Aardman Animations, Ltd., also known as Aardman Studios, or simply as Aardman, is a British animation studio based in Bristol, United Kingdom. The studio is known for films made using stop-motion clay animation techniques, particularly those featuring Plasticine characters Wallace and Gromit. However, it successfully entered the computer animation market with Flushed Away (2006).
Aardman was founded in 1972 as a low-budget project by Peter Lord and David Sproxton, who wanted to realise their dream of producing an animated motion picture. The partnership provided animated sequences for the BBC series for deaf children Vision On. After creating a segment called "Greeblies" (1975) using clay animation, became what was the inspiration for creating Morph, a simple clay character. Around the same time Lord and Sproxton made their first foray into adult animation with the shorts Down and Out and Confessions of a Foyer Girl, entries in the BBC's Animated Conversations series using real-life conversations as soundtracks. However, these two shorts were not actual Aardman productions. Aardman also created the title sequence for The Great Egg Race and supplied animation for the multiple award winning music video of Peter Gabriel's song "Sledgehammer".
Later Aardman produced a number of shorts for Channel 4 including the Conversation Pieces series. These five shorts worked in the same area as the Animated Conversations pieces, but were more sophisticated. Lord and Sproxton began hiring more animators at this point; three of the newcomers made their directorial debut at Aardman with the Lip Synch series. Of the five Lip Synch shorts two were directed by Peter Lord, one by Barry Purves, one by Richard Goleszowski and one by Nick Park.
Park's short, Creature Comforts, was the first Aardman production to win an Oscar. Park also developed the clay modelled shorts featuring the adventures of Wallace and Gromit, a comical pair of friends: Wallace being a naive English green-knitted-tank top-wearing inventor, and Gromit his best friend, the intelligent but silent dog. These films include A Grand Day Out(1989), The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995), the latter two winning Academy Awards.
In December 1997, Aardman and DreamWorks (later DreamWorks Animation) announced that their companies were teaming up to co-finance and distribute Chicken Run, Aardman's first feature film, which had already been in pre-production for a year. On October 27, 1999, Aardman and DreamWorks signed a $250 million deal to make an additional four films in an estimated next 12 years. With the deal was also announced the first project, titled The Tortoise and the Hare. Intended to be based on Aesop's fable and directed by Richard Goleszowski, it was put on hold two years later because of script issues. On June 23, 2000, Chicken Run was released to a great critical and financial success. In 2005, after ten years of absence, Wallace and Gromit returned in Academy awarded Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Next year followed Flushed Away, Aardman's first computer-animated feature.
On October 1, 2006, right before the release of Flushed Away, The New York Times reported that due to creative differences DreamWorks Animation and Aardman would not be extending their contract. The deal was officially terminated on January 30, 2007.According to Aardman's spokesman Arthur Sheriff: "The business model of DreamWorks no longer suits Aardman and vice versa. But the split couldn't have been more amicable." Unofficial reasons for departure were weak performances of the last two movies, for which DreamWorks had to take writedowns, and citing the article, "Aardman executives chafed at the creative control DreamWorks tried to exert, particularly with Flushed Away..." The studio had another film in development, Crood Awakening, which had been announced in 2005, with John Cleese co-writing the screenplay. With the end of the partnership, the film's rights reverted back to DreamWorks.
Meanwhile, on 10 October 2005, a serious fire at a storage facility used by Aardman and other Bristol based companies destroyed over 30 years of awards collected by the company as well as props, models, and scenery often build by the Bristol based Cod Steaks. This warehouse was used for storage of past projects and so did not prevent the production of their current projects at the time. In addition, the company's library of finished films was stored elsewhere and was undamaged. An electrical fault was determined to be the cause of the blaze. Referring to the 2004 South Asia earthquake and tsunami, Park was quoted as saying, "Even though it is a precious and nostalgic collection and valuable to the company, in light of other tragedies, today isn't a big deal."
From 2006–2007, the Ghibli Museum in Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan, had an exhibit featuring the works of Aardman Studios. Sproxton and Lord visited the exhibit in May 2006 and met with animator Hayao Miyazaki during the visit.Miyazaki has long been a fan of the Aardman Animation works.
In April 2007 Aardman signed and in 2010 renewed a three-year deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment to finance, co-produce and distribute feature films. Aardman co-founder Peter Lord remarked "We are all very excited by the potential and have a number of projects we are keen to bring to fruition with this new relationship." In 2008 however, before the first film with Sony, Aardman released a new Wallace and Gromit film, called A Matter of Loaf and Death. The first film, Aardman's first 3-D feature film, a computer-animated Arthur Christmas, was released in 2011. In 2012 was released The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (known internationally as The Pirates! Band of Misfits), Aardman's first 3-D stop-motion film and Peter Lord's first film as a director since Chicken Run.
An additional two films were announced in June 2007:
- The Cat Burglars, a stop-motion directed by Steve Box, about cats that steal milk, and their plans to pull off 'the great milk float robbery'. It is touted as a 'Tarantino' cross Ocean's Eleven style picture and written by Ashley Pharoahand Matthew Graham of Life on Mars .
- An untitled Nick Park project (although confirmed not a Wallace and Gromit feature).
Aardman is also known to provide generous resources and training to young animators by providing awards at various animation festivals. For example, The Aardman Award at the UK's Animex Festival in Teesside provides world class story consultation to a promising young animator, for their next film.
They also designed the BBC One Christmas Idents for that year, which featured Wallace and Gromit to tie in with the showing of the new Wallace and Gromit film called A Matter of Loaf and Death on Christmas Day at 8:30pm.
In April 2008, Aardman launched the Aardman YouTube channel, which is a YouTube Partner channel featuring the entire Creature Comforts TV series, the Morph series, Cracking Contraptions and clips from the Wallace and Gromitfilms.
In 2009, Nintendo announced that Aardman would make twelve short films using only Flipnote Studio from Nintendo DSi. The films were posted on Flipnote's Hatena web service provider. The first film was called The Sandwich Twins and was released on September 16, 2009. The remaining eleven films were released on a weekly basis until Christmas, and can also be downloaded using Hatena.
The company name is taken from one of its early characters, a superhero created for Vision On in 1972. Unlike the claymation productions that the company are famous for, Aardman was cel-animated. The name derives from the Dutch phrase "aard man" meaning Nature Man, when joined together, "aardman" becomes "Earthman" more commonly translated to: "goblin".