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Aardman’s Heather Wright Talks Commercials

Aardman Animations’ Heather Wright talks to AWN about trends in animation and advertising.

The animation wizards at Aardman teamed up with agency Wieden + Kennedy London and Montreal-based director Patrick Boivin to create a playful new stop-motion spot highlighting Nike’s CTR360. The ad features a marionette version of Spanish soccer star Andrés Iniesta, who elegantly glides through opponents across the plane of an elaborate puppet stage.

On the heels of the recently-breaking campaign, Aardman Animations’ Heather Wright talks to AWN about trends in animation and advertising. Wright is Executive Producer/Head of Commercials and Branded Content at the Academy Award-winning Aardman Animations in Bristol, UK.

As one of the most respected animation studios in the world, what trends do you see emerging in the area of animated TV advertising?

Heather Wright:

Enlightened clients and agencies now understand the necessity of good quality creative work to cut through online. Online films used to live in a lo-fi, low-quality, mainly live-action ghetto relying on shock tactics to cut through. Formally the exclusive province of TV and cinema, there is now real investment being made in the production of animated films which will only ever appear online.

Is there a particular animated “look” that ad agencies are looking for in 2012? What's hot and what's not?

HW: People love to see the hand of the artist so there’s a trend for things that look hand crafted. Hot projects which demonstrate this are pieces like Johnny Kelly’s ‘Chipotle’ ad and’s wall painting animations like ‘Big Bang Big Boom’ that still have a massive following. I love both of these.

Our work on a recently launched spot for Nike comes from a similar artistic sensibility. The spot was directed by Patrick Boivin, a prolific and well-known artist in the online arena with a huge cult following. His YouTube site alone boasts a massive 155 million views.

Patrick specializes in his own particular style of stop frame animation often using found action figures which he takes apart and then re-engineers to make them usable for animation.

For the Nike spot he worked with Korean figurine artist Coolrain who is known for his action figures many of them based on real sports people. Our spot features the Nike sponsored Spanish football star Andres Iniesta who plays for Barcelona FC, who appears both in live action and as an animated puppet. Coolrain designed the figure to be a stylised but recognisable representation of Iniesta and is also producing the figure using rapid prototyping.

The spot is now live online for the launch of a new boot.

What’s not hot? Low-quality, generic CGI.

Are there some 'best practices' you can describe when it comes to the creation and production of animated TV campaigns? Any advice you like to give to agencies embarking on an animation campaign?


Animation is an art not a science. It develops and grows throughout the production. If the production time is cut too short then you will still get animation, but it won’t be at the same high level. Be brave and stick to decisions already made.

How does Aardman approach the growth and nurturing of young animators?

HW: We encourage young directors, animators and designers to share their ideas with us at an early stage so that we can hopefully mould them into something that could be interesting for our extremely visually literate and savvy agency creatives & producers (not brown-nosing here, just means they’re tough to please!). And of course, we’re always on the look-out for new feature film and entertainment content ideas for ourselves.

We have a Creative Thinktank who regularly come together to review work and see if we can use our combined brainpower to develop an idea into being something amazing. I’m not a believer in the myth that a great idea can be written on the back of an envelope, in my experience it takes a lot of hard work and thinking to create a great idea, whose greatness can be proven by the fact that it can be post-rationalised onto the back of an envelope.

Our short film program supports Directors to create work that has to be different from anything they or Aardman have done before. The films have to stretch us creatively and technically. Our latest offering, Pythagasaurus, directed by Peter Peake, is doing well on the festival circuit, including a recent screening at Annecy in France and upcoming at Anima Mundi in Brazil in a couple of weeks. Animation people love their festivals and we are no exception.

Heather WrightExecutive Producer/Head of Commercials and Branded Content

Heather has worked at Aardman for over 12 years since October 1998. As a member of the Management Team contributing strategically to overall business, she is responsible for all aspects of Commercials and Branded Content Business.  This covers a wide range of activities from business development, planning and strategy to hiring Directors & Producers and troubleshooting on productions. She also develops the creative strategy to keep refreshing the company’s creative offering with a view to driving new business and developing key talent.  During this time she has also been responsible for the creation of the CGI department and building a business in Branded Content, taking Aardman’s storytelling and character skills to brands.

During her early career at Saatchi & Saatchi, Publicis, Weiden and Kennedy she worked on clients of all sizes, from very large corporates to very small independents.  This was followed by a period of time working as a freelance live action producer at Propaganda, Rose Hackney Barber and Howard Guard Productions to name a few, before coming to the animation business at Aardman.

Source: Aardman Animations

Jennifer Wolfe's picture

Jennifer Wolfe is Director of News & Content at Animation World Network.