“Get off me cheese! Get off!”
When I was young, my mum would jokingly say this line while flapping her hands at us kids when we touched something we shouldn’t have. Needless to say, I was brought up on a healthy diet of Aardman Animations, first with the Wallace and Gromit short animations, and then their first feature film Chicken Run – which is also endlessly quote-worthy.
Now, nearly 30 years since they first released Wallace and Gromit’s A Grand Day Out, their latest creation Early Man is due to hit cinemas. Despite its humble beginnings in Bristol, UK in 1972, Aardman Animations has continued to make breakthroughs, not only for stop-motion animation, but also for computer animated films, commercials and television programmes, all whilst staying true to their English roots and love of clay.
Founded by Peter Lord and David Sproxton, it wasn’t until 1976 that they produced their first piece of professional work. They continued to do small commissioned pieces of animation work for television programmes until 1989. After recruiting Nick Park in 1985, they were commissioned by Channel Four Television to create a series of five-minute animations called Lip Synch. This inspired the creation of similar content using clay figurines and stop-motion, including Park’s 1990 Academy Award-winning short film Creature Comforts.
From this point Aardman Animations cemented themselves as the leader in stop-motion animation. Their second Wallace and Gromit short film in 1993 The Wrong Trousers also went on to win the 1994 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film, as did the third film A Close Shave which took home the same award in 1996.
Aardman Animations have continued to go from strength to strength. Whilst their output doesn’t match that of larger animation studios like Pixar and DreamWorks, they have continued to have box office success with each new offering – well, with the exception of 2006’s Flushed Away, but let’s sweep that one under the rug.
Aardman aren’t afraid of embracing new technology, and despite their love of the traditional clay aesthetic, the company’s willingness to test and adapt to new technology has kept them in front of their competitors. This can be seen more in their advertising division where, for example, they recently made VR projects for Google and BBC. Once tested in their advertising work, they will often integrate new technology into the making of their feature films in any way they can.
It’s this natural embrace of new technology that has also helped Aardman to be fearless in their different business pursuits. Apart from being the first British content producers to partner with iTunes, they also established a deal with YouTube where they made all their work available on the video sharing site, and in return YouTube regularly monitors and removes any videos of Aardman productions that aren’t uploaded by them. Another business milestone for Aardman was when they managed to crack the Chinese market in 2010 with their popular children’s show Shaun the Sheep, despite China’s resistance to Western content.
Aardman Animations continues to push the boundaries of what’s possible with stop-motion animation with each new film. They currently hold three Guinness World Records, including the record for the largest stop-motion animation set, and most plasticine used in a feature film (Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit used 2,844.9 kg of plasticine). To this day, Lord and Sproxton continue to have large creative roles in Aardman content and are the main driver’s behind ensuring that Aardman are always embracing new and upcoming technology. This formula certainly seems to be working for them, so it will be interesting to see where Aardman continues to move in the future.
Image courtesy of Aardman Animations & United International Pictures from Wallace & Gromit’s The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). Source: IMDb