Interview with Peter Lord, founder of Aardman Animations
During the last Annecy International Animated Film Festival, we had the incredible opportunity to interview Peter Lord, brilliant founder of Aardman Animations, the authors of Morph, Wallace & Gromit and many other stop-motion classics. Enjoy!
Animac Magazine: You founded Aardman 40 years ago alongside David Sproxton. How would you say it has evolved through these four decades?
Peter Lord: [laughs] Well... In every way! Obviously, it started with two people, two YOUNG people, and we did what was possible. Which, in those days, was small films for children. Then we evolved - slowly, steadily. We didn't have a revolution, we had an evolution, I think that's fair to say. We employed one person, then two people, and then six, then twenty, then a hundred... but it was quite steady, and we adapted to the times. So now, it's a very big, 200-people company, and we do feature films, digital work, TV advertising, licensing, marketing, exhibitions, some small theme parks... We've evolved, we do different things, and that's the way we work, because I guess that's the way the economy works, by having many sources of income. Creatively it's good too, because we have many different people with different skills. Not everyone is a director or an animator, there are people who are great at graphic art, or at marketing... We try to find all of that.
Animac Magazine: Special Delivery is not your first Christmas-focused film, yet it does feel wholly original. How do you tackle each project to set it apart from the rest?
Peter Lord: The simple answer is it depends on the director. We believe in our directors, we have a lot of faith in them - and for me, the perfect project is one where the director has a strong vision and we follow that vision. If you follow that, you get different films. Nick Park will always make a Nick Park film. Special Delivery was my idea, but I knew I wouldn't have time to direct it, so I went to Tim Ruffle and we agreed together that he'd handle it. I loved the project, so I stayed involved through the whole film, and even though Tim was the director, I tried to influence him a bit as a creative director [laughs]
Animac Magazine: It's also Aardman's first VR short, so we were wondering about the key differences in its approach compared to stop-motion.
Peter Lord: The first thing was, we decided to do it in 3D. It could technically be done it stop-motion, and I'd actually really like to do that as my next project, but because this was a whole new area for us, we didn't want to have to be inventing new technology as well. The story was not so easy to make. It's easy to write something, but this was a storyboard for VR. In our story, there are two main characters, so we had to do two lines of storyboard, one for each character - usually separate, but they'd would cross over when they physically met. That was still quite easy, but finally placing the characters in 3D space was rather difficult. It was full of challenges - if you're not directing the camera but the viewer does, which is the entire point of VR. it's really hard to do an animatic. You still do it, you try your best, you animate it, render it... And only then can you understand what you've done! I think not being able to see what you're doing is the biggest problem. You see it at the end, of course. When you do, you should say "oh, I see!". And then you should change it and make it better!
Animac Magazine: After the delightful "The Pirates!", are you planning on directing any future features?
Peter Lord: I am not, at the moment! There are three projects that I like very much, but I don't know if I should direct them or not, because directing is very hard work. I don't really mind the hard work, but what's difficult is you think you have a position of power when you're directing, but you have no freedom. You have incredible freedom artistically, of course, but none in terms of personal time! You're a slave to your own film. And I like being here at festivals, I like going on holiday... It's quite scary to go back into another film.
Animac Magazine: Final question! What does the future hold for Aardman Animations?
Peter Lord: A lot of feature films, I hope! And we are thinking that we're making them for the world, and not just specifically for America. That's important to us. We're making our own films. They're British films, we want to engage everyone -in America, in Russia, in China- to enjoy them, but we don't want to change what we do just to be more commercial. We have an interactive digital department, who are great and very talented, but I keep waiting for the big project that will blow away the whole world. And, well, looking for new filmmakers with new ideas, new storytellers, designers, directors... especially those things.
Animac Magazine: Great! Thanks so much!
Peter Lord: Thank you!
Interview conducted by Adrian Carande
Photos by Adrian Carande