How Aardman's Stop-Motion Animators Used VFX Shortcuts to Create Thousands of Sports Fans

Aardman Animations is one of only a few studios keeping the art of stop-motion animation alive. But for its latest feature, Early Man, even Aardman’s talented animators took advantage of modern filmmaking tricks to help bring an entire stadium full of Bronze Age soccer fans to life.


Given the grand scope of Early Man, which takes place thousands of years ago when volcanoes were more common than Starbucks are today, the film used more visual effects—including sets and characters—than any of Aardman’s previous features to bring the prehistoric world to life. Stop-motion animation techniques were still used to bring Early Man’s leading characters to life, but when you’re only churning out about three seconds of footage every day, some shortcuts are necessary.

As this visual effects breakdown reel by Axis VFX reveals, not only were bluescreens used to extend the breadth and scope of some of the practical miniature sets built at Aardman’s studios, even some of the claymation characters themselves were digitally realized to help make cities and other crowded locales feel more alive.

Is it cheating? If you’re a stop-motion purist, you might balk at Aardman’s use of digital filmmaking technologies. But the company simply wouldn’t be able to stay in business if it had to animate thousands of soccer fans by hand. It would’ve taken a decade to get Early Man out the door, and then we’d have one less studio keeping this art alive.

[Vimeo via Art of VFX]



Is it part of the animation software that all the elements can be shown to ‘drop in’ like that with a click or do they have to take time to render it that way for the benefit of show reels? Everyone does it this way, and in fact the effect is so uniform across different studios that surely it must be a built-in feature. Right?