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Creating 3-D Animation: The Aardman Book of Filmmaking

Jerry Beck reviews Creating 3-D Animation, a complete stop motion how-to guide from the hugely successful Aardman Studios. A must have for filmmakers, enthusiasts and Wallace & Gromit lovers.

This is a great book, for enthusiasts of animated films, for fans of Aardman's work, and particularly for students of animation production techniques. The book is not about CGI (the computer graphics industry does not yet own the term "3D animation"), but about the original process of stop motion photography of three-dimensional models. In particular, Aardman's unique style of clay animation. The book begins with informative chapters by Peter Lord and Brian Sibley, tracing the history of motion picture film, cartoon animation and a thorough history of puppet animation and of the Aardman studio itself. The book's main objective is a comprehensive behind-the-scenes look at the techniques, hardships, short-cuts, skills and equipment that go into making those remarkable Channel 4 shorts like Creature Comforts, the hilarious Chevron car commercials and the Oscar-winning Wallace & Gromit films.

There is much here for the student of animated filmmaking, from simple techniques and basic principles to elaborate methods in lighting, set construction, special effects and filming. Even for those of us who simply enjoy these productions, and just want to peek over the animator's shoulders, there is much to enjoy. The authors have a pleasant way of presenting both basic information and complicated instructions without ever speaking down to the reader. I'm not a filmmaker, but I found the sections on constructing characters like Gromit, Wat (from Wat's Pig) and a sheep (from A Close Shave) fascinating. Learning how much effort goes into building simple props or how they create blur effects during filming makes me appreciate these films even more than I had before.

The book is loaded with color photos, storyboards and frame enlargements that communicate all points effectively and remind me how much fun these films are. There are even a few tantalizing images from Aardman's forthcoming feature film, Chicken Run. If you are a fan of Wallace & Gromit, or ever hope to make a film as good as those, this book is a must-have in your library. Creating 3-D Animation: The Aardman Book of Filmmaking by Peter Lord and Brian Sibley; foreword by Nick Park. New York City, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc. Publishers, 1998. 192 pages. ISBN: 0-8109-1996-6 (U.S. $29.95 hardcover) Creating 3-D Animation: The Aardman Book of Filmmaking may be purchased in the Animation World Store. Jerry Beck is a cartoon historian, writer and animation studio executive. He was editor of The 50 Greatest Cartoons (Turner), recently co-wrote Warner Bros. Animation Art (Hugh, Lauter, Levin Associates) and is currently a freelance writer and consultant through his own company, Cartoon Research Co.

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