An Aardman Aappreciation

By Pete Docter

We're honoring beloved animation studio Aardman at this year's San Francisco International Film Festival. Join us and studio co-founder Peter Lord May 1 at the Castro Theatre, and, until then, enjoy this reflection from Pixar's Pete Docter:

I first became aware of Aardman Animations at a film festival in 1989, when their film Creature Comforts got more laughs than my film.

Yes, I was jealous of the cleverness of the idea. I was envious of the amazing animation, which was more polished and fluid than anything I’d seen. I was resentful of the appeal of the character designs. But in spite of all that, I couldn’t help but enjoy watching it.

When I later met Peter Lord and Nick Park, I secretly hoped they would be snooty, condescending bastards so I could hate them and their amazing talent. Unfortunately they turned out to be some of the nicest, most pleasant guys I’ve met. (I’ve never met David Sproxton, so there’s still a chance that he’s a jerk.)

Whenever we’re together I make a point to remind them how difficult and time-consuming animation is; created, as it is, one frame at a time. These poor guys are forced to linger in dark rooms for days on end, pushing around small lumps of clay. “Oh, that’s alright. We quite like it,” they answer.

Since their founding in 1972, they’ve produced six feature films, over 200 shorts and web-based projects, and literally hundreds of commercials. I haven’t seen them all. One or two of them must be bad.

See, the other thing that’s so annoying about Aardman, beyond how good they are, is how they refuse to be put in a box. Other than the fact that most of their work is stop-motion—or “stop frame”, as they call it (which, now that I stop to think about it, actually makes more sense)—Aardman has been home to dozens of top-notch filmmakers, producing a huge range of styles. Would you expect that the studio that did the hilarious Ident (1989) is the same place that did the haunting and rather disturbing Pearce Sisters (2007)? That Adam (1991)—another personal favorite of mine—came from the same outfit that did the music video for Peter Gabriel’s "Sledgehammer," complete with dancing chicken carcasses? The Purple and Brown series are examples of their inexhaustible cleverness; each one of the many variations on a theme is clever and funny.

Of course, no rant about Aardman's incredible charm, cleverness and humor would be complete without a special protest against Wallace and Gromit. It’s impossible to pick a favorite of the Wallace and Gromit films, but I’ll confess a special adoration for The Wrong Trousers, which blew my socks off when I first saw it. Though it pays homage to horror films of the past, it’s incredibly inventive, charming and emotional. I’ll never forget poor Gromit being relegated to the leaky doghouse—and how strange it is that I quickly forgive Wallace for his transgressions. And the wonderful train chase at the end, Gromit laying new track impossibly fast… it’s all so ingenious, brilliant and just fun to watch.

Someday I will succeed in driving them out of the business. Until then, I will be the first in line for whatever they do next.

Pete Docter is the Oscar-winning director of Monsters, Inc. and Up, and Vice President, Creative, at Pixar Animation Studios. Most recently Docter directed Disney•Pixar’s Summer 2015 release Inside Out.

Established in 1997, the Golden Gate Persistence of Vision Award honors the achievement of filmmakers whose main body of work falls outside the realm of narrative feature filmmaking. This year, the San Francisco International Film Festival recognizes the team behind beloved animation studio Aardman. Join us and studio co-founder Peter Lord in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the studio May 1 at the Castro Theatre.