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CHICKEN RUN

About The Technology
Animation as a broad term encompasses a variety of styles that have expanded in recent years with the advent of computers. But while technology has revolutionized much of the animation industry, the painstaking techniques of stop-motion or clay animation— though refined over the years—have remained virtually unchanged since the genre's inception. In many ways, clay animation is a closer cousin to live action than to other forms of animation, in that the characters, sets and costumes are all physical, not drawn or computer generated. In fact, Aardman refers to their particular style of filmmaking as "live action in miniature."

All of the "Chicken Run" sets were constructed from scratch by production designer Phil Lewis and art director Tim Farrington and their team. Here, computer technology did come into play, as it allowed the designers to fabricate a computer model of each set and move within it, seeing how it would appear from any angle before it was physically built.

The main compound of the chicken farm was the largest of the sets, running the entire 60-foot length of the studio. The corrugated roofing on the huts was fashioned by feeding small sheets of tin into two interlocking serrated rollers. The barbed wire around the chicken yard was manufactured by winding wire onto a board with pegs and then adding tiny, twisted barbs, which—as those making them could attest—were small but decidedly vicious. All the backgrounds were painted on stretched canvas.

The Tweedys' house was deliberately cheerless and ominous looking. "We wanted something evil, a kind of castle of doom," Park affirms. "It's closer to the 'Psycho' house than a real Yorkshire farm, so it's a bit of a cheat, I'm afraid."

Sproxton notes, "The sets are three-dimensional; they have real textures, and you almost feel like you can step into them. I think the audience enjoys that tangibility, and as kids we all wanted our dolls or action figures to come to life and speak, so the puppets have that added appeal."

Despite their appeal, the puppets in "Chicken Run" presented the filmmakers with a new set of challenges that had perhaps not immediately occurred to them when they chose chickens as their main characters. The physical attributes that prevent chickens from flying— a major theme of the story—were the very attributes that made them problematic as puppets.

"The idea of a collection of chickens with fat, round bodies standing on spindly little legs gave us pause," Park admits.

"And feathers," Lord adds. "We realized you can't do feathers in Plasticine, you can't do thin legs, and the bodies were going to weigh a ton."

Nevertheless, the filmmakers were committed, so the Aardman model makers, led by model production designer Joy Sanger, set to work finding a solution to the problem. After much experimentation, they began by creating Plasticine sculptures from which molds were made in order to cost latex skins. The skins were then fifed over silicone body shapes, which housed the intricate skeletal armatures that allowed the figures to be manipulated. For the chickens, the armature had to be reinforced to compensate for the weight of the detachable Plasticine wings and heads.

Every chicken had to be duplicated in two scales. The larger A-scale models were used for scenes in which the chickens were interacting with one another. The miniature B-scale chickens were employed for sequences in which they were juxtaposed with their larger human captors. The B-scale chickens could also be utilized to establish perspective as related to distance. There were approximately 300 A-scale chickens and about 130 B-scale chickens manufactured for the film.

All of the puppets were produced using a speci

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