3d & animation

Peter Lord, Creator of Aardman Animations, Shares His Unique Wisdom

Peter Lord shares his insight and stories of UK-based Aardman Animations, in this Domestika Maestros

In the sixties, two British school friends turned university students decided to try their hand at animation. They wanted something to keep them entertained, and to experiment with a new hobby. But what began as a way of passing the time, went on to be a multinational, award-winning animation company, with cult character creations such as Morph, Shaun The Sheep, and Wallace and Gromit captivating audiences along the way.

This is the story of one half of the duo, Peter Lord, who along with his old school friend, David Sproxton, has become a national treasure in the UK, and one of the most successful animators of all time.

“We were asked to make a comedy sidekick”

Morph was the character who initially won recognition for Peter Lord in the world of stop-motion animation. This squeaking, orange, plasticine character with a simple build and features, was created for a British children’s art show in the seventies, Take Hart.

The producers had asked for a mischievous sidekick for the show to work alongside the presenter, Tony Hart. Morph was a huge hit and served as Aardman’s blueprint-style for all of their characters that followed. Although a solo act, his big personality and well-played comedy timing is something that all of their animations have included since, and it’s impossible not to smile when you watch them.

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Peter making Morph.

“Opening up what we do proved to be absolutely crucial”

As their success grew, Peter and David appreciated the importance of their team growing with it. In 1983, Richard Starzack joined Peter and David as Aardman’s first full-time employee, joined shortly after by Nick Parks, in 1985.

Both Richard and Nick have had huge success with their work at Aardman, which has included Creature Comforts, Wallace and Gromit, and Shaun The Sheep. As the studios expanded and Hollywood beckoned, Peter’s role adapted and progressed into managing bigger animation teams. He says “If you take films like Pirates, or Wallace and Gromit: Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, each film has a lead, and that lead might be executed by 30 different people, but still needs to look like one character. So, my job was to get the best out of new people, but also to corral them in because it needed to look the same, and like one character. That’s one of the fantastic achievements of what the studio does here.”

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Sketch of Chicken Run.
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Shaun the Sheep as a Genie.

“I would use the word ‘Magic’”

To be a stop-motion animator means hours of painstakingly patient work, slowly moving the models fraction-by-fraction, just to get a few seconds of animation. Peter’s passion keeps him hooked from the very first idea to creating the characters, naming them, deciding what they will do in the story, and finally making them move, talk, and react to their world around them.

He says “as an animator, you are a god – you make the world, populate it, and bring it to life.” But he also identifies what pulls audiences in: “I would use the word ‘Magic’ - you put on screen something which the audience knows is a puppet or a doll, and they know it’s alive at the same time; and that’s magic.”

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Peter and David's early 'Aardman' animation.

“My legacy is the studio”

Despite making it to Hollywood, winning multiple awards, and worldwide recognition (not forgetting the CBE too, of course), Peter remains incredibly humble.

The studio is still located in Bristol, UK, where it first started out, and Peter describes it as the thing he’s most proud of in his career. In the main reception of the Aardman studio is a sign that reads ‘Our Aardman’, and in 2018, Aardman studios was opened up to an employee ownership scheme. This not only created a powerful work culture at the studio, but also stopped the risk of Aardman Animations ever being sold to Hollywood, and any of its creativity being compromised.

He says, “I'm occasionally asked to define what it is that’s distinctive about the way we animate, or more generally the way we make films. I think the very fact that it’s British is defining - almost all of the animation you see in films or TV is not British." Remaining true to this defining style has paid off for Aardman, and with current projects including the sequel to the highest-grossing stop-motion animation film of all time, Chicken Run, their success, as always, seems limitless.

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Wallace's mouths in the Aardman Animation workshop.

Peter's Tips on How To Become A Better Creative

1. Peter found huge success in welcoming other creatives into Aardman Animations. Although being open to other creative input can sometimes feel tricky, and your work may feel – as Peter puts it – “like your baby”, it can open up the development of your ideas which in turn could become bigger and better.

2. A master of animation, Peter says that the craft itself is like playing an instrument, and that practice is a vital way of improving. “It used to be very difficult, but now because of digital technology, anyone with a phone can practice animation... I keep expecting, one day, to see the person that’s been practicing every day since they were six, and they come out of college and they’re really, really good.” So, Domestika community, the challenge to practice is on...

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Morph models in Peter's office.
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