Shaun the Sheep has featured in Aardman-produced ads for McDonalds
Aardman, the film studio of Wallace & Gromit fame, has announced a partnership with production company Independent Films, which will see the two offer advertisers and agencies films that combine animation with live action at a budget-beating cost.
The two partners first met after Aardman co-founder Peter Lord was featured in a series that Independent was producing. They came together formally after noticing a lack of production talent that could handle both animation and live action; all the while, demand for the creative was growing.
“It’s definitely a growth area – we’re getting a lot of boards in that are a mix of animation and live action," said Heather Wright, executive producer and head of partner content at Aardman. “When you get an animated character into live action it looks totally believable. The imagination crosses over to a different place – you cross a line where you rediscover childhood inspiration.
“I feel that people love that permission to think freely given they were younger.”
The partnership, however, is required because when it comes to combining the worlds of fantasy and real life, it’s near-impossible to ‘get you a studio that can do both’.
“Historically what I’ve seen is when a live action company tries to open up its own animation division, inevitably it doesn’t work out because it’s very difficult to master more than one creative area,” said Jani Guest, managing director of Independent. “I think the beauty of this partnership is we’re not saying we’re each going start working in each other’s area of expertise – we’re saying that together we can make the whole for an agency or a brand.”
Wright agrees that it’s difficult to be a master of both styles. “We’re not great at live action,” she said. “We’ve done bits of pieces and I’ll put my hand up and say that they’ve not been great and we could definitely do it better.”
Aardman and Independent hope that alongside the arguably unique proposition, they can reel in brands and agencies on price too. Wright and Guest are not ignorant to the “challenging budgets” clients face; Independent already has experience in catering to the market of advertisers with a smaller purse than pre-2008.
“We launched [online content division] Indy8 in response to the fact that a lot of clients were needing work that was sitting in far smaller budgets parameters that they had originally,” Guest explained. “This really came out of the recession and a complete change in how the market was working.
“I think Indy8 has achieved amazing things in being able to deliver premium quality work with very, very limited budgets. When you normally have a live action and an animation project, putting things together can become incredibly costly. But the fact that we have a roster of directors who can work within live action challenges – combined with what Aardman offers – means we should be able to create a great film for clients within the spend that they have.”
What does Aardman offer? To put it bluntly, means of production – its studios, equipment and full service CGI animation, audio and post-production capabilities located in one facility in Bristol. It has begun producing content for virtual reality experiences.
Alongside advertising work, the new partnership sees potential in the visitor attraction and theme park industry, where tethered VR content is in growing demand. “We’re looking at that experiential type of content very actively at Aardman because since we’ve started doing a lot more visitor attractions with our own characters like Shaun the Sheep, we’re being approached by a lot more people who say: ‘Can you make a film for our theme park that we can share around the world?’”
Work is already underway for Independent and Aardman partnership – but don’t expect the creative to simply feature stylised replications of Wallace, Gromit et al.
Aardman has been creating commercials for clients alongside its big screen since its formation 40 years ago, and a third of a business comes from partner content. Its creatives have produced films for brands such as McDonalds, Persil and the NSPCC, and Wright believes the diversity of this work is “fantastic training and experimental ground for our directors and the whole studio”.
“We have tons of artists and animators who work in different styles so I think we’ll just respond to the brief,” she added. “It’s project dependent. We’re not selling looks, we’re selling stories and characters.”