Aardman Animations is a British animation studio based in Bristol that is known for creating stop-motion clay (plasticine) films.
After graduating from college, Bristol-born aspiring filmmaker Peter Lord and animator David Sproxton founded Aardman in 1972 with the dream of making a motion picture.
They got by animating sequences for BBC television series such as Vision On and Animated Conversations, a show with a similar concept to Creature Comforts, the future Aardman series featuring speaking animals lip-synched with the audio from real interview subjects.
They had a new level of success when they animated Peter Gabriel’s famous music video for the song “Sledgehammer.”
Plus, it was around this time that Aardman had its first real star, Morph, who was in his embryonic stages in the early 1970s before making his official appearance on the 1977 art-themed children’s show Take Hart with artist Tony Hart, with whom Morph would regularly interact.
The magical Morph has appeared sporadically on British television throughout the decades, including in his own show in the eighties, and in a new children’s show, SMart, which aired from 1994 to 2009.
Peter Lord even ran a successful Kickstarter campaign to resurrect the well-loved character in 12 new one-minute episodes, and thanks to fans, Lord and Aardman ended up making 15, the first of which premiered on Youtube in 2014. Morph’s popularity remains to this day.
Aardman also started out producing shorts for Channel 4, the most popular of which was the Conversation Pieces series, which was a more sophisticated version of the previously mentioned Animated Conversations.
Nick Park got his start at Aardman animating for these shorts before he created the studio’s most popular characters Wallace and Gromit for the 1989 featurette A Grand Day Out, which was nominated for an Oscar but lost to another Aardman film, which came out the same year and was amazingly ALSO directed by Nick Park, Creature Comforts.
Of course, Wallace and Gromit had the bigger impact. Wallace the cheese-loving inventor and Gromit the silent but intelligent canine assistant were the stars of several more films which would go on to win Oscars, including the comic masterpiece The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995), and The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), which was the first feature-length film starring the characters.
Aardman teamed up with DreamWorks in 1997 to co-finance and distribute Aardman’s first feature film Chicken Run (2000), as well as The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and the studio’s first CG feature Flushed Away (2006).
Right before Flushed Away was released, Aardman and DreamWorks went their seperate ways citing creative differences.
Fun Fact: The idea for The Croods started with Aardman, but after the split, the rights reverted back to DreamWorks, but that didn’t stop Aardman from creating their own caveman film, Early Man, 12 years later.
2007 was the year the studio made a successful Wallace and Gromit spin-off starring the sheep from A Close Shave called Shaun the Sheep, which would go on to spawn a 2015 feature film.
2007 was also the year Aardman signed a new distribution deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment, with whom they made Arthur Christmas (2011) and The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (The Pirates! Band of Misfits internationally).
From Shaun the Sheep Movie onward, the studio’s films would be distributed by StudioCanal.
Aardman is the most successful stop-motion animation studio in the world, with a fandom that includes Terry Gilliam, Hayao Miyazaki, John Lasseter, and Matt Groening, and they have a track record for brilliant films that rivals Pixar. It’s worth noting that even as a child I recognized how great Aardman was. The Wrong Trousers remains one of my favorite films of all time, and that includes feature films like Star Wars and The Lion King. It was the first film that made me take stop-motion seriously and hold it in the same regard as cel animation, something Gumby and the California Raisins could not do.
By the way, you may be wondering about the origin of the name of this studio. Turns out “Aardman” was the name of an early 1972 superhero character from BBC’s Vision On, one of the studio’s first creations, but here’s the twist you didn’t see coming: he was cel-animated.