The Advanced Art of Stop-Motion Animation: History of Stop-Motion Feature Films: Part 3
Back in America, 1995 saw a limited theatrical run of Gumby: The Movie, the first feature film starring Art Clokey’s clay icon (Figure 1.29). The story featured Gumby and his pals in a rock band planning a benefit concert, which is threatened by the Blockheads’ attempt to replace them with robots. The feature was actually produced during the wake of the New Adventures of Gumby series, riding the coattails of the show’s newfound success and the fledgling talent who started on the show. Art Clokey financed the $3 million feature himself and stuck with the same level of simplistic charm that had existed in the series. In fact, he simplified it so much that he narrowed his animation team to a third of its original size and took about 30 months to shoot it. The animators who stayed to work on the feature ended up moving on to work on The Nightmare Before Christmas shortly afterward. Production on Gumby: The Movie had wrapped up around 1992, with intention of a fall 1993 release. However, there were significant delays in distribution, and even when the film was distributed, nobody heard about it because there was virtually no advertising or marketing. It was relegated to a director’s cut on video not long after its lackluster release, but it managed to find an audience among die-hard fans of the show.
Clay animation in a feature-length film would finally have its shot at worldwide commercial success by 2000. The 1990s had seen the rise of another stop-motion superstar with the genius of animator/director Nick Park. Park had put the British Aardman Animation, founded by Peter Lord and David Sproxton in the 1970s, on the map with his Oscar-winning short Creature Comforts. This was followed by further Oscar wins for The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, starring Wallace and Gromit. Expansion of the latter film to feature-length was pondered at one point, but certain restrictions kept it at the half-hour length of its prequels.
A feature film was the logical next step for Aardman, and several Hollywood studios were knocking their door. The bridge between the two studios would be found in producer Jake Eberts and his affiliation with Pathe Films, which agreed to finance development for a feature. Several ideas based on popular stories were considered, but Aardman felt that an original idea was best. Some drawings of chickens in Nick Park’s sketchbook led to the idea of an escape movie with chickens. Upon pitching this idea to Eberts, the Aardman team found itself in front of Steven Spielberg, Jeffrey Katzenberg, and David Geffen, founders of the new DreamWorks Animation SKG.