I went to the Barbican to spend a few hours at the Watch Me Move: The Animation Show last weekend, and it was a thoroughly entertaining way to spend a few hours. If you live in or around London you have to go see it (it’s on until 11 September) – the exhibition space itself is beautiful and thoughtfully presented, and there’s dozens of great, rare animated shorts that you won’t be able to watch anywhere else. The film that made the biggest impression on me was Google nightmare Zbigniew Rybczynski’s Oscar-winning Tango, but unfortunately the film is currently unavailable on YouTube or Vimeo. I will try to locate a copy soon, however.
It was a thrill to see a show like this as I’ve always been a huge animation geek. I remember persuading my Dad to take me to an animation expo in Cardiff at the age of about 10; around the same time I remember a trip to London where I begged everyone to come visit the Animation Art Gallery in London with me. I think a large part of the reason I was so into animation was due to the fact Bristol, my hometown, was the home to Aardman Animations, creators of Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, and probably the greatest animation studio ever to come out of Britain.
I was a huge Wallace and Gromit fan, obviously – I’d still put The Wrong Trousers in my list of the greatest British films of all time – and I even had a plasticine animation kit, which I used to make horribly disfigured versions of Wallace, Gromit, and my long-suffering friends and family.
I could base this entire column on Aardman shorts, but this week I’m going to focus on a couple of their lesser known works, Going Equipped and War Story. Both films were included as part Lip Synch, a five-part series for Channel 4 that also included the hugely popular and Oscar-winning Creature Comforts. I’m sure everyone reading this is familiar with the original creature comforts, or at least the Electricity Board adverts that were ubiquitous in the 90s. Needless to say it’s still a masterpiece and remains as sharp and as funny as ever.
Peter Lord’s Going Equipped and War Story are based around the same conceit as Creature Comforts – namely, stop motion animated sequences created around audio of recorded interviews with people from a large cross-section of British society.
While Creature Comforts featured around a dozen separate interviews, Going Equipped and War Story focus on single interviews, acting essentially as mini character profiles. What’s interesting is how different the animation styles are, and how tailored they are to each subject.
War Story features the intensely loveable elderly raconteur Bill Perry, who regales us with amusing stories of wartime family life through thick, burring West country dialect. The animation style here is familiar to anyone who’s seen Wallace and Gromit - not surprising, seeing as Nick Park was heavily involved in the animation – with lovable duffers occupying homely terraced houses rich with humorous detail. The animation skill here is really something to behold – Lord really knows when to supplement Bill’s tales with a well-timed visual gag, and when to sit back and let him, literally, do the talking.
Going Equipped, on the other hand, is diametrically opposed in terms of tone, detailing as it does the struggle of a young man who has been in and out of crime since his early childhood. Lord strives here for a much more realistic animation style that I haven’t seen Aardman attempt before or since, and it is truly remarkable in places in its expressiveness. One great aspect of Aardman stuff (particularly their early work) is the earthy, raw quality of it – in many places you can still see the fingerprints. In the case of Going Equipped, one perhaps unintentional (but more likely intended) result of this is that it emphasises the weathered, beaten-down nature of its central figure – he genuinely looks like he has been physically worn down by the pressures of the world he has found himself in.
I’ve seen much debate recently over who is the best animation studio, after the recent release of Studio Ghibli’s well-received Borrowers adaptation Arrietty, and Pixar’s less well-received Cars 2. No one seems to mention Aardman though, who despite being far less prolific in terms of feature releases, have a body of work that stands up against any other animation studio in history.
It’s great to re-discover these shorts again, and you know what? It’s great to hear some Bristolian accents again.
I miss Bristol. *sigh*