Post Script: Aardman's art of stop-motion
Issue: February 1, 2012

Post Script: Aardman's art of stop-motion

Director Peter Lord, founder of the UK-based, Oscar-winning Aardman Animations, was in NYC recently to promote his latest film for Sony, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, which stars the voice talents of Hugh Grant, and Jeremy Piven. The stop-motion animated film was adapted from a book by Gideon Defoe and follows a band of pirates out to prove their worth. The mission is a humorous one considering a track record that includes unsuccessfully trying to loot from ships full of children, lepers and nudists. Still, The Pirate Captain (yes, that’s his name) feels pressure to prove to peers Black Bellamy and Cutlass Liz that he’s not the joke they make him out to be, and with the right booty, he could take home the coveted “Pirate of the Year” Award.

Lord says the project marked a “sweet and steady” five-year journey, with much backup and support from Sony. “These days, there is computer animation all over the place. The fact that we did it this way was delightful.”

The film’s 80 characters are all puppets, but because they’re not CG doesn’t mean they aren’t complex. The Pirate Captain, for example, contains as many as 200 components, created by experts working in resin, fabric and other materials. Rapid prototyping allowed for the creation of different mouths that could be used across a range of characters. The sets were also elaborate and numbered upwards of 250. 

Stop-motion animation was captured one frame at a time using high-end Canon DSLR cameras. At the height of production, as many as 40 units were working simultaneously. The footage would later be combined with backgrounds and animation, such as the water, in post. So what tools does Aardman use? Slightly embarrassed, Lord says he wasn’t quite sure. He’s learned over the years to surround himself with a great team and rely on their expertise.

“I knew my DP would deliver a great camera move, and that the animators would do a better job than I could dream of, and that the 3D would work. Just surround yourself with great people. That’s my top tip.”