The brief called for something of a pliable nature with the ability to change shape, to metamorphosis, something the producer was very keen about, so Morph was born. “I’ve never liked it when he changes shape,” confesses Peter. “When he has changed into a duck or a goose or something, he has stopped being a person to me. The model was simple to animate and that was the factor that endeared him to me. He is the ideal animation shape and the size is good. Anyone who works in plasticine knows that the larger the model, the more difficult it is to keep upright. When you do puppet animation you are constantly fighting against gravity. You are trying to make the character move expressively but what you are actually doing much of the time, is making compromises with balance to keep him from falling over.
If the early Morph is compared with the present day version there are a number of differences. Peter recalled the original version, “He had huge feet because we were being too conservative to start with. He had a very small head and his arms were very long with his hands close to the ground. He slowly evolved with our growing confidence.” Morph’s head got bigger and his feet got smaller, which is a trend mirrored by Mickey Mouse. Over the years Mickey’s head got bigger and his legs got shorter, effectively by lowering the crotch of his trousers. The overall effect is to give him the proportions of a very young child and therefore make him more lovable.
The Aardman Animations studio is situated in the historic city of Bristol. It is a short walk from the main shopping centre in a quiet back street. The building might easily be mistaken for a warehouse if it were not for the amusing gargoyle-like embellishments on the outside walls. Inside, the large studio space is divided into working areas by huge black curtains. At the rear on the ground floor is an editing room, a video viewing room and a lounge area. On the first floor is the model-making department and a further flight of stairs leads to the design studio.
Aardman use plasticine made by Van Aiken of California, U.S.A. Peter likes it because it is available in much brighter colours than English plasticine. “We send off to the States for a large quantity every couple of years. In fact, we use very little compared with the American animator Will Vinton. He makes everything from plasticine including the props and scenery,” explains Peter.
Aardman recently completed a series of short films under the heading of Lip Synch. The series was backed by Channel 4 TV who screened them as part of their Four-Mations UK season in November 1990. “We wanted other people who work here to direct, rather than just David and I, which was the historical situation. We wanted Nick Park and Richard Goleszowski to make one each. Barry Purves was doing a lot of freelance work for us at that time, and we wanted him to make one, because he is a very good animator. Effectively, they were given their head. There was a plan at one stage to make the series much more coherent, working to the same theme but somehow that got lost along the way, and everyone did pretty well what they wanted. It was our project so we took a great interest in it, but we didn’t actually seek to influence them very much. I am very pleased with it because of that, and see it as a great virtue, now.”
Peter’s contribution was a view of life in and out of prison seen through the eyes of a young offender. It is based on a real-life taped interview. The animation is smooth and realistic although watching a plasticine figure acting in a realistic way makes the words even more poignant then if the actual person had been filmed.