Tag Archive: stop motion animation


Review by C.J. Bunce

Only mere seconds into Farmageddonthe next big production from frequent Oscar-winner and stop-motion pioneer Aardman Animations–and viewers will feel the pangs of their favorite classic Steven Spielberg movies, complete with a magical score that has all the beats of a John Williams-esque adventure, thanks to composer Tom Howe.  This is a return to the lovable Aardman underdog Shaun the Sheep, star of several series and films who we last saw on the big screen in 2015’s Shaun the Sheep movie.  But this time our lovable wooly hero encounters an alien visitor and the resulting effort by directors Will Becher and Richard Phelan with writers Jon Brown, Mark Burton, and Nick Park may be Aardman’s most effective, most lovable, and most far-reaching crowd-pleaser to date.  A direct-to-Netflix presentation, it also stands a chance at being a contender for best full-length animated film at next year’s Oscars.

Shaun the Sheep steps in for Spielberg’s Elliott in this modern close encounter with a lovable extra-terrestrial named Lu-la, so adorable that she may even make Baby Yoda go “awww.”  The impeccable stop-motion animation viewers expect from Aardman is here, as well as the cast of endearing anthropomorphic farm animals, but the heartfelt story, unthinkably successful chemistry between clay characters, exquisite visual effects, lighting, and cinematography, and an emotional score make for a triumph of sci-fi and family storytelling, proving a common language is not necessary to understand relationships between someone that might be a bit different.  Here that’s a sheep and an alien, but the story is effective enough that kids (and attentive adults) will apply the message to everyone.  In fact, Aardman proves language isn’t necessary at all–the story is told entirely without spoken English dialogue, relying on expressive visuals, animal voices, and sound effects, making it truly internationally (or intergalactically) enjoyable.

This fun new sci-fi/fantasy adventure begins with a dog guarding his sheep–a motley but crafty band who live at the farm including Shaun–followed by a great homage to Looney Toons classic barnyard antics as the show establishes the farmyard bond between sheep and dog and dog and man.  The man and dog– The Farmer and Bitzer–show Aardman going back to its roots, what first made the filmmaker internationally known through its award-winning shorts.  Wallace and Gromit could be cousins to this man and dog duo, and anchoring the film with the ensemble here again (as with past Shaun stories) instead of going off in a different direction was a wise choice.  It takes a special combination to merge classic animation with expert laugh-out-loud comedy situations, and the creators at Aardman are the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the spirit and creativity of Jim Henson.  The story is sweet and can appeal to a variety of audiences.  The older crowd can try to spot all the influences, and the young at heart can marvel at Farmageddon′s sheer joyous presentation.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You may not know it, but you probably first met them in their record-breaking music video that they pulled together in only two weeks for Peter Gabriel’s song, Sledgehammer.  It’s a story of two teenagers borrowing mom’s old kitchen table to use to film their Plasticine creations.  Flash forward a few years and their multiple Oscar-winning company is negotiating for big-budget real estate for their movie studio.  The company is Aardman Animations, named for the star character of their earliest film.  And the founders are Peter Lord and David Sproxton, who have documented their journey in this year’s latest chronicle of the history of animation, A Grand Success! The Aardman Journey, One Frame at a Time, now available from Abrams Press.

It’s not just a biography of the two boys who would see their company bring home four Oscars and even more nominations and BAFTAs.  A Grand Success! (the title a play on their first Oscar-nominated adventure, A Grand Day Out) is a time capsule of those key intersections of effort, skill, perseverance, and happenstance, that can make any endeavor a success.  The efforts of the small British upstart found their footing in both the worlds of fantasy film and advertising.  One put the food on the table until, like many creators, they could focus on their passions.  And although they didn’t sever their ties with commercial work, they created what are now among the most recognized characters in England and the world outside the United States (and their U.S. following isn’t too bad, either).  Before long their ideas had them sealing big deals with the likes of Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, and having actors from Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter, Hugh Grant, Eddie Redmayne, Maisie Williams, and Tom Hiddleston–the cream of Britain’s acting talent– providing the voices of their characters.

A crowning achievement in animation in The Wrong Trousers, from the studio lauded by Ray Harryhausen, Terry Gilliam, and Matt Groening.

Lord and Sproxton pull in two other key players in their look at Aardman’s history, animators Nick Park and Richard “Golly” Goleszowski.  Park grew up as a fan of Aardman’s films as a kid, and by 1989, when he was only 31, he was attending Oscar parties as the face of the studio.  All four would create iconic characters from Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, and the anthropomorphic “very British” animals of Creature Comforts.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

As in any creative industry, as much as Hollywood is rife with successes, far more projects barely make it past the idea stage.  Others make it through preliminary steps only to get left behind, most never heard of again.  Decisions are made, offers are given, and you move forward.  The fact that Tom Selleck rejected the role of Indiana Jones is a famous footnote to movie history.  Most recently Amanda Seyfried recounted rejecting the role of Gamora in the Marvel films.  A Mouse Guard movie made it through pre-production before getting stalled.  For every successful project, how many others are left behind?  If you’re as iconic as filmmaker Ray Harryhausen, you might have even more projects left in the discard pile than others.  Those might-have-been projects, rejected ideas, and even scenes that made it beyond mere idea to concept art come together in John Walsh’s new look at the auteur and father of stop-motion creatures, Harryhausen: The Lost Movies

Ray Harryhausen’s creations were cutting edge for the first century of cinema, their creator a special effects visionary who found his niche in fantasy worlds, via films like One Million Years B.C., Clash of the Titans, and Jason and the Argonauts.  Documentarian John Walsh met with Harryhausen, who died in 2013, to film a documentary about the filmmaker, and along the way he chronicled 70 projects Harryhausen considered but did not go through with, including script and concept art material.  Some of these are projects he was asked to participate in and couldn’t find a fit, or films he passed up for other projects, including films anyone could see translated by Harryhausen, like Conan, Tarzan, King Kong, Moby Dick, John Carter of Mars, and Beowulf.  Then there are those surprises fans could only dream about, like Harryhausen’s take on The Empire Strikes Back, The Princess Bride, Dune, or X-Men.  Harryhausen: The Lost Movies provides fans with a glimpse into Harryhausen’s involvement in these projects, some with photographic clues of how his input might have resulted in very different films.

Pulling together some never-been-seen-before artwork, sketches, photos, and screencaps of test footage from the Harryhausen Foundation archives, Walsh creates a scrapbook of sorts, an artist’s sketchbook.  Harryhausen considered every other major classic fantasy and fairy tale to utilize his brand of special effects storytelling.  He created test footage for H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds, but his letter to Orson Welles was not answered.  His alien designs from that footage are in this book.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Oscar-winning filmmaker Nick Park is back with his next entry in Aardman Animations’ ingenious world of classic stop-motion animation.  The family comedy Early Man takes audiences back to the city of Manchester, England, at the dawn of the Bronze Age.  In this slapstick look at history, cave men created football (American soccer) from a fallen meteorite.  The sport fell out of favor, but was picked up again and embraced in the early Bronze Age by a city of moderners, but the cave men are still around and have one chance to save their world if they can only beat the Bronze Age team at the game.  Unfortunately it’s a group of bumbling early humans who must learn the sport and take on a group of arrogant professional players.  But it’s in the genes of the cave men, so amid a non-stop volley of sports metaphors, tropes, and jokes, the cave men have a go at it.

Leading the team and the story is Dug, voiced by Eddie Redmayne (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), along with his companion, an eager early-era wild boar named Hognob, voiced by the film’s director Nick Park.  The duo make for a solid homage, albeit a prehistoric incarnation, of Park’s famous Wallace & Gromit.  The villain in the tale is Bronze Age leader Lord Nooth, lover and hoarder of all things bronze, especially bronze coins.  He’s voiced by a nearly unrecognizable Tom Hiddleston (Thor: Ragnarok) playing an over-the-top, snooty opportunist in full-on Monty Python comedy style.  Game of Thrones and Doctor Who actor Maisie Williams offers her own voice acting talent as Dug’s new friend Goona, and Timothy Spall (Harry Potter series, Alice in Wonderland, Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams) is Dug’s good-natured and encouraging leader, the firmly about the old ways Chief Bobnar.

Little kids will laugh at the silliness of the characters and adult U.S. anglophiles will understand most, but probably not all, of the British comedic references.  And there are many.  Soccer fans will pick up on references to the sport, to Manchester United, zebra crossings, and puns that will work for fans of any sport.  Want to see why Stonehenge was built?  Ever seen the genesis of the electric razor?  The film has already opened to positive reviews in the United Kingdom, but does not arrive in theaters in the States until later this week.

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Decades before Nick Park was winning Academy Awards for his Wallace and Gromit animated shorts, animator Art Clokey brought to life lovable characters Davey, Goliath, Gumby, and Pokey.  Sixty years of never before published images from Clokey’s career are being compiled for a new book by Dynamite Entertainment. Gumby Imagined: The Story of Art Clokey and His Creations will take a behind-the-scenes look at the life of the man who changed the world of animation for generations to come.

But the book is not a done deal yet.  It is being rolled out as a Kickstarter campaign that began last week and is sixty percent funded with 16 days to go.  So it’s well on its way.  The campaign, linked here, is quite impressive, revealing in teaser images a nostalgic fix for fans of decades of Clokey’s work on the Davey and Goliath TV show (1960-1967) and The Gumby Show (1957-1968), as well as stop motion animation enthusiasts everywhere.

Gumby Imagined: The Story of Art Clokey and His Creations will be a 300-page deluxe hardcover retrospective and tribute to the artist.   While working on the project, the writers–Art Clokey’s son Joe Clokey and Joe’s wife Joan–amassed incredible images that encapsulate Clokey’s life and vision, and his painstaking animation process.  Photos have been scanned, cleaned, and inserted into a loving tome well befitting the storied history of Gumby and his friends.  The images reveal a rich and colorful history of not only the development of the pop culture icon, but a name that influenced and defined stop motion animation for generations.

Art Clokey and his team in one of several rare images being compiled for the new Dynamite book.

Dynamite has gone all-out to attract backers for this book, with incentives designed for all levels of interested contributors, including other Dynamite publications as rewards.  With an expected shipping date of November 2017, backers who support the Gumby Imagined: The Story of Art Clokey and His Creations Kickstarter have the opportunity to receive the book and collectible prints, DVDs, toys, and creator signed exclusives.  These include:

Goliath and Davey

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