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Wallace And Gromit Restored – A Special AMPAS Animation Event

Animation historian Maureen Furniss (left), cinematographer Dave Alex Riddett (center) and Aardman Animations’ co-founder David Sproxton during “Wallace and Gromit Restored. Photo credit: AMPAS

A crowd of animation enthusiast who traveled as far away as the UK were anxiously waiting for the doors to open at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater August 7th. They’d learned The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences special Marc Davis Celebration of Animation was presenting four newly restored shorts featuring Aardman Animation’s beloved team, Wallace and Gromit.

“Wallace and Gromit Restored” first began percolating in 2010 when Michael Pogorzelski, Director of Film Archives at the Academy began discussing the need for the preservation and digitizing of the animation studio’s early critically acclaimed shorts. Beginning with the Oscar nominated short “A Grand Day Out” and encompassing six additional shorts including Oscar winners “The Wrong Trousers” and “A Close Shave” the preservationist decided each restored short would be scanned on 35 mm film in order to capture their essence in the format they were originally presented in. The Oscar nominated digitally shot “A Matter of Loaf and Death” was preserved digitally to match its original process.

Prior to present the four shorts, Animation historian and critic Charles Solomon shared some insight as to the impact Aardman had on the animation world, and a key reason it was imperative to ensure their original films were preserved for future generations.

“For the first time in stop-motion, characters were moving subtly and believably and giving the kind of nuanced performances that heretofore only the best drawn animation was capable of,” said Solomon.

SEE ALSO:  From Single To Score: Composer Ilan Eshkeri Covers The Flock In “Shaun The Sheep” 

Solomon referenced scenes in early Aardman “Wallace and Gromit” adventures where the stop-motion presented emotional expressiveness and extreme grace that the finest performance actors aren’t always capable of. Wallace, a Londoner found of building outlandish inventions and the flavor of fine tea and cheese often creates situations Gromit, his faithful and intelligently-superior dog must resolve. Solomon shared moments in the film where the sadness, frustration, wonderment and joy are fully realized within facial movements and manipulations in the character’s construction. Solomon also informed the audience that the Aardman shorts also were the first examples of stop motion animation that refined movement in the characters, production design and props used throughout the shorts. Gestures and movement was fluid and complete for the first time, as opposed to jumpy and without continuity.

The screening of the shorts was mixed with conversations between animation historian and the evening’s moderator Maureen Furniss and Aardman Animation’s Co-Founder and Executive Chairman David Sproxton and Aardman Cinematographer Dave Alex Riddett. Sproxton and Riddett discussed the crew’s early experimentation of laying down camera tracks to capture smooth motion of the characters as they moved through the fifteen foot set. Their goal was to acquire a smooth, static movement; however after reviewing test footage, they decided slight camera movement added to the realism of the action.

“We tried nice linear camera track and smooth movements. It was rubbish, it lacked excitement,” said Riddett. “It had no tension to it, so we went back to basics.”

Added Sproxton, “The irregularity of that human movement gave the film a lot more energy.”

To help save time in the production of movement captured every two seconds, some aspects of sets were recycled from film to film. For instance, there were panels in “The Wrong Trousers” that were made for “A Grand Day Out.” Another trick of the Aardman trade is to make “infinity sets” – the sides mirror each other so forward motion can be captured by moving right then reversing left. They also would sometimes use random material in place of sets, creating more of an impressionistic world. In “The Wrong Trousers” a red coat stood in for a hilly background landscape. In the particular scene, the creation of a detailed environment wasn’t necessary due to it’s position in the background.  The coat provided the proper texture and color that resulted in a believable moment in the film.

The pair also discussed the importance of lighting. The lighting of every Wallace and Gromit set has been approached as if the film was a major theatrical production.

“The sets are smaller and the distance between items is fewer,” said Riddett. “We light the sets the same way we would light a real set, but we must adjust for the size ratio. There’s an emotional impact that comes with proper lighting.”

Presented on the verge of the release of their latest feature, “Shaun the Sheep,” Proxton sat a version of Shaun next to him on the stage. He informed the audience that if one looks closely, they could see all the elements of Nick Park’s, the creator of Aardman Animation upcoming films.

“The trends in Nick’s thinking can be seen in his earliest films. If you watch carefully there’s a sheep in the background of ‘A Grand Day Out’,” said Proxton. “Keeping Shaun silent lent itself to valuable physical comedy.”

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