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Production Spotlight: Georgina Careless

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For our first Spotlight of 2021, we caught up with 2nd assistant editor, Georgina Careless. Read on to learn about her journey to Aardman, how she’s adapted to remote working, and her advice on finding a career in animation…

How did you start out in the industry and what role or roles have you had while working at Aardman?

I graduated from university in 2007 with a degree in Journalism, Film & Media. The recession was just starting to hit which made finding any job pretty difficult, let alone a job in the media, so I took the opportunity to travel and went to live in Canada on a working visa. Here I decided that in order to increase my chances of finding work in the industry, I would study for a Master’s in Film. After researching some courses in Canada (and quickly finding out that as an overseas student I wouldn’t be able to afford them!) I came home and studied for an MA in Film at Newport Film School. After the first few assignments I found myself gravitating towards editing, a profession I hadn’t even considered before, and as the majority of my course mates were interested in directing or becoming DOPs, I had a lot of opportunity to cut. After finishing my Master’s I got a job as an Assistant Editor at BBC Wales where I worked for 4 years before coming to Aardman as Assistant Editor on Early Man.

 

To date, what has been your biggest professional achievement?

I think it would have to be working on Early Man. As someone who grew up loving Wallace & Gromit, having the opportunity to be part of a Nick Park production was pretty huge. I remember the first time I recorded some temp dialogue for Goona with Nick and I couldn’t quite believe it was really happening. I was being directed by Nick Park! I also feel extremely lucky to have had other great experiences on the project such as attending a voice record with Richard Ayoade, who I LOVE, and getting to hear the score for the film being recorded at the legendary Abbey Road Studios. Early Man was also the first time I had worked in animation which had always been an ambition of mine. To be able to fulfil this goal at a studio whose work I had grown up with and admired, I’d say, is definitely my biggest professional achievement to date.

 

Name three people who inspire you and why:

My Mum – She’s the strongest, most dedicated and hardest working person I know.

David Byrne – He’s an all-round creative genius.

Michaela Coel – She’s able to write about difficult, often ‘taboo’ subjects in a refreshingly honest, non clichéd way.

 

Tell us what a typical day is like for you…

I log on at 8.30am and usually I’ll start by catching up with my editor so we can plan our day. We’re at the animatic stage of the current project so there are normally storyboards which have been sent over by board artists that need ingesting in to the project and assembling. At this stage we’ll also add any sound effects, dialogue or music needed to make the sequence work. We’ll then either export reference for the director or arrange an edit session where we can chat about any changes that need to be made or whether further fixes are needed. We’ve recently had a screening so at the moment we’re spending time looking through notes and working with the director and producers to find the best way of actioning these in order to get closer to our locked version of the reel ready for shooting.

My day to day tasks tend to differ depending on what stage we are at in the process but at the animatic stage these can include dialogue sub clipping, delivering materials to the composer and sound teams, creating reference for board artists and generally maintaining the project and supporting the editor. Once we start the shoot these tasks tend to be more floor driven such as keeping Reader up to date, providing reference for animators, ingesting animated shots and VFX then finally delivering the reel to the grade and sound teams for finishing. After having completed a combination of any number of the above, my day usually ends around 6.30pm.

 

How has your role changed since lockdown and what challenges have you faced while working from home?

The way we manage our media has been the biggest change to our workflow now we’re working from home. When we’re on site we have a shared storage unit so we can access the same project and all of the same media. Every time new media is created by someone within the project, anyone else working within that project instantly has access to it. Working from external hard drives at home means anytime I create media or likewise any time my editor creates any media we have to send it to one another using the FTP. It’s also extremely important to keep both our individual projects as up to date as possible with the work the other person has been doing. It’s a level of organisation needed that you really take for granted when on site.

Video calls have also become a big part of our day as it has for everyone. You’re not able to pop next door and ask someone a quick question. The way we work with the director has changed too. Rather than having them sat in a room with us we’ve been using a piece of software called Evercast to run edit sessions. For the most part the process has been pretty smooth and I’ve actually really enjoyed it as it means I can take lunchtime dog walks as well as the fact that I’m not having to do my hour commute at either end of the day. I’m looking forward to getting back in to the studio though and the start of the shoot where the work we’ve been doing for the last 7 months becomes animated.

 

What do you like most about working at Aardman?

The people. It’s great to be surrounded by so many passionate and talented creative individuals. It’s also great to be able to work with people you call friends and not just colleagues. The people I work most closely with are obviously Edit and they’re an amazingly knowledgeable, supportive, hilarious bunch. It helps that you get on when you’re stuck in a room with someone for a minimum of 10 hours a day! It’s a real shame that we won’t all be together when we return to work due to the new normal, but fingers crossed we’ll be able to enjoy a socially distanced cuppa at some stage.

 

What’s your all-time favourite project that you’ve been involved with and why?

That’s a tough one because I’ve been fortunate to work on so many amazing projects so far in my career. One that stands out though was a BBC4 music production ‘Young Musician’. The programme consisted of 5 pre-recorded category finals and a live OB final where the winners of each category competed for the main prize. I had worked on a lot of different projects with the music team as an assistant editor and developed quite a close working relationship with a few of the producers and directors. Music is one of my passions so I always enjoyed these projects whether it was a funk documentary or a classical piano competition. The relationships I had built with the department really paid off when they offered me the opportunity to cut some contestant VTs for Young Musician whilst also assisting on the show. It was the first chance I had been given to cut something for broadcast so I was extremely excited and grateful for the opportunity. It was a great experience to be part of a project that included both pre-recorded material and the live OB final where the pressure is really on! I’m not sure I’d want to work in fast pace live TV all the time but it was definitely a buzz I’ll never forget.

 

What advice would you give to your younger self about getting into the industry?

Try and get as much practical experience as you can. Whether that’s approaching companies for work experience, practicing using certain software or joining groups who make their own films and are looking for keen new editors to cut stuff for free, as I think the main way you learn is through doing. I had an amazing time at university and although I really enjoyed my course it was completely theory based. Although my Master’s was more hands on, during the whole two year course we spent one afternoon being shown how to use the editing software Avid. I bought a student copy of Avid and basically taught myself the basics by playing around and using online tutorials. When I started at the BBC I was incredibly lucky that there was a great group of highly experienced editors who were willing to share their knowledge but also give me an opportunity to get stuck in and figure things out for myself which is where I learned the most.

 

Who is your favourite Aardman character and why?

Feathers McGraw. He’s a criminal mastermind and total badass but also one of the cutest characters at the same time. I’m still waiting for a Feathers origin story…

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Boogie Man: Cinelita Rave Review

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Paul G Andrews: Interview

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On Par: Rave Review

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Behind the Craft: Legends Family Adventure

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At the start of summer we had the privilege of teaming up with Google, Parent Zone and creative agency Toaster to bring the magic of Interland, Google’s free online safety game for families, into homes through another platform. The game has a low-poly style and an array of appealing characters that became our cornerstone to develop and craft three x two minute episodes from script to final render! All this with the full team working remotely in different countries (and, sometimes, time zones)! 

STORY 

The story narrates the adventurous journey of Lumen and her Internaut family who, during a seemingly normal day at the park, end up caught in a mischievous plan set by a group of mischievous individuals: Cyberbully, sneaky Phisher, devious Oversharer and their feared mastermind, Hacker. When Lumen’s precious teddy bear gets stolen, the family decides to travel through Interland in order to find it. In each episode, the characters bump into obstacles and challenges representing real-life situations that could actually occur when browsing the internet, and our young protagonist Lumen, who begins her journey quite insecure, learns from these experiences to become smarter and more confident with her decisions on and offline.

Building the story with other creative minds has always been one of my favourite steps in every animation production I’ve directed. After working on the core concept and drafting the storyline’s backbone, the team at Toaster approached us to refine the scripts, enhance the narrative and make the dialogues compelling and interesting, while injecting comedy and humour wherever possible. Getting three scripts written in such a short amount of time was a real challenge, but working closely with Google and Parent Zone allowed us to succeed by ensuring the integrity of the internet safety learnings throughout. Toaster’s team (Galen O’Hanlon, Dale Winton and Executive Creative Director Aidan Sharkey), writer David Ingham, Aardman Creative Director Steve Harding-Hill and yours truly joined forces to brainstorm, bounce ideas off each other to achieve the best possible result.

VISUAL STYLE 

When approaching the visual style, we knew we had to respect the original source material, but we were really keen to explore and add our own personal touch to the characters’ and environments’ look. 

We gave each main Internaut character (the Family plus Switch and Legend) enough variation and bespoke details to be recognisable, while remaining faithful to the proportions and shapes of the original game. We worked hard to avoid any gender stereotypes in their appearances, in line with Interland’s universe. For the family in particular, we went through many different iterations and combinations of hues and shades of red and orange to make its members distinguishable enough while letting the viewer understand straight away that they belong together. 

We really wanted the whole Interland world to feel welcoming, warm and friendly (the Internet can be a wonderful place indeed, with the right precautions). In order to achieve that, we decided to adopt a soft miniature look for the environments (making large use of defocus and depth of field) while giving the vast cast of main characters (6 Internauts and 4 villains) a tactile, toy-like feel, adding roughness and imperfections to their surfaces. Looking closely, you’ll notice each villain’s texture is unique and different from the heroes’. Aardman’s artists embraced the challenge and really managed to bring these simple polygonal shapes to life.

We immediately fell in love with the awe-inspiring concept art created by French artist Aymeric Arnaud, and soon discovered that, in spite of their simplicity, CG low-poly environments (and characters) can look absolutely stunning with a clever use of atmospheric and “physically correct” lighting and depth of field. For rendering, the team used Arnold by Solid Angle, and Nuke for comping.

Each original location was designed to be easily recognisable thanks to its unique mood and colour palette, and every prop appearing in the films (from the smallest item, to the trees and clouds) was carefully modelled and textured from scratch by the team to befit the environment’s style. 

ANIMATING THE INTERNAUTS 

Even though the characters look like toys, we didn’t want the animation style to resemble stop-motion. In CGI you usually animate the movement more stepped or blocky in order to reach a hand-made stop frame quality. This time we tried to avoid that, preserving a more smooth, gentle and natural kind of motion (even adding squash and stretch to their heads and bodies). In spite of their look, we wanted our Internauts to move like small organic beings in their own believable reality! 

As you’ve probably spotted, the characters that populate Interland don’t have mouths – even though they talk a lot! For this reason, it became absolutely vital to display and portray their emotions through body acting and eye shapes, and of course the ears helped a lot too!

From a cinematographic point of view, we had to be particularly careful when staging and framing the shots, so that it would be always clear to the viewer which character was talking. 

Animating highly stylised characters can be challenging but the absence of mouths can also make your life considerably simpler in case of late changes and tweaks: if we noticed a scene’s dialogue wasn’t 100% right in post-production, we could easily swap, shift and offset the sound by a few frames without the need of changing animation, a luxury you can’t afford with proper animated lip-sync! 

SOUND 

We had the chance to remotely record and collaborate with an incredible duo of adult voices, impersonating multiple characters in the story, and three super talented kids as Lumen, Volt and Switch. It was a real pleasure working with them.

Last but not least, the team at Aquarium Studios – formed by the great Alexej Mungersdorff, Pam Thompson and Jamie Mcphee – took care of the sound design and musical score, and delivered a fantastic mix which gives depth and heart to our beloved Interland world.

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Behind the Craft: Casper’s Magical Journey

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A loving relationship between an owner and his pet… the purrfect Aardman project! Not Wallace & Gromit this time, but a story that focuses on a friendship between a little boy called Daniel, and his pet cat, Casper.

Casper’s Magical Journey is a Christmas film. A film of magic, separation and hope. The unique side to this tale is that our animation is based on a true story. The story of Daniel’s pet cat Casper going missing and turning up three years later and 55 miles away from their home. A remarkable narrative in itself!

Creative director at the Good Agency, Andy Powell, tasked us with the challenge to come up with a story that focused on the bond between cat and owner. Less about why Casper went missing and where he’s been, but more about how the family felt when their pet cat disappeared – after all, they are more than a pet, they are part of the family too. (Spoiler alert!) Casper was eventually reunited with Daniel and his family after he was handed in at the Cats Protection branch in Truro three years later. After his neck was scanned during his veterinary check-up, a microchip revealed that he belonged to Daniel’s family 55 miles away in Plymouth. The microchip was vital in their reunion and this was a key piece of information to include in the story, with the aim that our film will encourage others to get their cats microchipped and help separated families reunite.

Cats Protection have a history of making Christmas films based on true stories that have involved Cats Protection in some way or another. All of the past short films were made by the talented Creative Lead Designer at Cats Protection, Rasoul Hudda. We worked with him throughout this project to make sure Cats Protection were happy with its development. It was important to them that when Casper moved, he was anatomically correct and as our small team had relatively no cat animation experience before. Little details and advice, for example, the type of noise a cat makes as it crouches down and wiggles its bottom before pouncing, were incredibly useful.

Our interpretation of the true story

The animation length was capped at three minutes long, so we needed to simplify the true story in places to allow us enough time to include all the key pieces of information; the family have a close bond with their cat, Casper is the type of loveable rogue who happily goes exploring, he’s goes missing for enough time that the family are concerned, a lengthy amount of time passes and the family start to lose hope of his return, a phone call out of the blue to say he’s been found, mum’s epic car journey to retrieve Casper and finally, the reunion between Daniel and Casper. There was a lot to include! And we wanted to make sure the film wasn’t charging through at high speed. We needed tender moments between Daniel and his mum where we got to see the family’s heartache, missing their beloved Casper.

There wasn’t enough time to transverse three years so we started the film just before Christmas one year and finished it a year later on Christmas day. To show a huge amount of time passing, we showed Daniel and Mum taking a walk along their street – a walk they do every day at the same time, returning home from Daniel’s school – with their clothes and the seasons changing around them. It meant we could go from spring to autumn in about six seconds. A ‘missing Casper’ poster stuck to a telegraph pole got more discoloured and tatty as the time passed.

There were other details that we didn’t include in the animation for clarity of story; Casper was one of three cats and that the family got a dog during the period Casper went missing. (Not in replacement of Casper, might I add!

The Magic

We sprinkled three magical sequences throughout the film, which appear in Daniel’s imagination. For these to be believable and that extra little bit whimsical, we aged Daniel down from 8 years to 6 years.

 

They symbolise what Daniel’s feeling inside, how positive or worried he is about the return of Casper. His first imagination sequence (early on in the film) occurs on Christmas Eve and is playful and absent of much concern; Casper flies through the night with Santa on his sleigh.

Daniel’s second imagination sequence (during the middle of the film) is trigged by overhearing his mum’s phone conversation with a Cats Protection employee. The word “microchip” reverberates in his mind and ‘whooshes’ his toy satellite up into the air where it receives laser beam signals from Casper who is trying to tell Daniel where he’s located so they can find him and bring him home. (Daniel has no idea how the futuristic microchip works but knows that it’s implicit in the return of cats to their homes.) At this point in time he’s imagining Casper wanting to get back to them, as it’s very much what Daniel wants.

His third and final imagination sequence (towards the end of the film) shows the development of character. He’s now more concerned about Casper and is losing hope that he will ever return. He imagines Casper inside a snow globe, alone in the cold snow, shivering and feeling sad.

The Christmas feel

Davide Mastrolonardo created all the stunning artwork for the film. We wanted to keep a freedom to the backgrounds with loose painterly strokes, much like the concept artwork I knew him for. I wanted the opening shot to sing “Christmas” and chime of warmth and positivity, setting up the loving relationship between the family and Casper. One of the animators in the team, Dave Connolly, did a superb job of Daniel’s upbeat, bouncy run, playing alongside his buddy Casper in the snow.

I wanted an illustrative, slightly wonky-shaped look to everything, with textures to make it all a bit more lived-in and earthy. Davide’s highly skilled eye drew light to set the mood for each shot, being very thoughtful and considered with each decision.

The characters were designed and animated in Adobe Animate CC for speed but this did mean that they were devoid of texture. This was added later in After Effects when we overlaid coloured filters and added noise to help the characters sit in the beautifully lit world that Davide had created.

WFH

This is the first project where the whole team has worked from different locations. Never at one point were any of us in a room together. At times, it was more time consuming working this way, mainly in the sense of relaying information back to each other. Instead of moseying over to an animator’s desk to discuss an action or tweak, we needed to schedule a Zoom call and talk through the movements in front of camera. It was an adjustment to our usual way of working and trickier for producer Sami Goddard to project manage, making sure animators kept track of their schedules and compositors saw all the most up-to-date notes on the shot list.

Usually we’re all in the Aardman studio together but overall, it worked fine and it makes me feel excited to think that the future might consist of collaborations from people all around the world. Proximity needn’t limit us!

Sound & Music

The music was written and performed by Dan Millidge who composed the tracks for all previous Cats Protection films. We wanted this animation to feel part of the set and even though the visuals took a different direction, this would help tie all four films together. I loved the music to all the other films so he was the obvious choice. Dan hit it out of the park first time! There was almost nothing to tweak or adjust after his first pass.

Tom Joyce, the sound effects artist, used an excellent piece of kit I’ve never come across before, frame.io which allowed me to make comments directly into the programme alongside the animation at specific places. This way it was very clear what sound effects I was referring to in my notes. He could comment back and it was almost like being in the same room together. (Just wish I could type as quickly as I can talk!)

Holly Willoughby played Anna, the mum in our film and Alex Graydon played Daniel. Holly did the voice record at the ITV studios after a This Morning session and Alex equally recorded his lines from a London studio, keeping everyone at a safe distance and following the COVID-19 restrictions. Both were incredibly lovely and easy to direct via a Zoom video call.

As I said before, this was a quick project and small team. We were very limited with the amount of time we had on each shot and how many times we could go back into shots to finesse because of needing to complete all sixty-five shots in the scheduled time. I’m incredibly proud of the team who all worked so very hard to make it all come together and produce a short film that includes everything I hoped it would.

It feels very poignant making a film about the relationship between pets and their owners at a time when everyone is spending more time at home and thus with their pets. There has been a lot of loneliness this year and for some, their pets have been their only companions. More than ever, the bond between pet and owner is invaluable. If this film can help the microchipping numbers increase and more missing pets become reunited with their families, we will have succeeded.

 

 

our thanks to

Our thanks to Rasoul Hudda and Debbie Holt at Cats Protection.

 

Director
Lucy Izzard

Producer
Sami Goddard

Writer
Sam Morrison

Storyboard Artist
Lucy Izzard

Background Artist
Davide Mastrolonardo

Character Designer
Lucy Izzard

2D Animators
Dave Connolly, Jane Davies, Emma Lazenby, Charlie Miller,

Compositors
Dan Blore, Andy Hague, Fernando Lechuga, Bram Ttwheam

Music
Dan Millidge

Tracklay & Soundmix
Tom Joyce

Editor
Dan Pask

About Lucy Izzard

Aardman Director Lucy Izzard has a style full of warmth, character, comedy and sensitivity. She worked with multiple animation companies over the years, Slinky Pictures, 12foot6, and ArthurCox, before joining Aardman in 2014.

Follow Lucy on Instagram here.

Interested in commissioning animated content or have a project like this to discuss? Get in touch: boards@aardman.com

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Studio Spotlight: Natalie Collier

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This week, we’re shining the spotlight on Aardman’s Head of Production HR, Natalie Collier. Celebrating 15 years at the studio, Natalie shares her proudest moments and projects, and reveals how her role has progressed over time.

 

How did you start out in the industry and what role or roles have you had while working at Aardman?

Following my degree in Psychology I got my first HR role working in the postal service. I was there for five years starting in an admin role and was managing a team of 12 by the time I left taking voluntary redundancy. I started at Aardman 15 years ago on a three month temporary contract, during the final months of Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit. I started in an admin role and then was promoted to HR Advisor, Senior HR Advisor, HR Manager and, most recently, Head of Production HR. I studied part time for three years while working full time to get Chartered Membership of CIPD, which was tough but all the assignments and endless exams were worth it. I finished just before finding out I was pregnant with my first child.

To date, what has been your biggest professional achievement?

It has to be sitting with all the crew at any of the premieres I’ve been lucky enough to go to and seeing my name come up on the big screen. To know that in some way the work I do (and love) has helped to support all the amazing crew that work tirelessly on our productions. They are the hardest working, professional, talented and warm hearted bunch of people to work with. I’m not embarrassed to say it brings a tear to my eye.

Name three people who inspire you and why:

This is such a difficult one to answer. I couldn’t possibly come up with just three people. I’m inspired on a daily basis by all the hard work and creative talent that I am surrounded by every day. It would have to be each and every one of the crew. In 15 years I have never thought ‘I don’t want to go to work’ and that is because of the atmosphere at the studio and all the people there. Cheesy, maybe? True, absolutely.

Tell us what a typical day is like for you…

It starts at 6am when any one of my three kids has woken up bright and early, ready to start the day and the getting ready for school fun starts! First thing when I arrive is a coffee from the studio canteen, can’t start anything until I have that in my hand! A typical day will involve talking to people, lots of people. There are always emails to reply to, meetings and phone calls. I could be holding interviews, attending a focus group meeting, discussing adverts for up-coming productions, dealing with a pay/rate query or listening to someone that needs support. I am also a deputy on the Partner Rep Group and a Mental Health First Aider. Each day is different and some days it can mean that I haven’t sat down at my desk, even though I’ve been in for an hour, as I am chatting to lots of different people. I can guarantee though that every day there is always laughter which keeps us all going.

How has your role changed since lockdown and what challenges have you faced while working from home?

Lockdown was tough. I was working from home full time for 15 weeks and trying to home school my three children who are 11, eight and five. Some days home schooling went ok, others were a complete write-off. I had to accept that any work I could get them to do would be better than nothing. Screen time went up significantly, especially when I had numerous daily Zoom meetings. I had some lovely emails, phone calls and texts from crew throughout that really kept me going. The timing would always be on one of my bad days and it meant the world. Another lifeline were regular coffee break Zoom chats with work friends (you know who you are, and thank you). I definitely missed (and still do) the infamous Wednesday roast dinner. I hope Alistair, Ibrahima and Stu are back at the studio soon, it isn’t the same without them in the canteen. Also my recycling needed to be put out under cover of darkness as a few drinks in the evening were a lockdown highlight!

What do you like most about working at Aardman?

The people, most definitely. I am talking to people and helping them every day and never forget how lucky I am to work for such an amazing company with the best crew there is.

What’s your all-time favourite project that you’ve been involved with and why?

It would have to be The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! We had such a large crew that the building and car park were packed to the rafters. Every day was unbelievably busy and there was always something going on. Also I had my eldest son when we got green lit, three years later we wrapped and I left on maternity leave to have my daughter. It was a crazy few years.

What advice would you give to your younger self about getting into the industry/your field?

To never stay at a company when you are no longer enjoying it. When you aren’t getting anything enjoyable out of the role anymore you need to move on and make the break. My previous workplace taught me a great deal about how to deal with challenging personalities and how to win people over to a different point of view. But it wasn’t enjoyable and I probably should have left earlier than I did. I would recommend becoming CIPD qualified as so many roles expect that as a pre-requisite. It has helped me enormously in terms of confidence and shows an employer than you know what you are on about.

Who is your favourite Aardman character and why?

It would have to be Shaun. He’s cheeky and always up to trouble but has a heart of gold.

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Warm follows function

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Aardman’s Executive Creative Director, Daniel Efergan, discusses the value of humanisation in design, and the emotional engagement it can generate.

Everyone loves Henry. His beautiful dooey eyes, enigmatic smile and long windy nose cheers up the dreariest of household tasks. Henry is, of course, the little red vacuum with the smiley face. It’s been Numatic International’s most successful product, and it seems easy to understand why. First, it’s very good at what it does – no stuck on smile will overcome malfunction – but more importantly it stands out across a sea of boring impersonal lumps of plastic with its personification of product.

The addition of emotion – through tone and visualisation, personification and story – is an essential design consideration of any product these days. If establishing visibility amongst a handful of vacuums 30 years ago was hard, finding visibility within the emerging digital marketplaces of present day is a magnitude more complex. Today there’s hundreds of platforms, thousands of channels, with millions of options. Being useful is rarely enough to cut through this seething mass of potentials, and with such choice available people using a product need a level of feverish fandom above and beyond grudging respect, they need to fall in love.

Love, happiness, joy, and all the other really fun things in life are complex, each a big sticky mess of imperfections, our natural interactions analogue and noisy, our connections warm and personal. And so by adding some of this murky essence, whether instinctively or scientifically, it’s possible to drastically change the way people experience a product.  

Personifying an inanimate, or otherwise ‘soulless’ object, instantaneously interfaces with a number of higher brain functions, people experiencing empathy and sympathy into situations where this is technically irrelevant.  The simple act of projecting the sense of eyebrows (interestingly more important than eyes) and a mouth onto anything will fire off a person’s instinct to lock onto this visual structure – known as Pareidolia, the psychological phenomenon of finding faces in stimuli increasing focus and attention, as our hardwired brain kicks in.  Similarly, adjust a product’s text to rile its audience with cheeky replies and they will tend towards trusting the information delivered, human-flaws seemingly more believable than something computationally perfect.

Then there’s the art of storytelling, the organic format of information delivery. The academic theories around the formulation of story within our society are numerous, but one in particular is relevant to this discussion; the use of story as a method to transfer complex information from one human to another, in particular emotional content.

As humans, bound by the linearity of time, we are forced to discuss things one comment at a time. Nevertheless, we can also comprehend the most abstract of concepts: love, honour, even nyan cat. These abstract ideas involve a complex interplay between facts; subtleties that would be extremely difficult, or at least exceptionally boring, to deliver as an ordered queue of facts. But, offer up a little of each of these facts, slowly revealing their interconnections, more and more until a glorious and exciting crescendo and we have a tool to successfully communicate complex, emotional ideas – we have the structure of a story.

Armed with these tools of emotional engagement the process of product design sits not as a pure expression of function but also as a series of choices around what to humanise, where to corrupt digital perfection, and how to package content into emotional stories.  This is still a design choice, the absence of this as important as the blank space within a visual or the silence within music, but a choice and process to be considered. 

At Aardman we find ourselves purveyors of this ‘emotional warmth’, created in its purest form when we invent our films, shows or games – the literal codifying of human emotion into lumps of clay and stacks of pixels. But we also find ourselves working as product designers, adding layers of humanisation to the things we’re building. 

Take StorySign, a product which translates the text within children’s books to sign language. Its function enforces the need for a translator, something with human proportions that can ‘sign’. But, it’s more than that, we’re not just creating something, we’re creating someone, a conduit from our product to other people’s imagination.  We therefore invested time thinking who is ‘Star’, the virtual signer within StorySign, and what human-like relationship she will have with our young readers. 

Also, Nad & Tad, a project created by Nathan Love, our sister studio out in NY. Their personification of two testicles, not only adds a certain charm to the less than desirable conversion about scrotums, but importantly connects us via the very human act of humour, disarming people to allow a way into an awkward conversation.

What we do is not new or original, in fact using our craft to mimic humanity is the oldest form of art. Although I assume, as our industries mature, so does our ability to better mimic the beauty and complexity of the natural world, and in turn our products grow in emotional complexity.

This is a wonderful and powerful thing, but as it’s often said ‘with great power comes great responsibly’. We must understand how design includes this ‘warmth’, but not abuse other people’s emotions. No-one wants a digital future devoid of emotional connection but similarly we don’t want deleting an app to feel like dumping your loved one.

Daniel Efergan is Executive Creative Director of Interactive at Aardman.

If you’ve got a product that needs some warmth and personality added, why not get in touch

This article is based on a previous article written for the Media Sandbox, provided by Watershed.

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My 15 years of licensing

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I can’t quite believe I have been at Aardman for 15 years, so I thought I’d write a few words to celebrate. A lot has changed in the Licensing world and at Aardman over those years. I thought it would be fun to remember some of my favourite moments, amazing products we’ve created and partnerships we’ve made over the years.

I am currently Category Manager for Publishing and Soft Lines. I first started as Licensing Co-ordinator in 2005 in the run up to Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Our office was a temporary building in the car park. Although our office wasn’t glamourous it was a fun time working with a Hollywood studio like DreamWorks.

The way approvals mostly worked then was by faxing (yes faxing!) approval forms over a fax machine to the licensee. We had an interesting range of products around the movie. My favourite products were the intricate 3D Wecso alarm clocks. Also Corgi cars produced a miniature Anti-pesto van and bun-vac, the attention to detail was amazing.

Product licensing Aardman

Over that period a lot of my time was also taken up with Wallace and Gromit approvals from Japan. A large company called Sumitomo produced 100’s of promotional items a year. From towels to dog coats to car gear stick covers!

Fifteen years later and still a good proportion of my time is taken up working with our partners in Japan, this time on Shaun the Sheep. The Japanese market still fascinates me. The licensing market is very developed over there and the products and designs are so forward thinking, they often influence what we do here in the UK. They are content hungry and part of my job is to work with our amazing in-house designers and feed in what assets our licensees need from illustrations and graphics to photography. We produce a new pack of assets suitable for apparel or gifting every month.

We also work with agents in China. This territory is relatively new to licensing so a different approach and relationship is taken. We’ve recently just launched a fabulous apparel range with Fila children’s sportswear in China. The campaign has been successfully driven by an engaging social media campaign.

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Aardman recently collaborated with Italian high fashion sportswear brand FILA Kids China on a line of children’s clothing featuring @shaunthesheep. The creative promotional partnership, Shaun the Sheep x FILA Kids China launched with a 'Shake it with Shaun' themed campaign on Children’s Day, and achieved an impressive 11M views in just 24 hours. The new product range consists of apparel, footwear and accessories for children, supported by in-store activities featuring Shaun the Sheep character costumes, interactive dance machines for shoppers to enjoy, as well as a Tik Tok online dancing challenge. . . . #Aardman #ShauntheSheep #FILA #FILAKids #FILAKidsChina #licensing #characterlicensing #brandlicensing #apparel #sportswear #licenseglobal #licensingexpo #chinamarket

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I absolutely loved working on The Pirates in an Adventure with Scientists in 2012. It felt such a personal film for the studio. Its still one of my favourite Aardman films. We had real fun dressing up as pirates, researching pirate products and coming up with pirate puns! The icing on the cake for me was creating a publishing program with publishers Bloomsbury creating some truly beautiful and funny books, that and meeting Hugh Grant of course!

We’ve also had great success with Shaun the Sheep over the years. He’s our most popular character around the world. It’s been amazing to work alongside two feature films. This is such an exciting process to be a part of; we love showing visitors around the studio. Fifteen years later and the creativity and attention to detail at the studio never ceases to amaze me. We really hope this feeds in to the products. A highlight of working on Shaun the Sheep was travelling to Germany and seeing a whole shop full of Shaun product. That’s something we rarely get the chance to see; all the work we do in one place.

So it’s 25 years since Shaun the Sheep featured in The Close Shave and we are celebrating this, this year. We have created some beautiful silver jewellery with Licensed to Charm, there are some new Funko figurines and we have resurrected the original Shaun back pack we produced in the 90’s made famous by Spice Girl Baby Spice!

My absolute passion is children’s publishing. I spend a lot of time working with publishers around the world coming up with ideas for books and ranges for our brands. Every territory is different. What books work in China or France or the UK are all very different. I also love making new connections and developing partnerships with publishers looking for new opportunities.

We’ve produced some amazing publications and ranges of books. Brand new stories written for Shaun the Sheep, educational titles with Timmy Time and the British Council, beautiful picture books using our photography from the films, art books, biographies, comic strips and my favourites Find Shaun illustrated books; we’ve produced six titles in Japan working with the talented artist Andy Janes and selling 100,000’s of copies so far.

Our team at Aardman has grown so much over the years. And it truly is a great team to work with. We try to be an approachable, down to earth bunch. Working from home has been a challenge, I really miss chatting to all my colleagues and having visitors to the studio. But I do enjoy seeing my kids when they come back from school and wearing trackie bottoms all day!

Connect with Jess over on LinkedIn.

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