Nick Park and Jane Horrocks: How we made Chicken Run

‘Steven Spielberg flew us out to LA in a private jet and met us in a famous chicken restaurant’

Chicken Run.

Nick Park, co-director/producer

My sister kept pet chickens when we were kids and we’d make up these skits and cartoons where they’d always be the heroes of the story. Aged 17, on a foundation art course, I did a couple of stints at a chicken-packing factory. One day they sent me to the slaughterhouse and I saw all the live chickens hanging on a conveyor belt, held upside down by their legs – it was horrifying. In a way, chickens have always been in the back of my mind.

When [Aardman Animations co-founder] Peter Lord and I began discussing the concept of The Great Escape with chickens, the whole thing just fitted together. It was when we were at the Sundance film festival showing A Close Shave that we got a call from DreamWorks. Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg sent a private jet to fly us to Los Angeles for a night – they wanted to know if we had any feature film ideas. By coincidence they arranged for the meeting to take place in a famous chicken restaurant. At that point all we had were a few thoughts scribbled on a scrap of paper, but the idea of chickens plotting their grand escape went down really well. I remember Steven saying that The Great Escape was his favourite film, and he had 300 chickens on his farm.

So that was pretty much the green light for Aardman – a fairly unknown British outfit – to get things going. For a while we toyed with various ideas and storylines, but then [American screenwriter] Karey Kirkpatrick came on board and suggested introducing a romance between Ginger and the maverick cockerel, Rocky [voiced by Mel Gibson]. Karey brought a Hollywood angle to the team, which was excellent for bringing Rocky to life.

Sometimes our American colleagues would be confused by British slang. Because the film is set in Yorkshire we used some very specific phrases. We’d then get notes asking: “What is a wassock?” Sometimes we got away with saying things because they simply didn’t know what we meant.

The animators generally got through around two or three seconds a day. We’d crack open the champagne if we managed to get a minute in a week. The pie machine sequence, my favourite scene, took around three months.

There was an atmosphere of excitement on set as it was our first proper foray into feature films. There was a nervousness, too – we were determined to prove that we hadn’t sold out, despite signing with a Hollywood studio. When the film came out, the reviews were mostly good – certainly good enough to feel like we’d hit the mark, although some accused Aardman of getting in bed with Hollywood and losing its national-treasure status. It’s incredible to me that 20 years have passed since we made that film and it’s still thought of as a classic.

Jane Horrocks, Voice of  “Babs”

I can’t actually remember whether I was simply offered the role of Babs or if I auditioned for it. But what I do remember is the whole cast getting together for a read-through, which was unusual for an animation. I’d worked with Julia Sawalha on Ab Faband knew Timothy Spall really well. It felt like being with old friends. Benjamin Whitrow, who played the RAF rooster Fowler, had a really loud voice and nearly blasted our ears off. He was absolutely perfect for the role! You could sense when we were all together that the film was going to be something special.

Nick as a director was specific about what he wanted and I really enjoyed working with him. Both he and Pete Lord had a strong overall vision, not only for the animation but for what the characters sounded like. I’d received drawings of Babs and knew she was a larger lady – or should I say larger chicken? We had one recording with the whole cast together, then I had about four or five sessions on my own.

Babs, left, and the hens pamper Rocky.

It’s such a beautifully written and clever film without being overly sentimental and cheesy. You’re really rooting for the characters: you want them to win. My agent and I used to laugh about it marking the start of my “fowl period” as I went on to play a number of chickens in other animations.

I wasn’t able to go to the premiere but I was in New York when it came out, so I went to see it in the cinema. The audience didn’t seem to get the irony and there wasn’t much laughter. Back in the UK, I went to see it in the cinema again. Of course, that was a different cup of tea altogether. The audience responded exactly as I hoped they would and roared with laughter.

Babs is very similar to Bubble in Ab Fab. I think I do the dumb blonde role quite well – it comes naturally! It’s only been after years of people quoting Babs’s lines back at me that I’ve realised how good they are. I think my favourite is: “I don’t want to be a pie, I don’t like gravy!” When people hear my voice they “recognise” me. Some time ago, I went into my local dry cleaner’s and the woman working there said: “Can I ask you whether you happen to be the voice of a plasticine chicken?”

Source: Nick Park and Jane Horrocks: how we made Chicken Run

Behind-the-scenes look at mixing the clay for Wallace and Gromit

When producing their claymation-style feature films or Wallace and Gromit & Shaun the Sheep animations, Aardman Animations goes through 100s of pounds of modeling clay. As Adam Savage learned on a recent visit to Aardman, bulk clay from the factory is run through several processes to ensure that Gromit’s fur is the same shade in frame #6800 as it was in frame #1 and that the consistency is appropriate for the modelers.

Shot and edited by Joey Fameli Produced by Kristen Lomasney

Watch Tom Hiddleston in the booth doing voice acting

Voice acting can be challenging for screen actors, often requiring the kind of extreme, over-the-top delivery that they look to avoid when working on a live-action project.

This is clear in a behind-the-scenes look at upcoming Ardmaan stop-motion animation Early Man, which The Independent brings you exclusively today, seeing Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston and Maisie Williams trying to get their mouths around the dialogue Wallace and Gromit director Nick Park has given them.

At one point, Park has to give Hiddleston a chop-heavy back massage in order to get the right sounds of him [ . . . ]

Watch the AMAZING video interview at: Watch Tom Hiddleston in the booth doing voice acting

Early Man review

I don’t think Early Man is quite at the peak of the Wallace & Gromit shorts – I hold The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave in particularly high esteem – but it’s very much a joyous family movie

The new film from Aardman sets out a very ambitious table of treats in its opening five minutes or so. A stop-frame animated piece, it immediately zeroes in on a prehistoric area of the planet just outside of Manchester. Early Man then starts with a lovely homage to the style of Ray Harryhausen (and more treats await in the end credits), charts the end of the dinosaurs, introduces some furry underpants and covers the early days of football. Oh, and it’s knocked someone off too. That’s efficiency. Proper storytelling efficiency.

Early Man, then, is the hugely enjoyable new film from the sure-to-be-knighted, multi-Oscar winning director Nick Park, who in turn has invented his first collection of totally brand new characters since 2000’s Chicken Run. He’s settled for his story on a bunch of generally lump-headed caveman and women, all with geographic roots in the UK, who live in a valley that’s overshadowed by the apparently progressive Bronze Age City next door.

Whilst the cavefolk, cheerily led by Eddie Redmayne’s Dug and his dad, Timothy Spall’s Chief Bobnar, try and prolong their existence, the dastardly Lord Nooth next door – Tom Hiddleston – has other ideas. The Queen – Miriam Margolyes! – too [ . . . ] More at: Early Man review

What’s the future for Wallis and Gromit after the sad loss of Peter Sallis?

Last of the Summer Wine star was the wonderful voice behind Wallace

As Aardman gears up to introduce fans to a set of brand new prehistoric-themes characters, Sproxton said it would be tricky to replace the star in any future Wallace and Gromit films.

“There will be somebody out there,” he said. “But it’s a great shame because Peter was a lovely actor and there was something very special he brought to the part which other people did find hard.

“It was his natural warmth and kind of innocence that gave Wallace a real character. It was very sad to see him go.” [ . . . . ]

More at: What’s the future for Wallis and Gromit after the sad loss of Peter Sallis?