Aardman Animations the plasticine puppeteers.
Plasticine animators Peter Lord and David Sproxton gained their early experience animating Morph for a children’s television show. Nowadays their studio is in great demand for television commercial work but they still find time to produce entertainment animation, such as their Lip Synch series shown recently on Channel Four. Report by David Jefferson.
The founders of Aardman Animations, Peter Lord and David Sproxton, started animating while they were at school together some twenty years ago. As with all great careers there has to be a special element, and in this case it was a 16mm Bolex camera owned by David Sproxton’s father, who worked for a television company. “If we hadn’t been able to borrow that camera I would probably be in accounts or something now,” mused Peter Lord. “We did some cut-out animation and then moved on to cels. We were influenced by the cartoons we saw on TV, which were mostly Hanna-Barbera, and cel animation seemed the authentic method to use. We had seen puppet films such as The Magic Roundabout but at the time it didn’t seem like proper animation.”
One of these early sequences featured a character called Aardman, a send-up of Superman. They sold that fifteen-second sequence to the BBC and when the cheque arrived they needed a bank account. “The bank wanted to know the name of our company and we told them Aardman. So for the next twenty years we’ve had to say, my firm is called Aardman Animations,” explained Peter.
Selling that sequence to the BBC was enough to determine the future career of these two schoolboys. It was shown on Vision On, a very intelligent programme for children which featured a mix of visual elements including mime, animation and live-action. The producer managed to introduce a wide variety of content by using people who would work on a low budget, mostly non-professionals.
“At £25 a sequence it didn’t seem worth all the effort that went into cel animation so we began working with plasticine,” recalls Peter. “To start with we used it like cut-outs. Instead of using paper we used plasticine rolled out flat and cut up. The next thing I remember was a top shot of a plate of food on a table on which all the food moved around to form a figure. Then we stood the figure up and made it move. It all seems obvious now, and I can’t see why we didn’t do it that way in the first place, except at the time we hadn’t seen any other plasticine animation films.” They continued to produce sequences for Vision On for the next six years whilst furthering their education. When they both left college in 1976 they decided to continue with animation and see how it went. No sooner had the decision been made than the BBC cancelled Vision On. But luck was on their side, the BBC were starting a new programme with Tony Hart which became Take Hart, and the producer came to them with a brief to create some new characters. “In fact, they didn’t go so far as to say characters,” explained Peter, “they just wanted something that was ‘alive’ on Tony Hart’s table top.”