Cracking book, Gromit

Matthew Valentine checks out a new book by the Aardman team on 3D animation and finds much more than just Wallace and Gromit

The world of animation has benefited from the success of film characters Wallace and Gromit to an extraordinary degree. Not only have the three films featuring the Northern duo – A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave – had awards heaped upon them, but creator Nick Park has become an icon for young would-be animators.

Things were different when Park himself started out, as he explains in the foreword to Cracking

Animation – The Aardman Book of 3D Animation. “I did not meet another animator or even anyone with a vague knowledge of the technique,” he says. Like many animators of his generation he largely taught himself. The founders of Aardman Animation, the company Park created Wallace and Gromit with, had similar experiences. Peter Lord and Dave Sproxton made films at their kitchen tables from the age of 12, with knowledge gleaned from TV documentaries about cartoon-makers Disney and Hanna Barbera.

Producing this book – co-written by Lord and writer and broadcaster Brian Sibley – could be seen as a way for Aardman to put something back into what is now a thriving industry.

As well as a guide to the techniques of a variety of 3D animation styles, using Aardman films to provide practical examples, the book includes a fascinating history of the form. From the work of early film special effects pioneers like George Méliès through to famous stop-frame animators such as Ray Harryhausen, who reached his zenith with the famous fighting skeletons in Jason and the Argonauts, the book proves an enthusiastic guide.

And while the sections on techniques and practical animation focus on Aardman films, the authors resist the temptation to become a transparent plug for Aardman. They also use a wide variety of Aardman films to make their point, making it clear that there is more to the company than Wallace and Gromit. From its early success with Morph, a character from kids TV show Vision On, Aardman has made a huge number of films and advertisements.

Refreshingly, the book makes constant references to the importance of a decent script to the success of any film. Hollywood studios, which spend tens of millions of dollars to create blockbusters with one tenth of the appeal of an Aardman commercial for Polo mints, would be well advised to take note.

Cracking Animation: The Aardman Book of 3D Animation by Peter Lord and Brian Sibley is published on 2 November by Thames and Hudson, priced 19.95

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