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Dual Diligence
From the characters themselves to the sets and backgrounds, Aardman films have a distinct look and feel – a style the filmmakers wanted to continue in "Flushed Away.” 

Because stop-motion technique itself is so integral to that style, bringing the Aardman look to CG required unique character design, careful attention to detail, and ultimately, a little restraint. The filmmakers knew they wanted to retain the patent Aardman characterizations in CG, but they were also determined to avoid direct replication of the clay figures into computer models. In combining the advantages of computer animation with the corporeal quality of stop-motion, they created something new – an evolution of the Aardman style.

"There's definitely a look to the design of an Aardman stop-motion film,” asserts Sproxton. "There's a texture that's inherent in model work – the fingerprints on the clay, the wood grain, the plaster, the paint. You get a lot of texture simply because the sets and characters are constructed from real materials. That look is distinctly Aardman. I would say it's our trademark.” 

"We worked hard to translate the stop-frame style into the computer animated technique,” Fell states. "We wanted to use the CG technique to capture the signature Aardman warmth, charm, and tactile feel. It's the best of both worlds, really.” 

In a stop-motion film, Aardman artists create plasticine models with metal armatures. Stop-motion animators pose the characters' bodies and sculpt their faces frame by frame. As a result of this painstaking process, the characters hit poses very quickly and communicate largely through facial expressions. 

As Jeff Newitt, head of character animation, explains, the creators of "Flushed Away” found themselves freed by the new boundaries of CG, but constantly kept in mind the goal of matching the Aardman style. "The stop-motion armatures are restricted by gravity, and the weight of the clay or rubber or foam used in building the puppets,” Newitt says. "So when you animate them, you're actually trying to achieve a kind of innovation through limitation most of the time, and a natural style has evolved. Since you don't have those impediments in CG, animators actually have to use a lot of restraint to preserve it.”

Melding the two animation styles was a trial-and-error exercise in the character rigging stage of production. During this phase, fully modeled and rigged characters are created in the computer based on the art department's designs and specifications, as well as the needs of the animation team. 

Some of the benefits of working in CG were immediately apparent. "Consider The Toad,” offers Newitt. "You have a massive bell-shaped body with very spindly legs. There's so much weight to support and almost nothing to carry it. A character like that is an absolute nightmare to produce in stop-motion, but in CG, you don't have to worry about gravity.”

Of course, there were also challenges during this translation process. "When we started doing the rigs, they matched the Aardman puppets almost exactly,” says lead character technical director Martin Costello. "But we found that some of the movements really didn't work well in computer animation. So they evolved into something new, though there are still many similarities with traditional Aardman puppets, particularly the mouths and the brows.”

In traditional stop-motion, animators use a variety of mouth pieces for each character. These pieces are removed and replaced with different shapes in nearly every frame which allow the animators to not only make their characters speak but also create different expressions. To recreate this look in CG, the rigging department generated those replacement shapes within the computer. "In stop-motion, they physically remove one mouth shape and put in another in nearly every frame,” Costello notes. "

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