CAMPAIGN CRAFT: PROFILE - How top animator invents his ’national treasures’. Aardman’s founder Peter Lord still enjoys a creative buzz, Richard Cook writes

There’s something of that glorious, plucky, against-all-odds tradition about Peter Lord. And there was certainly something of the heroic British amateur about his very first brush with the world of animation.

There’s something of that glorious, plucky, against-all-odds

tradition about Peter Lord. And there was certainly something of the

heroic British amateur about his very first brush with the world of


Not for him was the route into this competitive world made via the long,

tortuous and scholarly study of, say, airbrushed acetate at Walt Disney

or anthropomorphic articulation at Hanna Barbera. For Lord, the

beginning was rather more straightforward.

He and his mate, Dave Sproxton, were 12-year-old, like-minded grammar

school pals in Woking. Their only unusual advantage was that Dave’s dad

was a professional photographer who also owned a cine camera. But in the

event it was Dave’s dad’s kitchen table that was just as important,

because that served as the none-too-elaborate mise-en-scene for the

pair’s very first animated feature.

It was the product of a bored, rainy, day - a chalk man getting up to

all sorts of mischief - and each frame was painstakingly drawn and shot,

then rubbed out and the whole process repeated. As cutting-edge

animation technology goes, this was pretty much prehistoric. But it was

a start.

A start that led the pair to found Aardman Animations, which is now the

most successful set-up of its kind in Europe, a company that has been

six times nominated for Hollywood Oscars and which has also been

responsible for some of the finest ads to appear on British


For all the creative garlands that have attended Aardman over the years

for its own film and TV work - from Morph, the TV character that graced

Tony Hart’s TV series, to the national treasure that is Wallace and

Gromit - advertising has been critical to the company’s development. And

not just for the traditional reason that its fat fees have enabled Lord

to subsidise his short films and poorer paying ventures.

’One of the great things about our involvement with advertising over the

years has been the creative challenge,’ Aardman’s joint founder, Peter

Lord, says. ’Ad agencies have tended to ask us to solve problems that I

would not have dreamed of tackling if simply left to my own devices.

I remember, for instance, about ten years ago, popping in to see an ad

agency in Soho and them saying simply ’we need marmalade’.

So we had to try to animate marmalade, which sounds pretty hard and is

even more difficult than it sounds. The ad itself never worked out for

one reason or another, but it was still a great challenge.

’And it was the same with the Lurpak butter man. GGT had the idea and

the script and everything, and they were convinced that the character

should melt. Our toughest job was to find out how that happened. So I

ended up watching portion after portion of butter melting - it’s a

really complicated process and all this stuff is going on with the

consistency of the butter, which seems to melt at different times. Then

we had to try to recreate that, which was fun and a terrific creative


In ads, as elsewhere, animation has moved on. With the widespread use of

digital technologies that allow the almost limitless manipulation of

images, people are less impressed by straightforward craft techniques,

while the traditional storytelling virtues of characterisation, plot and

humour have become more and more important.

Lord is a keen supporter of this change. ’I think it’s fair to say that

animators have moved on from being the conjurer doing a trick that was

designed simply to fool the audience. It has become a much more mature

industry. But, for all the splendour of computer animation, what it has

really done is focus attention back on performance in a way that the

best animation has always done.’

’If I see an ad - to pick one I like that is nothing to do with us -

like Peperami, I don’t think there is anything particularly innovative

about the animation itself, they haven’t broken any new ground, but I

think it’s a great ad because there is a fantastic performance, and it’s

really well directed. But then I think that’s what was so special about

the ’creature comforts’ ads that Nick Park did here. The best animation

has never been just a technical challenge, it’s been about getting the

voices right, the timing, the intonation - in short, it’s about creating

effective characters. And that’s the case much more so now than


The technical challenge still interests Lord, though. Together with the

author, Brian Sibley, he has just published Cracking Animation, which

tells the story of the Aardman studio and provides a guide to making

your own 3D animated film.

Lord’s favourite ad was for Disco crisps: ’The creative team at Lowe

Howard-Spink came up with the whole idea - they wanted a pair of legs

tangoing around a ballroom - and produced a very well- thought-out

graphic style, mocked up with complicated storyboards. But they needed

me to make it work in 3D. So I went off and learned how to tango and

eventually worked out the models and how they could move. It wasn’t even

my idea, but it was a fantastic creative challenge and I was really

pleased with the results.

And that’s largely why animation has been such a great experience.’


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