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8 March 2018

In Conversation with Peter Lord

Aardman founder and Falmouth University Honorary Fellow, Peter Lord, recently visited our School of Film & Television. Most famous for the creation of lovable duo, Wallace and Gromit, Peter is a pioneer in the field of animation. He sold his first film to the BBC at the age of 16, alongside his partner David Sproxton, formed Aardman in 1967, and together they produced iconic characters and films including Morph, Chicken Run and Shaun the Sheep.

Aardman does a lot of CGI and stop motion projects, is there much room, if any, for 2D?

Yes, there is actually. Our 2D work consists primarily of educational videos, charity work and were also working on a new series. The reason we use 2D is because it's quite cheap compared to a stop-motion film, which is often scarily expensive for us as we focus our energies on large ventures. Shaun the Sheep, for example, is hugely popular around the world, especially in Germany and Japan. But every time we make a new series, we always go into debt for about a million pounds. People always think "oh you're alright, CBBC always air your shows!" but as a matter of fact companies that air it will only pay a small percentage of the budget.

I've noticed that you don't often mention Flushed Away, why is that?

I think perhaps because it was not made in our own studio, as with pretty much all our other films and series, it doesn't get the same type of publicity as the others. I personally love the film, there are some incredible performances in it. Sir Ian McKellen was magnificent as the ex-pet toad of Prince Charles. I'm very proud of the work we did on it.

Last year, Peter Sallis sadly passed away. What was it about Peter that made you think "that's the voice of Wallace" and what was his relationship like with Nick Park?

Nick chose him because of his role in "Last of the Summer Wine", one of the longest running British sitcoms ever. It was the way that he articulated that Nick liked, he had a clarity of voice. Sounds were very separate and clear from one another, as well as a fantastic range of pitch. At the start of his career, Nick was a very shy young man and so Peter had a tendency to tell him what to do. As time went on, the tables started to turn completely, so that Pete would eventually say to him "just tell me how you want it done", conventionally a big no-no when working with actors! It's a great loss that's still felt by all of us.

Whenever you're done with a film or series, you must have lots of models left over. Do you keep them as storage or let staff take them home?

Storage is an interesting problem for us, some might even call it a nightmare! We have tonnes of stuff leftover from beautiful sets, and you just can't bear to throw it all in the skip, but a lot of things do end up there. We've never said to anyone that they can take objects home, and I wish we had done when we were working on Chicken Run because we had a fire at our storage area. All of the chickens were consumed in the flames, nothing was left!

For the Aardman Character Animation course, what sort of things would you look for in an applicant's show reel?

It's all about the craft and performance of animation, those two attributes are equally as important. We're looking for expressiveness and performance above perfect animation. Smooth animation with no life doesn't interest me, good posing on the other hand will stand you in very good stead. A lot of what we do is pose-to-pose animation, that's the key area in which to focus.