After a 10-year break in new character creation, stop-frame specialist Aardman Animations has the development bug. And in a first for the Wallace and Gromit creator, 2D-animated projects are leading the charge.
Guided by executive creative director Sarah Cox, the famed UK studio has spent the last 20 months crafting a new comedy slate of original TV concepts, showcasing a new team of creative talent—directors and writers from inside and outside Aardman—with skills matched to 2D, stop-frame and CG projects.
Cox, who previously served as owner and creative director at film and animation prodco ArthurCox, was brought in to develop a separate pipeline from Aardman’s renowned stop-frame work so that “the studio wouldn’t be so dependent on one project ending in order to begin the next,” she says. The new pipeline is open to 2D and CG animation, she adds, but the first three projects are being developed in 2D.
While two of the projects remain veiled in secrecy, the first to be announced is Lloyd of the Flies, a 52 x 11-minute original Aardman comedy directed by award-winning shorts and commercials director Matthew Walker (Cartoon D’Or-nominated John and Karen). The series explores the misadventures of Lloyd B Fly, a housefly who lives with his parents, little sister PB and their 225 maggot siblings in the rotting apple they call home. With his best friend Abacus, eccentric Cornea Butterfly and little sister in tow, Lloyd learns there’s a much bigger world beyond the fruit bowl to explore.
To date, Aardman has completed a bible, one script, an animatic and an animation test for the series.
Keen on keeping its bread-and-butter stop-motion content fresh, there are also some changes coming to the sixth season of hit series Shaun the Sheep.
“While it’s obviously not a new property, we are looking to include more contemporary themes and new occasional characters. We’re also working with a crop of new writing talent, including Horrible Histories script editor Giles Pilbrow, and some exciting female writers like Lucy Guy,” says Cox. “In a way, having an established series that is up and running gives us a good chance to test people out.”
Beyond traditional TV, the company is also seeking opportunities to work with streaming platforms. Cox says her big focus now is Aardman specials.
“What’s interesting is we’ve always had to stay within 28 minutes for specials like BBC’s Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas, but with the streamers there’s potential to go a little bit longer. There are ways to explore new characters and revisit our beloved existing characters without the full commitment of a movie,” says Cox.
She notes that despite the format’s higher cost, Aardman’s new specials will mostly stick with stop-frame, but also explore CG animation.
When asked whether the company is concerned about tight SVOD deadlines for content turnaround, Cox says that Aardman is being realistic with its expectations.
“We’re not cheap and we’re not fast, but we are good. And although series like Shaun the Sheep are done really quickly because we have a very efficient pipeline, an SVOD special, for example, could potentially take a long time. So instead of planning for Christmas 2019, we would more likely shoot for the following year,” she says.
Looking ahead, Cox says her biggest challenge will be deciding what ideas get greenlit.
“We have a lot of talent and concepts, but in the end, only a few projects that we truly love will move forward,” she says. “It’s about making those choices at the right time. Because there’s a bonanza in content at the moment, there’s a temptation to try and meet every demand, so we have to choose carefully.”