody, along with visual and slapstick humour, Aardman‘s detailed creations, that entertain children and adults in two very different ways, have established them as Britain’s most successful animation studio. Despite competition from global animation studios such as Laika and Pixar, somehow, Aardman have always stood their ground and secured their place within the world of animation cinema.
Today I listened to Will Becher, animator at Aardman, discuss the company’s techniques, history and intentions. The Pictureville Cinema was packed with eager faces as Becher spoke at the Bradford Animation Festival. My second visit to the festival was as thrilling as my first. Becher spoke superbly and gave his enthusiastic audience a really detailed insight into the world of Aardman. We were provided with preview footage from test shoots and live action visual rehearsals along with a demonstration of the ways in which the characters from The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists! were animated and given expression. Becher’s fascinating live demonstrations were performed upon a puppet of the film’s protagonist. We witnessed the eyes being controlled with pins, the beard being cranked into positions with an allen key and one of his 300 mouths being magnetically attached.
What struck me most about Becher, and Aardman as a company, was the care and love that went into every character, every puppet, every set and every scene. Despite, personally, being slightly disappointed in The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists! earlier this year, Aardman‘s attention to detail and visual achievements never fail to impress. When it comes to their ambition and complexity of design, Aardman are astounding, Will Becher was fascinating to listen to and succeeded in exploring many different areas of the company in order to portray to his audience how an idea stems into an Aardman feature film. After leaving the cosy auditorium I couldn’t help but be in awe of what this company and the animators have achieved since the early seventies. The company manage to remain iconically ‘British’ whilst still expanding and appealing to audiences all over the globe.
With over 320 animators working on The Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists! for over 5 years, you can’t help but be aware of the pressure that the studio must be under to make masterpieces and, inevitably, huge profits. However, Becher’s humble attitude and visible devotion to the company and his work on certain characters and sets does not reveal any sort of greed or determination to succeed financially. From everything I have witnessed today it seems that, thankfully, the substance and soul of the stories and characters remains at the heart of Aardman‘s values as a studio. Overall, I have thoroughly enjoyed my time and experiences at B.A.F. Their diary has been full of interesting and diverse work from all over the world and from all areas of animation. I am just disappointed I couldn’t clear my schedule in order to experience even more of it.