Aardman’s First Feature Egg-stravaganza!
(continued from page 3)

The Challenge
Given that Aardman are known for shorts and mid-length films, what are the challenges in going to feature-length? "I always thought making a feature film would be about two-and-a-half times harder than a 30 minute-film," says Park. "But the amount of work and mental effort, the man-hours everyone puts in... it's easily twenty times as much. The story is the most difficult thing, getting it to work over eighty minutes. It's harder to hold in the head than a thirty-minute story, and you've got the audience attention span to consider; you have to take the viewer on a journey of ups and downs, fasts and slows. It's difficult to calculate, which is why we ended up making the film in story-reel form, basic moving drawings, which we use to judge how it's playing before we shoot." (More on this later...)

There have been excellent stop-motion features over the years, from Ladislas Staewich's French classic Tale of the Fox (1938) to the charming Norwegian film The Pinchcliffe Grand Prix (1975), directed by Iva Caprino. Yet only two have ever received international distribution: The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) and James and the Giant Peach (1996), both directed by Henry Selick and distributed by Disney. Nightmare was a hit, but James barely broke even in Stateside theatres. And with computer animations like Dinosaur and Toy Story 2 grabbing the headlines, won't audiences find stop-motion passé?

"Computer animation is a big deal now," Lord agrees. "It's gone from a marginal, specialised area to a mainstream brand in ten years. Stop-motion's never really been mainstream since the days of Harryhausen, but I feel it's having a resurgence now. Chicken Run isn't spectacular in the blow-you-away sense of computer animation, where it's easy to have twenty thousand warriors rushing across the plain. It's more subtle than that, on the level of character. I think it's nice what we do is more human; you get tired of effects movies after a while." A rough version of the film's opening bears out Lord's point. It's a montage of Ginger's failed escape attempts, becoming increasingly outlandish and desperate. There are no jaw-dropping effects, at least to an audience used to Aardman's impeccable animation. What grips is the urgency, the pace, the atmosphere -- in short, the story.

Rocky makes a daring attempt to rescue Ginger from the Tweedy’s new pie machine. © DreamWorks Pictures.

"But we like spectacle too!" adds Park quickly. Indeed, the new film promises plenty of white-knuckle thrills, including a sequence in the tradition of Spielberg with conveyer belts, giant rollers and lots of blades. On new technologies, Park comments, "Computer animation would mean nothing if it didn't have good ideas, stories, direction and characters. Anyway, I think there's something very appealing about the use of plasticine. Every child has handled plasticine and relates to it -- it's so tactile, you can see the fingerprints. To see plasticine characters moving round in full animation is in some ways more impressive than computer animation, I think. It has an extra kind of appeal."

The Production
The final screenplay was written by Jack Rosenthal and Karey Kirkpatrick. Rosenthal has written for numerous UK film and TV titles, as well as co-writing the Barbara Streisand picture Yentl (1983). Kirkpatrick's credits include the cel Rescuers Down Under and the stop-motion James and the Giant Peach. The writer is now collaborating with Mark Burton on Aardman's second feature,The Tortoise and the Hare. The music is by John Powell and Harry Gregson-Williams, who scored DreamWorks' computer-animated Antz. They're supervised by Hans Zimmer of Lion King fame.

The directors agree there's "distinctly more dialogue" than past Aardman films (think how many of the studio's past stars were mute). Asked whether the script was complete before filming, Lord admits, "You could say without great inaccuracy we're still working on it. We intended it to be complete before filming. That was the plan. We thought, ‘We've got a long time, we'll get it all sussed, the script will be ready, ready, ready!’ But it doesn't work that way. Even now, about three weeks before the end of the shoot, it's possible a line or two will change. Certainly some shots have changed. The structure was tightly in place before the filming, but details and spoken words have changed a lot. It's a very fluid process."

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