Shaun the Sheep’s highly anticipated return to the big screen will herald the arrival of a mystery visitor from far across the galaxy… We caught up with producer Paul Kewley from the legendary AARDMAN STUDIOS to go behind the scenes into the making of the film.
So Paul what’s it like going into a sequel to a much-beloved franchise like Shaun the Sheep? Going into a sequel we had a bit of trepidation but we went into the first film with much the same feelings. We had an established series and character that everybody loved and taking him into a long-form setting was something that we didn’t do lightly. So when we came to Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon we thought what can we do this time to expand the world this time and in a way it was a joy.
The first film was about working out if we could tell a whole film without dialogue. this time however we knew we could do that and so thought what kind of genre could we exploit. Get Shaun into a world and a setting that felt different so it was exciting but you always walk into something like this with a sense of trepidation that it won’t work.
Was there new technology with which to play around with in Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon that wasn’t around when Aardman was making Shaun the Sheep the Movie? The great joy of being a producer in Aardman is that I’m working a Royles Royce quality production outfit. They know their business very well and they know how to make stop-animation films. A lot of the crew there have been there for 20 plus years so they’ve been through all the features but then each feature has always had innovation within it because we’re always looking for ways to speed things up, to make things look better, to really improve our process. That’s what I love about the team I work with, it’s that they look for those little things. It’s a constant aim to improve and get better and push ourselves.
I always see Aardman as a production studio that is constantly pushing themselves and their features. Allowing for growth in their work. Would you agree? I think so yeah. The way I think about Aardman because I joined Aardman about 10 years ago, is that they focus on character and story and comedy and that kind of excellence in that area is what drew me to them. The team at Aardman are always just trying to achieve perfection as much as possible in our work as possible.
It’s been 4 years since Shaun the Sheep the Movie. When does the process begin for the sequel? We were actually talking about it as we finished the first film. It’s something of a cliché but we wanted to tell more stories with these characters. We found that working with this group of characters and with the constraint of no dialogue was challenging but also deeply exciting and so we started to come up with ideas right at the end of the first film. For me, it’s been 4 years of my life. I worked on the first film, this, and the short as well.
So it’s pretty nonstop? Yeah, it has been nonstop at Aardman. Shaun is Aardman’s biggest by far now and it’s a huge boon for the studio because there’s been so much activity going on around him and everybody loves him.
So what has gone into building Farmageddon? You’ve new locales, new characters, in particular, Lu La who from the moment she stepped on screen stole my heart. Well, I’m not an animator but we have a pre-existing world with Shaun and you’ve got to bring in new characters into that design language. So with Lu La, the way that character was created was we talked about her from a story perspective. Who she was, what she was doing etc. From there, our artists started to design her and actually the final design came from a story artist called Ashley Boddy who has worked with us for a long time and he came up with this very simple shape which actually is shaped quite wonderfully.
Her head is shaped like the traditional U.F.O. while her body is shaped like the beam that would come out of said ship. So that shape was created and then we did a lot of colour scripts with Aurélien Predal who does a lot of work in concept design. He id a lot of colourways of her. We found a particular colourway that felt right and then we put glitter into her ears which cause a technical challenge for the team and from there she came to life.
When we saw her final design we felt like you, she was a strong loveable character.
Could you discuss any of the scenes that stood out to you? I have a fondness for the supermarket scene. Yeah well I think what we always consider is what will be memorable for the audience and so the restaurant in the first film was a standout for me. We had a kind of manic set piece and we always knew the supermarket sequence was going to be that. We landed on it very early on and it was something great to workout and figure out what Lu La was up to in there and how did it work. The mechanics of that scene were quite complex in terms of boarding and blocking as well as setting it to the music. The composer was told that we wanted a manic space rhumba and he told us we were insane and he went away and started working so it was a collection of all these different ideas.
Funnily enough for me, the biggest triumphs were in the details, the close up emotional moments because those nuanced performances our animators and directors get out of these characters really carry the film so for me, it’s those character moments that are the glue that holds the whole thing together.
When it comes to the Aardman productions do you make films/television series etc. for children and sprinkle in something for the adults or are you just there thinking we need to make a good story? I think it’s really important that we think about films for the whole audience because we’re not making films for children or adults exclusively and as for me that’s how I grew up. The films I grew up with and loved were things like Amblin and Star Wars all those kind of big family experiences and that’s what I love about filmmaking. Making a 90-year-old to a 5-year-old laugh all about slightly different things is compelling and I think that is embedded into Aardman’s psyche actually because it’s a difficult thing to teach somebody to do but I think that’s what we’re all drawn to and why the studio has been successful over the years.
You must be all big Sci-Fi fans over at Aardman because the amount of Easter eggs in this film is astounding. How much fun was it to lay them throughout the film? It was great fun and it was something we do naturally, it’s an Aardman trait and with this we got the excuse to watch a lot of Sci-Fi films to get inspiration and find ways to get those jokes into the film is something the whole crew loves doing. It’s tricky to find moments to place them all because some come in organically and others are inspired moments of brilliance.
Are there any plans for a further film to possibly complete the trilogy? I think Shaun could go on and on. It’s like any other established animated character. The timelessness of the storytelling and the dynamic that sits within the farm, the kind of family unit on the farm is universal so I think there are lots of opportunities to tell all kinds of different stories in lots of different ways and that’s already happening and there’s no doubt that if this is a success there will be a desire to make a third because there are more stories we’d like to tell so it all comes down to whether enough people come to see it.
I’d be remiss if i didn’t say that i noticed 1 or 2 things in Shaun the Sheep. Now I’m not sure if this was intentional or not but Rocky from Chicken Run seems to be the rooster of the farm and you’ll be working on Chicken Run 2, it’s been announced. Can you discuss Chicken Run 2 at all because I know that franchise also has its own fanbase? I actually can’t tell you more than you already seem to know. Just to say that the rooster on the farm is a simple rooster, no conspiracy theory there. With Chicken Run 2 people seem genuinely excited when I talk to them about it. All I can tell you is that it definitely involves chickens but right now we’re not saying any more than that.
How much work goes into building the score and the soundscape of the Aardman projects? With Shaun it’s an enormous amount of work. People don’t seem to realise how important sound is in film in general so it’s an enormous part in any film but with Shaun having no dialogue the sound carries the film. This is in both the sound effects and strangely in what little dialogue the cast has because we have to get them to emote more so than usual because they’re not saying actual words. We have an amazing cast that can pull off such a unique style of acting and then you have the music which is another massive part of it. We spent a lot of time with Sim Evan-Jones who’s an incredibly experienced editor and he’s brilliant with music, he edited Shrek.
So we spent a lot of time in Farmageddon working out both the score with Tom Howe the composer and all of the songs that are in it because the majority of those songs are original so that’s a massive task as well.
So finally Paul are you excited to be coming to Ireland later in the year for the Dublin Animation Film Festival? Yeah, we’re really looking forward to coming to Ireland and sharing the film and hoping that lots of people come and enjoy it.
Words – Graham Day
A SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: FARMAGEDDON is at Irish cinemas from October 18th