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WORKING FOR AARDMAN ANIMATIONS #5 - NEW TRAILER, PRESS TOURS AND BEHIND THE SCENES!
2011-11-04 13:01:43 by Neo-Egyptian
Hello Newgrounds! It's time for the obligatory intro - as most of you know, I've been lucky enough to work for Aardman Animations on their latest feature film for the last year, and have been making sporadic updates about it on NG. Sadly, today's update is probably going to be one of the last as production on the film ends in about three weeks - I'm contracted until mid-December so I might talk about what's going on then, but we shall see! In the meantime:
After a year working on the film I can finally show you something substantial, because the proper trailer has been released! Forgive the awful pirate-related pun, but this trailer completely blows the old one out of the water (eurgh) as you actually see more of what the film is about and get a bit of a feel for the characters. There are still a lot of things not covered, but I think they've done a really good job getting the tone and humour of the film across in a few minutes. I hope you like it, the film itself will be available in March 2012. For you guys that is, because I have access to the Aardman database and can watch the entire thing right now! (cue evil laugh)
As the film nears completion we've had an increasingly large number of film crews and journalists milling around the studio, generally slowing everything down and getting in the way. Just kidding! Sort of. Anyway, it's given everything a sense of urgency in that we've been doing this film ourselves for a few years in a very secretive manner and now we suddenly have people with cameras running around taking 'behind the scenes' footage for various publications and websites. It's definitely pretty cool, but it also makes me realise that holy crap we're actually making a film and we've only got three weeks left! I've decided to feature the best of the press below:
The Guardian article
This excellent article has currently been doing the rounds in the studio and is well worth a look, it's written well and gives a very good look at what we've been up to. I particularly like the photo of Loyd on set, as it gives a great sense of scale - I've also walked on that bit of set when we were setting it up, and you feel like some sort of crap Godzilla knock-off. Good times! I also like how (Aardman co-founder) Pete Lord mentions the bad old days when knocking the camera or having something wilt in the background would be an absolute disaster. Neither of those things are good news now, but we have much better technology to deal with it!
In fact, the progression of technology has really played a massive part in this film being made. We've used a lot of CG work on small-scale things (like removing rigs and wires) and on much bigger things (like adding the sea) which would have been practically impossible back in the days of the first Wallace and Gromit movies. We've also got an amazing new system to create the mouths for each character (more on this later!) using what are effectively 3D printers, again using technology that didn't exist until recently. Personally, I think this is fantastic as it gives the animators much more scope to work with and it's great to see classic stop-motion animation mixed seamlessly with modern CG animation and brand-new technology.
The Swedish film crew
We had these guys in last month to film some stuff for a Swedish show called Kobra, and while the video is a little odd (it features stuff from a Swedish animation group that is frankly a bit crap) there's some really good 'behind the scenes' stuff about our film. There are also a few interviews with some of the animators and footage of the model making department, so it's well worth a watch.
Speaking of the press, a huge group of people in suits has literally walked into the production office as I'm typing this and they're looking around at everything, I think they're from Sony and the BBC. It occurs to me that I'm starting to find this sort of thing pretty ordinary, when I should really be thinking 'holy crap!'.
Pete Lord's Empire blogs
Empire occasionally features a guest blog where someone in the industry writes for them, and Pete Lord - Aardman's co-founder and the director on Pirates! - has written two, which you can see above. The first is pretty old (it was written in July) but is a good read, focusing on how the film got made in the first place and how long it's taken. The second, written a few weeks ago, goes into more detail about the animators and the sets. If you've been following my NG blog for a while there won't be anything particularly new here, but there are some great photos and Pete writes in an entertainingly enthusiastic style. He also makes the interesting point that when you watch the film, each character acts consistently throughout and yet they've been animated by a whole group of different people. This says a lot about how talented our animators are!
Side note: remember the press guys I mentioned earlier? We treat them pretty well and they get a lot of fancy food when they're watching scenes from the film up in the viewing theatre. The best part of this is that they never eat anything and we bring all the food down to the office when they're done, meaning I'm now sitting at my desk writing this while eating an interesting combination of olives, cookies and Green and Black's chocolate. Result!
It's not just the press that have been running around with cameras recently, as we've had our own team filming stuff and interviewing people for the inevitable DVD and Blu-ray extras. This has been a little odd to witness, because I'm so used to watching these sorts of extras that I've never really given much thought to how or when they're made during a film. The answer, it turns out, is right at the end when nobody has any time! They actually interviewed the production manager in the office while everyone was still running around working behind him - I think I'm in the background at one point, pretending to have a serious question for someone when in reality I'm blatantly trying to get in shot!
One thing I find a bit odd about the interviews is that I now know all the crew really well, and it's more like your mates doing these interviews rather than industry professionals. That's not to discredit them in any way - they are, afterall, at the top of their game - but it's weird that I have a habit of watching DVD extras for films I enjoy and I sort of put the important crew-members on a pedestal, rather than just seeing them as regular people with film-related talents. When watching these things, it's important to remember that the people you see are only human - however cheery they come across or however often they describe serious problems as 'exciting challenges', these people have constant issues to deal with and are often under a huge amount of pressure. Making a film is great fun, but it's also hard!
Other than the interviews and on-set stuff, there are going to be some animation-related things which I literally can't say anything about or else they'll fire me and possibly murder me. Ok, I'm maybe being a tad dramatic but you get the point - you'll have to wait and see!
Talking about all the 'behind the scenes' stuff has got me thinking about a few departments I've neglected to talk about much in previous updates. Rather than bang on about the animators as usual, today I'm going to focus on our impressive model and prop making teams and how they go about creating stuff. Without much further ado:
One common (albeit understandable) misconception is that we still make everything out of Plasticine, when in reality we use a whole range of materials. In fact, we barely use any modelling clay at all! Let's use our protagonist, the Pirate Captain, as an example - each puppet made of him (there are about thirty) is sculpted over a steel armature with ball-and-socket joints, so each puppet will retain its internal structure when you position it. The Captain's pirate hat is made of Fast Cast resin, the flappy bits (hair, coat and trousers) are made of foam latex, his eyes are resin, and his boots and belt buckle are silicone. In fact only the eyebrows (which are hugely important when getting characters to emote) are made of modelling clay, and that's about it!
Probably the most complex part of each character is the mouth. I've touched on this in previous updates, so I'll go over this again briefly - each character has a series of resin mouths in a variety of different positions, and they can be easily switched out depending on the character's dialogue. While at first this might sound a little imprecise, in reality some of the main characters have over 200 different mouths(!) that can be used for just about any sound or expression we want them to appear to be making. This also saves the animators a huge amount of time as they no longer need to spend hours sculpting each and every mouth out of Plasticine - good stuff!
How they actually make the mouths is a pretty complex process - we have a whole team called RP (rapid prototyping) where these mouths are literally printed on to resin (a set of a few mouths takes about six hours to 'print') and are then sanded down and painted. It's sort of like a CAD/CAM system crossed with one of those 'build your own airplane' plastic kits you might have seen when you were a kid, only on an enormous scale and much, much more expensive. When all the mouths are produced for a character (along with numbers for each mouth position) the girls up in the RP library catalogue everything for easy access - this way, the lip-sync animators can request certain mouth positions by just giving numbers for each character. Simple! Well ok, not simple at all, but it works!
In case you were wondering who actually makes all this stuff, we have a lot of different teams - the model makers do all the character-related stuff (hands, eyes, clothes, sculpting of puppets), the RP guys create, sand and paint all the resin mouths, and the prop makers do all the props (duh!). Sadly we've now lost most of these teams as production on the film has almost finished, so we don't need a lot of new stuff to be made - sad times! Still, without their talents the film wouldn't look anywhere near as good as it does, so hats off to the lot of them.
Making props (is hard)
Going back to the prop makers, I can't even begin to explain the range of stuff they've made over the last couple of years. Try and think of just about anything you might need in a film to dress a set - weapons, fruit and veg, bottles and glasses, vehicles, whatever - and they've made it, only in miniature and in painstakingly accurate detail. I'm not suggesting that dressing sets and getting props on a regular film isn't a difficult task (it is!) but what they do here is something else entirely.
As a prime example of the above, in one scene a character blows into a hot water bottle until it explodes. This may sound simple, but in reality it's a logistical nightmare because of course how do you accurately animate something expanding that's made out of Plasticine and then have it burst realistically? The answer is pretty clever, and also ridiculous - the prop makers created a new, solid model of the bottle in each stage of it being expanded and then bursting, so the animator just had to switch between models as the shot went on. It ended up looking fluid and really nice on film, but I'm not sure how many people watching will appreciate the effort that went into a two-second shot!
And that, in essence, captures what makes Aardman in general pretty awesome - when you watch the film, literally every single thing you see in every shot has been hand-made by someone who really cares about their craft. The level of detail is frankly astonishing, and it goes beyond the props and models - make sure to really pay attention during the tavern scene, for example, as there is a whole cast of background characters all doing their own thing. For a live-action film you'd just get some extras to sit about and pretend to have a chat, but of course in this kind of film the animator has had to think about what everyone is doing and actually animate them, no matter how unimportant they are. While this is going to come across like a blatant plug, if you have even the slightest interest in animation then I highly recommend seeing the film twice when it comes out, as there is simply too much going on to really appreciate everything in one viewing.
If any of you reading this are fans of Aardman (this seems probable) then you're probably aware we've actually had a second film in production this whole time, called Arthur Christmas. If you're wondering why I haven't talked about it, the reason is that I have absolutely nothing to do with it - all the work on that film has happened at our sister site in the centre of Bristol, and then continued in America. From what I've seen it looks charming and very funny, although given it's all computer generated it looks a world apart from all our stop-motion stuff.
Anyway, the reason I mention Arthur Christmas is because I've been invited to an early screening of the film this Saturday, a couple of weeks before it gets released! Pretty swish. I'll probably post a mini-review of it or something in the future so look out for that if you're undecided on seeing it.
I'm going off on a bit of a tangent here, but we had the annual Aardman Halloween party last week and it was absolutely mental - these guys spend every single day designing sets and building models and props, so you can probably imagine the amount of effort they put into fancy dress costumes. For one thing, nearly the entire art department came as the flying monkeys from The Wizard of Oz! Some of the best costumes included a surprisingly accurate Frankestein's Monster, a girl who went as that victim from Saw 2 with the venus fly trap thing on their head, zombie Spiderman, and a guy with an open zip on his face that pulled his skin apart. I wish I could put more than one photo up, but at the bottom of the post you can see me (having been attacked by a werewolf) and Josh, the zip guy!
That's about it for today's update! I'll try and get another one in before everything finishes, but if not, thanks for reading! As ever, if you guys want to know about anything specific or if you just have some general questions, leave a comment and I'll do my best to answer. See you next time!