Aardman Academy alumni Natalie Morrison explains what to expect from the five day Sketch to Screen Model Making workshop.
As a die-Aard(man) fan, finding a course run by people working on Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run was a ‘how fast can you take my payment’, sort of moment.
From tearing open my model-making package sent by Aardman’s studios in Bristol (oh-em-gee this clay came from the same studios as Morph!), logging onto the Zoom call on the first day feeling more than a little star struck, to logging off at the end, completely wiped but elated, the whole journey was a bit of a dream for me.
But setting aside my not-so-inner nerdy fangirl, the course offers a hefty knowledge set for anyone really serious about getting into the field of animation, model making and character design. For me, it was the latter – as a (sometimes) mature illustration MA student I’m looking at my in-roads into the field, and this course really armed me with the starting points I needed.
If you’re lucky, it could also give you some new contacts and even job opportunities through the Aardman Academy platform, which you’re given access to at the end of the course. Still, there were also people on my course there not for career advancement, but for the sheer joy of it, which is brilliant. Essentially, it’s for anyone interested in animation, model making and learning about Aardman’s processes. You will get out of it what you put into it.
Three things to know about the Sketch to Screen Model Making course before you join:
- This may only be a week-long course, but you will come away feeling like you have a degree’s worth of knowledge.
- The tutors are there every minute of the five days – you won’t be told what to do and left to fend for yourself. Take the opportunity to tap them for knowledge (they have bucket loads!)
- I repeat: you will get out of it what you put in. On my course, everyone worked incredibly hard and came out with some amazing results. Be prepared to work, work, work for the week and make the most of it.
Three things I wish I had done before the course started:
- The course moves quickly. Very quickly. Having all your tools, glues, fabrics and paints to hand (ie reachable from your seat) will serve you well. Although Aardman send a lot of the materials, you do still have to buy a good chunk. As a guide, I probably spent an extra £50 or so.
Buy these materials in advance and, for the hard-to-find stuff, consider buying extra. If there is an item on the list you think you might not need, get it anyway. Chances are, this won’t be the last model you make, you will use it at some point. (Trying to source good fabric glue quickly during a lockdown wasn’t fun.)
- Really think about each component of your design. Jim and Nancy (the brilliant folks from Aardman who teach the course) tell you not to make your design too complicated. I would add to this – design your puppet keeping in mind the materials could use and start to think about how each of those will move.
- Following on from point 2 – consider that every component of your puppet needs to be both sturdy and moveable. The animators will need to be able to move most parts of the puppet (even the hair in some cases) but will also need the parts to stay still for other shots. Don’t choose materials which could make this difficult.
Three practical things to be aware of:
- Modelling clay is much tougher to work with than it looks. Your hands will hurt! Learn to massage them.
- Don’t work through your breaks. You’re taking on a lot of information – give your mind the space to do it.
- It’s worth looking up each of the components on the items list if like me, you’re not entirely sure what they all are (Milliput? Never heard of it!). It’ll save time when the tutors ask you to grab the item, and it can’t hurt to familiarise yourself with everything before you begin.
For anyone interested, here’s my own personal puppet-making journey.
Two weeks before the course starts, you’re asked to submit your character designs. Since character design is a career path I am looking into once my Illustration MA at Falmouth University is complete, I went all in with a back story, designs from young to old – you name it.
My story is called The Rubbish Cart Witch, and my character’s name is Edna. She is part of a secret squat team of spies set to guard the world against a band of evil scientists who set themselves up in an underground layer in England during the last big war. The war ended, but no one told the baddies. Years later, a landfill has been cited on top of the bunkers.
The Edna you see here is elderly, the last one of her crew left, still foiling the evil plans of the last two still standing from scientist lair. Now a disheveled social pariah, she has become known in urban legend as ‘The Rubbish Cart Witch’. (Quick aside: I’m now writing the story as a children’s book!)
Some of my initial character designs for Edna (bearing in mind that you definitely don’t have to go this detailed on your own designs!) I did find having a back story really helped me to think about my choices, however.
Finally, I would say to anyone on the fence about doing the course – go for it. You regret the things you don’t do more than the things you do.
For those of you about to start it – I’m very jealous! Have fun
by Natalie Morrison (Journalist, illustrator, fan girl and Aardman Academy alumni)
Natalie can be found on Instagram @nattyillustrations, at her website www.nattyillustrations.com and contacted via email at email@example.com.
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