Accessreel’s Darran Price found it a great privilege to talk to the creators of Aardman Animations, Peter Lord and David Sproxton, even better, he got 15 minutes with each of them. Their new film Early Man came out on March 29 in Victoria and Queensland and will release on April 12 in the rest of Australia. Take a listen below, to our chat with animation royalty.
Peter Lord and David Sproxton began their animating partnership at school. In 1972 they registered the name Aardman Animations. After graduating, they moved to Bristol in 1976 where they produced their first professional production, creating Morph for the children’s programme ‘Take Hart’.
Peter and David are highly regarded for their work on TV shows and movies such as Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, Chicken Run, Flushed Away and The Pirates! Band of Misfits. This time around, Peter and David are producing Early Man. It’s directed by Nick Park and has an impressive voice cast, including Eddie Redmayne, Gina Yashere, Johnny Vegas, Maisie Williams, Mark Williams, Richard Weber, Selina Griffiths, Simon Greenall and Tom Hiddleston.
The Official Early Man blurb: Set at the dawn of time when prehistoric creatures roamed the earth, Early Man tells the story of courageous caveman Dug (Eddie Redmayne) and his sidekick Hognob who, together with their fearless new friend Goona (Maisie Williams), must unite their Stone Age Tribe against the mighty Bronze Age enemy, Lord Nooth (Tom Hiddleston). Early Man is the new prehistoric comedy adventure from four-time Academy Award® winning director Nick Park and Aardman, the creators of Wallace & Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. In cinemas these school holidays, the film will take audiences on an extraordinary journey into an exciting new world, unleashing an unforgettable tribe of unique and funny new characters voiced by an all-star British cast.
Darran spoke to Peter and David separately, so there is a full thirty minutes with the creators of Aardman Animations. There is a partial transcript of the interview below. Enjoy!
A-REEL: Hi Peter. You’re listed as producer on the film, so what exactly is your role?
PETER: It’s the least glamorous role really, isn’t it? Producer. What do we do? I am a sounding board, an objective voice for Nick (Park) particularly, all the way through. In filmmaking, there are a lot of different producers who do different things. Some, look after the money, some look after the logistics, the organisation, some are on the creative side—I’m emphatically on THAT side. A sounding board? Giving advice, giving comments, giving reactions to Nick, those kind of things. Then towards the end I do get much more involved. I’ll do a sort of firefighting. It’s a big old deal. A mighty machine that’s thumping along.
A-REEL: You’d have no shortage of actors knocking on your door, surely, wanting to work on an Aardman film?
PETER: They seem very happy to do it.
A-REEL: What is the casting process like?
PETER: In this one, because he’s Dug, the main character, Eddie Redmayne was a key one to get. I know Nick pretty well and he wants a voice with some texture to it…something special. He’d seen Eddie somewhere doing this semi-working class voice. Eddie can play posh, but Nick has seen him doing this more modern voice. It was that, that Nick loved and the other thing is that he behaves, in person, incredibly youthful. Maisie (Williams) was a great find. Again youth was important there. She was really into it and worked really hard. And Tom (Hiddleston) was just marvellous. He’s one of the great bad guys.
A-REEL: Going back to the days of you and David starting the company, did you always want to be an animator?
PETER: The stupid thing was we started so early, we started like 16 or 17. Having done it once, I was probably hooked. The thing about animation is that it is a wonderful, powerful, magical thing because you bring something to life. It may be slow, but briefly, you’re a god (laughs) because you’re in charge of that world entirely.
A-REEL: Why did you want to make stop-motion films?
PETER: We started out doing mainstream, conventional drawn animation. We weren’t very good at it. It was difficult and slow and it wasn’t going anywhere, frankly. We were looking around for something that would be better and we landed on this “puppet animation” thing , especially using plasticine. That was unique at the time. Creatively, I found it way easier. And this is the big thing, nobody else was doing it at the time.
A-REEL: Hi David. Where did the name Aardman come from?
DAVID: It’s a silly schoolboy story, really. Do you remember a show they ran in Australia called Vision On? A show aimed at kids. Pete and I were offered the opportunity to do some insert material for Vision On. We were playing around with 2D animation at the time, drawn animation. And we came up with a character who was sort of an idiotic superhero. Had no real superpowers. We came across the word “aardvark”. We wondered how many “A’s” a word could have, It was a funny word, for a South African anteater kind of animal. And when we came to naming this character, we thought let’s call him Aard Man. We got a cheque from the BBC for this first sequence that we’d shot and we had to bank it. Because it came from Aard Man, we thought, why not call ourselves Aardman Animations.
A-REEL: Where did the idea for EARLY MAN come from?
DAVID: It came from Nick. Its very much Nick’s film. He came up with the idea which is in the prolog bit, about the origins of football. We thought it was a funny idea and wondered what we could build on it. In my mind, its a story about conflict resolution. Nick has this incredible ability to come up with nuggets of ideas and wonderful characters and scenarios and you build on that. The writing, of all our films, is the longest bit of the process. This has been knocking round Nick’s head for about seven or eight years.
A-REEL: Once the script is done, how long does it take between creating the characters and the finished product?
DAVID: The whole process is around four and a half years. Of which the shoot is fourteen months. So the actual shoot is the shortest section if it. Because you’ve got a lot of people on it, you got to crack the whip, because you’re haemorrhaging cash, otherwise. The story writing very often continues right into production. You often haven’t finished the script before you actually start, knowing you have a few months grace.
A-REEL: How big are the sets?
DAVID: On this one, some of the sets were pretty damn big. A lot of them, though, are classically table-top size. The interiors in particular are about a metre wide and a metre deep. The rest of it, the set extensions, are added with CG. Some of the jungle sets were pretty big—some of the biggest sets we’ve ever had are on this one because of the expansive nature of the outdoors.
A-REEL: What is the most difficult pieces of animation you can remember from before the says of digital effects?
DAVID: It was always difficult getting characters to jump up in the air or fly. Model’s feet are often screwed to the ground. Getting things to look light on their feet when you had to suspend them on invisible thread—those were the tricky things. These days you put all the mechanical rigs in to hold them and you can take them out, effectively in “Photoshop” for want of a better word.