My Time working with Aardman Animations on Arthur Christmas…
Or how does Santa deliver two billion presents in one night!
In early June 2009 I received an email from Aardman asking me if I would be interested working on their next CGI animated feature “ Arthur Christmas“ as costume designer. Well, you could have knocked me over with a feather, as the saying goes.
As it turned out the Director Sarah Smith had recommended me. She felt I was someone who would treat animated characters with the same respect and diligence as I would with characters made from flesh and blood, developing character profiles and analysis in order to give depth, detail and lets say a more three dimensional and ‘less cartoony’ quality to them ….
Sarah was the producer on The League of Gentlemen that we worked on ten years earlier, until this new adventure brought us back together. This was the first time that Aardman chose to employ an actual Costume Designer and not surprisingly first time for me too working in animation!
And what a learning curve it proved to be on both sides.
As with any normal project I had to “dress“ the main cast consisting of “the Santa family“ based on the Royal one . Grand-dad i.e. Grand-Santa , his son the current Santa and his lady wife Mrs Santa , their two sons Steve and our hero Arthur . Added to the lists of uniforms for the various Elves factions, territorial troops, ( toy deliveries ) airborne crews on Sleigh One ( S1) with all military ranks, badges, epaulettes etc.. SAS type commandos with their “snow camouflage“ and the North Pole Mission Control with it’s armies of technical support staff .
The way it worked went as followed, initially briefs would be discussed through emails as to how I should proceed re: concept, colours, textures, Sarah’s views and a list of targets decided jointly .
I worked from my home /studio in London and would then travel every ten to twelve days to Bristol to present a large collection of mood boards, fabrics, textiles, sketches, props, accessories, and clothes relevant to the various characters. For instance, on Grand-Santa I presented original 1910 battered , moth eaten, sweat and blood stained, military tunics and an array of thick jumpers for Arthur etc… Something that was precious to them and gave a strong point of focus for the animation .
Each meeting would have about twelve people assembled around a very large table. So, it felt like “So Yves what (wonderful ) things have you brought to us this time? “ (No pressure then, stressful ? I wouldn’t know …..gulp.. )
There you had the director, two producers, sculptors, CGI experts, the production designer and production staff. Which to Aardman is normal, it is how they operate. I too could sit in on sculptors and other department meetings which was fascinating.
I felt terribly isolated in this way, I could have done with being based in the same building and being able to communicate more face to face. However being in London allowed me to push my own views more single-mindedly!
At each meeting final decisions were made and on the back of them a new list of targets would be drawn for the next meeting .
During the process I was given classes on what could or could not be achieved with CGI animation, what was expensive and therefore had to be kept for important moments or characters, it was all fascinating stuff.
By the third meeting I began to relax a little, I was getting used to the system and the vibes were good so it became a question of just ploughing through and to keep going 24/7 ….
My drawing certainly improved in that time, however they all drew like angels. Evgeny, the production designer had a size A4 pad with pencil attached hanging around his neck at all times , he would scribble to me some Leonardo like shapes at great speed and ask “ You know what I mean ? “ and I would reply “Da Evgeny, Da !“
My work was locked in by March 2010, at that point all the relevant personnel flew to LA to actually proceed with the animation at Sony studios.
The final result on screen has proved to be very rewarding and a unique experience.
Costume Designer – ‘Arthur Christmas’