July 21, 2011


If the name Aardman Animation sounds familiar to you, it’s for good reason. While not as prolific as DreamWorks or Pixar, the studio turns out fantastic animated films. Past Aardman flicks include Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromit, and at this year’s Comic-Con, the studio gave a preview of their two upcoming releases The Pirates! Band of Misfits and Arthur Christmas. Hit the jump for our full recap from the panel.

Moderator Ralph Garman began by introducing The Pirates! Band of Misfits, which kicked off with the recently released trailer shown in 3D. The trailer is, quite simply, hilarious and if you’re wondering how stop-motion animation looks in 3D the answer is gorgeous.

the-pirates-band-of-misfits-posterPeter Lord talks about still working in stop-motion animation. He says everyone always talks about how slow it is, but he says it’s more fun to do than computer animation. Inspiration for the story was looking back to classic pirate movies, after which they focused on having ridiculous fun.

Lord gave a quick synopsis for the film, saying it centers on a cheerful, optimistic pirate captain (Hugh Grant) who loves being a pirate.  Lord’s description was accompanied by clips of each character that played side-by-side with Lord speaking on the screen. One of the supporting characters is named “The Pirate with a Scarf” (Martin Freeman), with other characters including Albino Pirate and Polly the parrot who is unbelievably adorable (she’s also actually a Dodo, but none of the characters in the film realize this).

The ambition of the pirate captain is to win the “Pirate of the Year” award. When he goes into town for the award, he encounters his nemesis Black Belamy (Jeremy Piven) who wins the award every year. The pirates go sailing in an attempt to get booty by attacking ships (where they encounter everything from Lepers to schoolchildren). On the last ship the pirates try to take for booty they encounter Charles Darwin (David Tennant). Darwin takes the pirates to London where they meet the main villain of the film, Queen Victoria (Imelda Staunton).

Garman asked if he found any differences between the American actors and the British actors when working with them. He said he didn’t, but Piven would often improv his lines.

Lord then showed some behind-the-scenes clips that revealed what it’s like to create a stop-motion animated film. What struck me most was that the animators frequently act out the scenes themselves in order to get a better idea of how to animate their actions. We also saw a lot of the miniature sets, many of which were actually more like bigatures with the animators crawling through them to set up their “actors.”

The panel then switched gears to talk about Aardman’s other animated film Arthur Christmas. Screenwriter Peter Baynham came out to talk about the CG-animated holiday film that focuses on Santa Claus’ son Arthur. Baynham revealed how their approach to Santa is a bit different than the classic tale, as Santa’s sled looks more like the starship Enterprise than a classic wooden vehicle.

arthur-christmas-movie-poster-02We also got a look at “mission control” which is where Satna’s elves help his army around the world work to ensure that everyone gets their presents each Christmas. The elves have different duties (there exists an IT elf) and wear differing plainclothes as opposed to uniforms.

In Arthur Christmas, Santa Claus is not an immortal, but rather exists in a more monarchy-like fashion as the “throne” is passed down generation after generation. Steve (Hugh Laurie) is next in line to take over when Santa (Jim Broadbent) retires, but Santa’s father Grandsanta (Bill Nighy) is a cranky old kook who rustles up trouble. Then there’s Santa’s son Arthur (James McAvoy) who works in the letters department of the North Pole. Arthur is the film’s hero.

Baynham showed us the teaser trailer that’s been out for a while, as well as a clip from the film. The clip featured Santa encountering a “waker” (a kid awoke when he was in the room trying to deliver presents), and the elves back at mission control freaking out and troubleshooting how to get Santa out of the child’s room. The tone is very much like a Mission:Impossible-style thriller, with the elves running the command center while Santa is out delivering presents and encountering trouble, with a healthy dose of ridiculousness.

Arthur Christmas has the same goofy humor that you would expect from the studio, but I found myself laughing more (and by more I mean hysterically) at The Pirates! Nevertheless, Aardman Animation has a knack for wildly entertaining films and both of their new outings appear to be no exception.

Click here for all our Comic-Con 2011 coverage.

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