In Focus: Aardman

The celebration of all things Aardman kicked off yesterday with two retrospectives followed by a conversation with all three company directors - the first time in 18 years they’ve been on stage together.

The first retrospective was entitled Aardman: Early Years Claymation, and was my personal favourite. It showed the first 15 years of Aardman, and you can really see them come into their own. Even from the rough Down and Out, you could see that special spark forming. Some other brilliant titles included the elegantly beautiful Next, the story of an actor auditioning with the entire works of Shakespeare, and Pib and Pog, a kids show that isn’t actually child friendly. Both wonderfully simple ideas executed perfectly. It’s easy to see that even in the early days, the sense of storytelling within the company was a top priority. 

Next was From Pigs to Pirates!, showing how the company progressed from the mid 90s to the present. I didn’t like this one as much. Sure, the animation was top notch but some of the stories were lacking that extra layer that distinguishes Aardman from it’s competitors. Humdrum stood out by miles, and made very clever use of textures and shadows to aid the plot. And it was witty, which is always a bonus. Though I didn’t personally like it, The Adventures of Big Jeff sent a titter around the audience. And all of the filmmakers or animators in the crowd really enjoyed The Deadline, an animation of three animators who didn’t meet their deadline and had to improvise. We’ve all been there. And it’s a genius plot; can’t think of an idea? Use your lack of idea as an idea! It’s totally meta.

The final item of the day was the big event, all three company directors on stage for the first time in 18 years chaired by Francine Stock. And us Insider Encounters got a very last minute (but very appreciated) offer to film it! Big thanks to Encounters for that one. It was an amazing insight into the company.

Aardman as we know it really came about in 1983 when Nick Park, a film student interested in 3D modeling, was given a workshop by David Sproxton and Peter Lord. They saw something in him, and in return for helping them with a shoot, they would help him create his graduate film; A Grand Day Out. Naturally things came up, and it took Park 7 years to finally finish his film. But I’m pretty glad he did!

Their success boils down to two main things, talent and a little bit of luck. Channel 4 commissions played a huge part in their careers. David Sproxton said that the first time he felt like they could really make it as a company was with their first C4 commission. When asked ‘Did you have a mission statement?’, Peter Lord replied ‘Survival’. 

The panel itself was enjoyable, with the three men having a wicked sense of humour and speaking frankly about their experiences. Also, really lovely guys. Some choice quotes:

On Creature Comforts:

Francine Stock (to Nick Park): Has an Oscar made a difference?

Peter Lord: Your wardrobe

Nick Park: People would look at me differently

Peter Lord: From a kneeling position if I recall…

Nick Park: Curtsey, actually.

David Sproxton on American comedy:

British comedy is about losers, people at the bottom of the pile. American comedy is about people with aspirations.

Nick Park on A Grand Day Out when shown at Bristol Animation Festival in 1989:

‘It didn’t get a great reception’

On filmmaking:

David Sproxton: Real people don’t speak like scripted dialogue.

Peter Lord: Acting is all in the eyes and eyebrows

Nick Park: My inspirations were from live action more so than animation.

And finally, some advice for aspiring animators and filmmakers:

Find people to share the experience.

Try and do a lot with a little.

What do you want this film to do for you? 

Be sure to check out the Aardman exhibition on the ground floor of the Arnolfini which is open all week and completely free. If you want a more hands on approach there’s the Rapid Prototyping Workshop and the Kids Animation Workshop, on Friday and Saturday respectively.

Alice Corner