A range of blockbuster animals with celebrity voices have taken the likes of Disney and Pixar to the top of the animation industry, but are the British finally fighting back? BAFTA and Oscar Award winning Wallace and Gromit producer, Peter Lord, talks about “hollow-hearted American’s”, Brit-flick popularity and how he has become one of the world’s most recognised animators.
On a night that’s predecessors had seen Hollywood’s elite burble thanks over tears, a night where you’re a nobody if you’re not wearing somebody and camera flashes fill the air, a mini-revolution was about to be commended.
At the 2006 Oscars, George Clooney had just made his annual trip to the stage and Crash was about to be named ‘Best Picture’ over rival film Brokeback Mountain.
Gold statues, red carpets, black tuxedos, guest presenters like Will Smith and Hillary Swank, it seemed like a usual Oscar night until the ‘Best Feature Animation’ category.
Against a backdrop of nerves the nominees were announced and something truly amazing had happened, a Disney film was not mentioned and a British-made film about a loveable dog and his cheese enthusiast owner won.
Wallace And Gromit: The Curse Of The Ware-Rabbit scooped an Oscar to add to the already crowded mantelpiece of BAFTA’s and academy awards at Aardman Animation.
Nick Park and Steve Box marched to the stage in matching, oversized dickey-bow ties and matching over-sized smiles to make a proud acceptance speech ending with the heartfelt words:
“Somebody once said if you make a bad film, you make it alone. If you make a great film, everybody made it with you. We all made it together, guys.”
Aardman Animation started with two Bristol students studying animation, Dave Sproxton and Peter Lord.
Long-haired Lord scrupulously began sculpting clay through his thick lenses, dreaming up new characters and ideas to take the stop-motion animation genre to the next level.
With the addition of Nick Park to the companies melting pot, Aardman Animation’s signature stop-motion animation films began to take off.
The idea of stop-motion animation may look good on the big screen but on average one weeks work sculpting and filming clay makes up around five seconds of footage, but Lord believes that this is not such a bad thing:
“One nice thing about feature films is it takes so long to make, so it lets characters evolve. You have years to demise the characters, you have a lot of time to create a character that is well rounded.”
Lords squeaky, enthusiastic voice continued, “you put your faith in your lead characters, hero’s and villains”
This has of course been reflected in such lovable characters as Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run’s noble Rocky, played by Mel Gibson.
Just a year before Lord and Aardman’s Oscar success, in 2005, it was announced that one third of all films watched in Britain were made there, a sure sign that times were changing in the film industry.
We are slowly beginning to buy British, but Lord thinks this change was inevitable with films being made in America getting less adventurous.
“We’re making better films I guess, but the battle with America is ongoing and it seems to me that American films are getting more boring.”
Stylish Brit-flicks like Snatch, Layer Cake and Trainspotting have become competitors against the huge blockbuster films like King-Kong that have come out of America in the last few years, despite their more modest budgets.
But in animation terms, Lord found himself hugely frustrated by the “hollow-hearted American animation directors” at companies like Disney and Pixar.
“I found myself looking at American animation films thinking, that’s a stupid film and it made a lot of money, ours is a very good film and didn’t do so well.”
A huge sigh echoed from Lords beard as he began to further dissect the American Animation industry:
“Their animation films are the same as their blockbusters, they have huge budgets, but it’s missing heart though, and made by bloody machines.”
But American animation’s machines seem to pack cinemas, with companies like Pixar, whose 2005 feature film Finding Nemo was named as one of the most successful animated films ever made.
Lord and Aardamn Animations are not letting go without a fight though. The team have just finished filming Flushed Away, the story of a rat that is flushed down the toilet of his penthouse in London where he has to adapt to life as a sewer rat, but Lord had even bigger plans for the future.
“I want us as a company to make films that don’t appeal to the family audience, maybe appeal to teens and young adults.”
To date there has not been as much emphasis on animation films for an older audience, but it seems that Aardman Animations may be thinking of finally maturing its films.
“Wouldn’t it be great to see more range [in animation]… I would never think of doing a serious film, but I like the idea of us using cleverer, subtler humour instead of just the crowd pleasing family humour.”
Lord could not release the various secrets of films that are being considered behind the closed doors at Aardman, but seems sure that the future is all about change for Lord, animation and the British film industry.