Merlin Crossingham

Author: Merlin Crossingham, Director at Aardman Animations

Feature Film Credits: Chicken Run, Wallace and Gromit- Curse of the Ware Rabbit and Wallace and Gromit- A Matter of Loaf and Death




The Animator Letters Project

I stumbled into animation completely by accident, I gate crashed an afternoon animation seminar a pal of mine was attending, I was 18. It lit all my fires, it gave me focus, I had stumbled upon something quite amazing, something that inspired me, something that I enjoyed doing and something that I could see myself doing for ever. Which is handy as, as we all know animation does seem to take ‘forever’.

I transformed my bedroom into a makeshift studio, saved up and bought a Bolex 16mm camera, and started experimenting. I drew, I animated with sand, pixilated my friends and messed around with stopmotion. I got a place on one of the few film schools with an animation course, and immersed myself in study.

Another happy accident saw me land a runners job at Aardman, on Nick Parks ‘A Close Shave’. This lead to me getting an animation apprentice ship within the studio. The main purpose of this was to allow Aardman to expand its animation crew in advance of filming its first feature, Chicken Run.

So heres the thing, at this point I had been ‘animating’ for several years, been through collage, and was on the first step in the industry, but creatively I was lost. I could animate, in as much as I could skilfully make something move from A-B, I could do a technically proficient walk. But of course this is not enough. I remember the day clearly, I was animating a punk vomiting, on hands and knees, puke squirting through his fingers…..I had my epiphany. Lots of established animators had said act it through, so I had, but if I was honest I was just going through the motions. This time I stopped, I got on my hands and knees; I concentrated on where the tension was in my body, I imagined myself feeling so horribly ill, I started to think about it as a performance. Not once was I contemplating how the animation should be done.

Now Years later as a director I can see young animators taking the same journey, I look for the day they forget about the animation. I often ask brilliant animators how they did a shot and the answer usually goes along the lines of, ‘Oh, I don’t know, I just did it’. They have mastered the craft, to an extent that it is a natural extension of themselves, its intuitive, where the character and its performance is front of mind. The result is not something that moves nicely, that is easy peasy, its when we see an independent, living breathing, THINKING character on screen, that is the animation gold!

So if I have any advice, it is to practice practice practice, make mistakes, learn from them, learn the craft inside out and with time you will forget about the process. Your animation will be an extension of you and your characters will live.

But most of all have fun!