This week, we’re shining the spotlight on Aardman Features’ Creative Head of Puppet Making, Kate Anderson. From her fondest project to proudest achievement, read on to learn about Kate’s life at our Aztec West studio…
1. How did you start out in the industry and what is your role at Aardman?
Like so many young people I left school with no real idea of what kind of job would suit me, but looking back on my career I can see now that by pure chance I have ended up in exactly the right place.
As the daydreamy daughter of an art teacher and a BBC lighting engineer I was always encouraged to be continually painting and making things, but having done a degree in graphic design I never really intended to be a model maker. Who even knew that such a job existed?
However, my course tutor obviously thought I was better at making things than designing them and gave me a few contact details for model making companies in London which led to 10 years as a model maker in the advertising industry. The most enjoyable thing about the work was the sheer variety, making anything from a realistic resin strawberry to a dancing cereal packet or a giant toilet roll for an elephant. As you might imagine some of the work was in rather dubious taste, so there was an enormous improvement in my job satisfaction when I finally managed to slide sideways into the world of puppet making for animation.
I came to Aardman via a company called the Puppet Factory and eventually realised that I was getting so much work that I had better move to Bristol. 25 years later I still seem to be here pretty much all the time, gradually moving from one project to another.
These days I do virtually no actual puppet making as my whole day is spent working out what the rest of the team should be doing. I do miss getting my hands dirty, but have discovered that it is actually very rewarding to successfully plan a large and complicated puppet build for a feature film. After 35 years model making it feels great to keep on having new challenges, even if that means learning how to do a spreadsheet.
2. To date, what has been your biggest professional achievement?
When I first started working I don’t think anyone would have ever expected me to be in charge of anything or anyone, so to be Creative Head of Puppet Making for Aardman Features is still faintly unbelievable!
3. Name three people who inspire you:
There are too many individuals to choose from so I think I will go for something more abstract:
- People who find the time and energy to do their own work once they leave college.
- People who PARTY! I fondly remember wanting to do this a lot myself…
- People who have children. It never ceases to amaze me how people manage 18 years or more without a guaranteed lie in at the weekends.
4. Tell us what a typical day at the studio is like for you?
Walking and talking seems to take up at least half the day. Good communication is vital, so I am continually talking to people about what they are doing, when it will be finished and what they are going to do next. Back at my desk there are always new puppets to plan and schedules to make, but I still find time for the odd tea break with the puppet crew. There is nothing better than a chocolate brownie and a bit of silly banter to make the day go by.
5. What do you like most about working at Aardman?
You can’t beat the enjoyment of making a puppet which then, by the magic of animation, comes alive and gets up to all kinds of adventures. Surely this is something that all children dream of!
The human people working around you are also pretty important, some of us have been here for a long time, so it feels rather like family.
6. What’s your desk/work area like – messy or tidy?
I like to surround myself with lots of pictures and have houseplants all along the windowsill. My desk is usually littered with small bits of paper as I am not completely enamoured of the digital world. Writing endless ‘to do’ notes gives you the satisfaction of screwing them up when they are done as well as being an eco-friendly way of re-using scrap paper.
7. How do you maintain a work/life balance?
There are times mid project when I seem to think of nothing else but puppets and schedules. The middle of the night sees me jotting down some apparently vital thought on a pad I keep on the bedside table. Very occasionally that thought turns out to be a useful idea rather than the product of a disturbed imagination, but at least it means I can get back to sleep again.
Having moved to the Wye Valley a few years ago I think most of my relaxation comes from staring at the scenery out of the window. That and sitting on the sofa with my lovely husband, each trapped underneath a cat.
8. What has been your all-time favourite project that you’ve been involved with and why?
Creature Comforts series 2. The first one was a lot of fun, but by number 2 we really knew what we were doing. Pretty much the whole job was sculpting funny animals and the puppet team seemed to consist entirely of comedians, all competing to be the most ridiculous.
9. What’s your best advice for people wanting to get into the industry?
Stop motion is such a small industry there will always be a certain amount of luck as to whether you will make it in or not. Having seen so many talented people over the years that I couldn’t find employment for I would say think laterally. Any model making work you can find will add to your experience, so take whatever you get offered to start with and try to keep in touch with what is happening in the area you are aiming for. You never know when you might just be in the right place at the right time.
10. Who is your favourite Aardman character and why?
I think it has to be Shaun. I’ve spent so much time with him over the years, he has started to seem like an old friend. Of course there are things about old friends that you find really annoying, like face scratches, broken arms and dirty fleece in Shaun’s case. Everything can be forgiven though when he is such an endless source of entertainment. He is naughty and cheeky, sometimes selfish, but always endearing. Many thanks to Nick Park and Golly for making him the sheep we all know and love!