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A History of British Stop-Motion Animation
When looking into the history of stop-motion, it’s hard to overlook the impact that British studios and animators have h...
There are so many influences that go into making an animator want to get into the animation industry. Undeniably though one of the main forms of influence is the animated films, TV shows and advertising we watch throughout our lives.
There is now a vast amount of animated content being produced from so many amazing animation companies around the world. We wanted to highlight some of the studios who have influenced the team here – ones which inspired us in our journeys to become animators.
Studio Ghibli is often an animator’s first reference when it comes to the world of Anime. They’ve have released what many would say are some of the most beautiful animated films of all time. Each Studio Ghibli film shows off a powerhouse of 2D animation, music and background art, as well as covering a range of story types – from the fantastical to the mundane. Each one has a central focus on character and how life and the world affect each and every person in some way. If you’re a fan of animation and haven’t seen a Studio Ghibli film, you are missing out. Each of the studio’s films is now available on Netflix in the UK, so if you have the platform then give them a watch!
When The Fellowship of the Ring premiered in 2001, it was pioneering in its animated effects and people were blown away by the sheer scale of everything on-screen. From the hoards of Orcs to the sprawling underground landscape of The Mines of Moria, there was so much craft and detail put into every element on-screen. This is all thanks to WETA Digital, a studio specialising in digital modelling and animation. Their speciality is the seamless blending of live-action and digital elements. We as animators aim to replicate the real world in some way every day, and WETA Digital has done this brilliantly for over 20 years. Have a look into some of their work if you are in any way interested in digital animation, as their work is phenomenal.
Most of us grew up on a steady diet of cartoons, and one of the major sources for some of the most iconic animated shows over the past 40 years is Nickelodeon. In the 90s it was a haven for creative animation, giving rise to shows like SpongeBob SquarePants and Ren & Stimpy. Today these shows have amassed massive followings and have proved to influence the minds of many aspiring animators when thinking about cartoony and over the top animation.
Looney Tunes has been an inspiration for animators since it started. These cartoons’ ability to tell stories in such a small amount of time is amazingly inventive, and they’re a lot of fun to watch. Warner Bros, the studio behind them, spent over 30 years working on these cartoons which provided an influence for the formative years of so many animators. They showcase the talents of so many amazing animators, the most notable of these being Chuck Jones. The release of Looney Tunes showed people a direct contrast with what Disney was producing at the time and without that, the landscape of cartoons wouldn’t have evolved into what it is today.
Halas and Batchelor were a British animation studio founded by a husband and wife duo. Starting during the war creating propaganda cartoons, they went on to produce one of the most striking animations of the 1950s – the animated adaptation of George Orwell’s Animal Farm. This influential British-produced film shows us that animation can tackle a lot more than just topics and themes for children. The way that Animal Farm presents its ideas of Communism is very striking and influenced a whole generation of filmmakers wanting to tell any story they could through animation, regardless of subject matter.
Aardman surely has to be one of the most well known stop-frame animation companies globally, with memorable titles including the Wallace and Gromit films and Chicken Run. We feel that almost every stop-motion animator has been influenced by them in some way, be it through Aardman’s ingenious shorts, adverts or just their sheer impact on the industry throughout the years. Wallace and Gromit are household names with their films being massively influential to everyone here at the studio. Shaun the Sheep, Pirates and Early Man are a few other fantastic titles in Aardman Animation’s back catalogue which you may know. Their innovation in model making and their distinct claymation style solidify them as one of the standout studios of our time.
Even if their humour isn’t for everyone, you cannot deny the sheer speed and quality of the work that comes out of South Park Studios. Created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the show presents itself in a simple 2D style similar to paper-craft. The other amazing thing about this studio’s production model is its quick turnaround. Each episode goes from idea to finished animation in just one week! This is unheard of within the majority of the animation industry. If this has piqued your interest, check out the documentary 6 Days to Air, which takes you though the studios entire process from start to finish.
This studio’s impact on British children’s programming is immense. The sheer amount of content Cosgrove Hall have put out is noteworthy enough, not even taking into account the number of hits from their animation catalogue. They are responsible for big names like Noddy, Danger Mouse, Count Duckula, Bob the Builder and many more. They cover the full range of animation styles, from stop-motion to Digital 3D. It’s admirable that a studio can be responsible for so many great childhood shows. They have since ceased production as of 2003, but there is no doubt that their legacy continues with Manchester’s strong animation industry.
Laika Studios is now the world leader in feature film stop-motion animation. Bursting onto the scene in 2009 with the smash hit Coraline, they consistently push stop-frame animation to its limits, making massive advancements in animation technique, model making and camera movement. They’ve made a name for themselves fusing the old but faithful technique of stop-motion with the latest digital technology. Laika consistently put out some of the smoothest stop-motion animation to ever hit the big screen and have fully embraced 3D printing technology to improve the lip-synch and facial expressions on each of their characters. If you haven’t seen their films, definitely give them a go. They’ve produced some of the most creative and pioneering animations in recent years – well worth checking out their behind-the-scenes videos too!
Nobody has perfected the art of model and puppet making quite like Mackinnon and Saunders. They have worked on almost all of the biggest stop-motion animated releases ever – from Corpse Bride to Fantastic Mr Fox. Their development into how animated puppets can move is astounding, producing some of the most advanced puppet rigs we have ever seen (take a look at what went into making the Corpse Bride puppets alone). They have an eye for detail that is truly admirable as well as the technical ability to produce anything they can imagine. Check them out if you want to see some truly astounding modelling art.
There are so many influences which have shaped our love and understanding of animation, and these are just a few of our favourites that come to mind. It’s important to look into who is making the content you enjoy, as it gives you an insight into just how much work, talent and passion go into every project that you see on screen. Always lookout for new studios, as you never know what you might learn.
If you want some film recommendations from some amazing studios that you can watch right now, we have a list of our favourite animated shorts.