A Pirates Life for Aardman
One glimpse of The Pirates! Band of Misfits and you can instantly tell that Aardman has gone way beyond Wallace & Gromit. The legendary Bristol stop-motion studio has fully embraced the digital age: the puppets are slicker and rapid prototyped with replaceable mouths, the sets are more lavish (the pirate ship is breathtaking and Victorian London is a marvel to behold) and the VFX is more authentic (the CG water is a revelation).
What this means is that Aardman isn't standing still while Laika raises the bar in Portland and Tim Burton and Henry Selick continue to push stop motion in their own artistic ways. Therefore, The Pirates is polished and tactile (yes, the 3-D is pleasing as well) and very witty in Aardman's trademark way. It's still about social misfits and idealistic dreamers longing for fantastical adventures to escape their humdrum lives.
"The digital pipeline has been liberating for me," admits director and Aardman co-founder Peter Lord. "Our whole day of shooting used to consist of sending the film to the laboratories and back. Now you can move on a shot any time of day or night. But shooting digitally and with confidence on green screen backgrounds is wonderful. I really enjoy the CG enhancements. We have the CG team in-house so we're all under the same roof and it feels like a team. But the water is the obvious thing. The fact that we can take a big ship, which is made of wood and metal and string and canvas, and make it move as if it was at sea and then put the sea around it digitally afterwards is absolutely amazing.
"We spent a lot of time trying to get the sea sufficiently stylized so it looked like it belonged with the models. There's nothing I like more than the classic pirate image of a great, big ship thrashing into a wave, sinking, splashing and rising above. Our model ship is the real star of the movie. It's a beautiful object [14 feet long, 15 feet high and 770 pounds]. It's actually two ships that have been badly stitched together. There was some crooked, backstreet shipyard that rather carelessly stuck two ships together. The front part is from 1820 and the back half is from 1680. But that's part of the backstory that's never discussed."