Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

AUTEUR SPOTLIGHT | Aardman Animations

Ginger and Rocky of “Chicken Run” fame and the eponymous Shaun the Sheep and Wallace and Gromit represent the pinnacle of claymation achievement. All created from scratch by British animation studio Aardman Animations, these characters have populated the imaginations of diehard fans and mainstream audiences alike since the studio was founded in 1972. To this day, Aardman’s creative independence, exquisite craftsmanship and original storytelling set the studio apart from others who have tried to replicate their success. Their achievements in popularizing animation as a genre and creating a wholesome universe of characters — one which multiple generations love — cannot be understated.

Aardman’s original founders, Peter Lord and David Sproxton, envisioned producing a formidable slate of animated features and shorts that no independent animation studio had been able to produce before. However, they had to overcome humble beginnings to realize their ambitious vision. 

To start, the studio focused on providing animation services to British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) shows. Through several years of this arrangement, Lord and Sproxton were able to build a strong enough relationship with their BBC collaborators to the point where the BBC afforded them the creative freedom to pursue independent projects under the Aardman label. 

Some of their earliest works during this period include “Animated Conversations: Down and Out,” a 1979 release about a homeless elderly man who tries to figure out the workings of a social security office, and “Confessions of a Foyer Girl,” a 1978 release about a foyer girl who reflects on her life experiences. 

As the studio gained more traction, it also started creating the characters for which it would become most famous later on. In 1989, Aardman completed “A Grand Day Out” under the direction of Nick Park, who had been a new addition to the team just a few years earlier. The short introduced Wallace, an inventive but absent-minded tinkerer, and his companion Gromit, an intelligent and resourceful dog. Well-received, especially by animation critics, it would be Aardman’s first of many nominations at the Academy Awards. 

The same year, the studio also released “Creature Comforts,” a comedic mockumentary that featured recordings from real people talking about their homes synced up with claymation zoo animals. This was also nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the Academy Awards, with “Creature Comforts” eventually winning over  “A Grand Day Out.” 

In between these two hits and the next “Wallace & Gromit” film, Aardman churned out a number of other hidden gems. Though they never received as much fanfare as some of their fellow productions, three of their films — “Rex the Runt: How Dinosaurs Became Extinct,” a 1991 stop-motion television show about an irritable but humorous plasticine dog; “Adam,” a 1992 parody of the original Biblical creation story; and “Not Without My Handbag,” a 1993 animated short about a recently deceased elderly woman who forgot to bring a proper handbag to hell — certainly deserve at least a watch. 

“Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers” in 1993 and “Wallace & Gromit: A Close Shave” in 1995 represented the studio’s triumphant return to the affable characters. Both shorts netted Academy Awards, elevating Aardman to a whole new level of success. Audiences appreciated Aardman’s commitment to telling simple but heartfelt, thoughtful stories — and loved the films. 

By the turn of the century, the studio had amassed an extremely impressive filmography, with critics and audiences around the world coming to revere it. However, their best was yet to come. “Chicken Run” in 2000 made animation history, becoming the highest-grossing stop-motion feature film of all time. The jailbreak story of hens stuck on a farm is action-packed and whimsical, grabbing audience members’ attention.  That its 2023 sequel “Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget” still garnered audience fanfare when Aardman released it over two decades later is a testament to how timeless the studio’s stories have become.

The feature film treatment of Wallace and Gromit — “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit” — followed in 2005. More recently, the studio has begun to mix its traditional claymation techniques with new technologies such as CGI animation. Aardman’s most recent franchise, “Shaun the Sheep,” brings a minor but lovable “Wallace & Gromit” character to the forefront in a series of 20-minute shorts. Expanding the franchise with “Shaun the Sheep: The Movie” in 2015 and “A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon” in 2020 represents Aardman’s constant work to balance incorporating the old but also embracing the new. No matter where Aardman may head in the future, this much is true: It has a timeless foundation to build off of and the potential to win over a new generation of fans.

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