Animated flick gives shipshape new look to cartoon craft of yore
- Last Updated: 1:27 AM, April 29, 2012
- Posted: 10:17 PM, April 28, 2012
Leave the computers to Pixar and the others. England’s Aardman Studios still prefers to create animation the old-fashioned way, using a technology that was originally all the rage — in 1916.
Claymation is a meticulous and time-consuming process. A team of skilled animators can produce just four seconds of film per week, but Aardman co-founder Peter Lord says it’s worth it and creates better results than any supercomputer.
“Words like humanity, warmth and charm come up,” he says. “We won’t give up as long as someone will pay to see our movies.”
The studio’s latest, directed by Lord, is “The Pirates! Band of Misfits,” a swashbuckling tale of an inept captain (Hugh Grant) who sets out to win the coveted Pirate of the Year award by plundering the most booty (not the Kardashian kind). Along the way, he gets caught up in a plot by Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin to land a rare dodo bird.
The movie was created by manipulating clay puppets one frame at a time to create the illusion of motion.
One particular scene involving a gathering of pirates at a watering hole took multiple animators about 18 months to finish.
“That scene had six to 10 people in the background in every shot, and that was a big deal,” Lord says. “At the beginning of production, we had all the scenes pinned up to the wall on cards, and we said, ‘Which are the easy scenes?’ Uh, there aren’t any easy scenes. There’s always something, whether it’s crowds, [an avalanche of] gold coins, whales flying. It’s always something.”
Because the process is so slow, up to 20 scenes are shot simultaneously on different miniature sets.
One development that made the animation easier since the days of the studio’s Oscar-winning “Wallace and Gromit” shorts was a new mouth-replacement system. The animators used a 3-D printer to create resin sculptures of each character’s mouth making dozens of shapes. Some 7,000 were printed and then popped on the characters’ faces to form words and convey emotion. In the past, the animator had to remold a mouth by hand for every single shot.
Even with technological help, the results are still slightly imperfect. Which is just fine by Lord, as he thinks that’s what gives claymation its charm. Grant agrees.
“They have that strange, old-fashioned way of doing animation,” he says. “It has a homespun feel to it that’s a bit more human than computerized animation.”
Claymation is also cheaper than CG. “Pirates!” reportedly had a budget of $60 million, likely making it the most expensive stop-motion film in history — though still dwarfed by Pixar’s $200-million productions.
You can buy a lot of booty for that.