“I set it in a maze to make it claustrophobic. He eventually gets out of the maze through a window. I worked with two professional comics on the soundtrack. The sequence in the pub was a bit of their act. I wanted them to expand that to five minutes but it has taken them years to refine that bit.”
Another commercial being shot at the studio was for a French potato crisp. The set was a life size veranda overlooking a jungle which could be somewhere in India, Africa or the Far East. It was kept deliberately vague because it had to appear in commercials for three flavours of crisp representing different exotic tastes. In the foreground was a cane table on which the action would take place. An animated glove would enter and try to take a crisp, only to be stopped by a flight of arrows. The glove was held in position by nylon thread and was being animated by Nick Park who made the Oscar winning Creature Comforts.
As the action takes place a 35mm camera tracks along the table following the glove. The camera is controlled by a computer system which moves the camera in frame sized chunks. It can be programmed to zoom, focus, tilt, pan, crane and track all at the same time or in any combination. The motors, gears and drives that move the camera were built by Aardman staff but the computer control was supplied by a specialist electronics firm. These systems can cost up to £18,000. They also make a less complex version for rostrum cameras.
The commercial opens with the fingers looking out from behind a statue on the table. The glove creeps up to the crisp packet, in actual fact the packet is left out of the shot and added with Harry during editing. This allows the use of one piece of animation for the three flavours. Just as the glove reaches out for a crisp three arrows land between its fingers. The arrows are animated by Go Motion. Two types of arrow are used. A long arrow is dropped down a wire during a one second exposure to give it a blur. This is substituted with a shorter arrow for the rest of the shot. The motor on the camera shutter can be made to give an audible signal when the shutter opens and the animator just drops the arrow. The arrows rock to and fro a few times when they stick in the table. They have their tips cut off and are held on soft wire so they can be animated as required.
Aardman Animations have come a long way since a small plasticine man appeared on a TV show for aspiring young artists. Peter Lord and David Sproxton have unselfishly encouraged new talent whilst taking their own mastery of plasticine animation to ever increasing heights of sophistication and levels of entertainment value.
Printed in Animator Issue 28 (Autumn 1991)