Wallace and Gromit makers expand into CGI as Covid leads to animation boom

·3-min read
The animation market is worth around £195 billion up from £187 billion two years ago - Allstar Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo 
The animation market is worth around £195 billion up from £187 billion two years ago - Allstar Picture Library / Alamy Stock Photo

Aardman Productions, the Oscar-winning British studio behind Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, is embarking on a major expansion into computer-generated production (CGI) to meet an increasing global demand for more animation films and series.

Lloyd of the Flies, a major 52-episode comedy about a housefly, will mark the first time that Aardman has created an entire CGI production in-house.

It marks a dramatic development for a studio that began on a kitchen-table 40 years ago, making its name with stop-motion plasticine creatures and through CGI co-productions, such as Arthur Christmas, made with Sony Pictures.

Covid-19 has given urgency to the demand for new productions, with audiences stuck inside craving new programmes.

While live action productions have been delayed or are struggling to shoot amid coronavirus safety measures, animators have been able to work from the safety of their homes, fuelling an animation boom that is expected to outlast the current health crisis.

Sean Clarke, Aardman’s managing director, told The Telegraph: “The animation market is worth around $270 billion (£195bn) – up from $259 billion (£187bn) two years ago – growing around two or three per cent a year. It’s really accelerating.

“If there’s any upside of Covid-19, it has been that so many people are home… It has accelerated the need for more animation.

“Covid-19 clearly has had an impact on theatrical releases, but its overarching effect has been positive on animation in that it’s growing very quickly. So we’ve tried to embrace that.”

He said that there is “not a real material difference” in using CGI against plasticine or modelling clay with respect to time and budget: “[But] you can save some time for subsequent animated productions using the same characters.”

Still from Shaun The Sheep Movie - Chris Johnson 
Still from Shaun The Sheep Movie - Chris Johnson

While embracing the move to CGI, Mr Clarke said we will still see more traditional stop-motion projects from the Bristol studio.

He added: “We definitely see a future in stop motion animation. It is the studio's legacy and we have productions lined up until 2024.

“CGI just allows us to take the key strength of the studio in strong character-led storytelling to tell different types of stories in large expansive worlds that are harder to tell in clay or puppets.”

He spoke of “a real explosion in animation films”, noting that 23 major movies – those with budgets over £10 million – will be released in 2021, compared with 15 in 2011.

Netflix is taking on Disney in planning to release as many as six original animated movies a year, as well as its animated series.

While Aardman has around 100 animators and other specialists working from home remotely, it is now hiring a new CGI crew for planned productions.

Lloyd of the Flies is a series of 11-minute episodes for seven to 11-year-olds, acquired by ITV’s children’s channel, CITV. It follows the adventures of Lloyd B Fly, a housefly and the middle child of 453, who lives with his parents inside a compost-bin they call home.

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