The Genuine Aardicle

by Wendy Jackson Hall

In the 28 years since its humble beginnings (Peter Lord and David Sproxton made their first films with a super-8 camera), Bristol, U.K.-based Aardman Animations has become the most famous stop-motion animation studio in the world, with three Oscars under its belt and a 300-person payroll (including freelancers).

In his introduction to the 1998 book Creating 3D Animation: The Aardman Book of Filmmaking, Lord, who is co-directing the studio's first feature film, says, "As Aardman got bigger and more established, we discovered that we were not just individuals whistling in the dark but part of a scattered and formless community of filmmakers in Britain and worldwide. The big pleasure for me is the feeling I get of being in a community of artists."

Its "creator-driven," "artist-run" approach has been a key to success for Aardman -- still a privately-owned company. This approach has allowed the company to maintain its creative integrity, while the success of properties like Wallace and Gromit have afforded the liquidity it needs to remain selective about projects and to maintain high production values. Here's a look at what Aardman is doing in various areas:

Screen star Mel Gibson holds his alter-ego Rocky, while Julia Sawalha holds her alter-ego Ginger.
TM & © 1998 DreamWorks LLC.

The newest frontier for Aardman is the feature film arena, which they are tackling in a big way. Shooting in an additional facility (about 10 minutes away from the original studio) dedicated to feature work, Peter Lord and Nick Park are directing Chicken Run, an adventure tale about two chickens, Rocky (Mel Gibson) and Ginger (Julia Sawalha), trying to escape captivity from a farm in 1950s northern England. Production will wrap in March, and the film will be released by DreamWorks in U.S. theaters on June 23, 2000.

Co-director of Chicken Run Nick Park.
TM & © 1998 DreamWorks LLC.

In October 1999, DreamWorks announced its plan to distribute Aardman's next four features, a bold move considering that box office numbers on Chicken Run are still months away. What gives them such confidence in Aardman? "They do have a pretty terrific track record," says David Lipman, a DreamWorks production executive in charge of the Aardman films, noting that the 60-minute rough cut of the movie so far has tested extremely well. "They are supremely talented storytellers," adds Lipman. The deal creates a stop-motion animation arm for DreamWorks, complementing its two other feature animation units: CGI films like Shrek being produced at PDI and the traditional films like The Road to El Dorado being created in-house at DreamWorks Feature Animation.

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