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Interview with Aardman’s Peter Peake

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Aardman‘s commercials department occasionally produce one-off short films which give the directors an opportunity to try out new ideas. Often these are worked on during downtime between projects for clients. I spoke to Peter Peake, director of Pib & Pog and Humdrum, about the short film Pythagasaurus as well as a personal project he worked on in his spare time.

You pitched and directed the short film Pythagasaurus. How long did it take to go from initial idea to completed film?

It was created without a budget. When people upstairs in the CG department had downtime, they could work on the film. That was kind of great, but it did mean that it took 4 and a half years to get it made.

Did it get a good reception when you initially pitched the idea?

Yeah it did. It is a really good scheme which was set up for commercial directors. Working on commercials is great, you get paid well and work on some really interesting projects, but you don’t necessarily get to work on your own style or develop your own stuff. Between eight to twelve directors pitched ideas to each other then voted on them and it’s really nice to pitch an idea to fellow filmmakers.

Does Aardman see this as an opportunity to try out new techniques and ideas or as way to kick start a new series?

Both. The commercial department do try to show off new techniques. For instance, when I was making Pythagasaurus, we didn’t have any sweeping landscapes, so that was something that was being looked for. The broadcast department would be more interested in creating a short film that could be a pilot for a new series.

Has anything we’ve seen in the finished film changed completely from the initial idea?

No, that’s the thing. I would have thought that I’d be picking at it and changing it over the years, but I didn’t. When the storyboard works well and the animatic works well, I kind of stick to it. I’m not one of those filmmakers who keeps changing his ideas.

pythag_educational

Pythagasaurus (dir. Peter Peake)

A lot of people have described this short as a parody of educational animations, was this the original intention?

It’s sort of based on 70s educational programmes for schools. At one stage we thought that the action could stop, then a narrator could ask you a maths question, but I got rid of that and made it more of an adventure with some maths really badly shoehorned in there!

Did you have any concerns that part of the film wouldn’t work during production?

I wasn’t quite sure how the equations would work. I did some stills which looked quite nice but I wondered just how distracting it would be. Our compositing artist – Jim Lewis – built up the layers and spent a lot of time making it look subtle so that it wasn’t in-your-face all the time.

Were there any jokes that couldn’t be used because they were too ‘mature’?

No, but there were some that were too immature! I loved Ben Mitchell‘s (Skwigly) review of Pythagasaurus where he said it was a “really dumb film”, which I take as a compliment because it was obviously intended to be a dumb film! No material was too high brow. I was lucky enough to have David Quantick (Brass Eye, Screenwipe) as the script editor who added subtle changes to the script, which made it better.

Did you always have Bill Bailey in mind for one of the characters? Did this influence the animation?

I did some initial designs and I think I knew that I wanted Bill Bailey and Martin Trenaman from the beginning. Their voice overs had an influence on further design work and also the animation.

Uk (Martin Trenamen) and Ig (Bill Bailey)

Uk (Martin Trenamen) and Ig (Bill Bailey) – Pythagasaurus (dir. Peter Peake)

Have you been surprised by anyone’s reaction to the film?

There is a comment on YouTube where someone says: “The point of this video, besides the casual humour, is…?” which made me laugh so much! Generally the comments are nice and often you get people rewriting a line from the dialogue which is really flattering.

Your other recent short film is called Snowball. Was this something you made on your own?

Yeah. It was made by myself in my spare room using Adobe Flash. I created the cob-web style elements using a different bit of software to get the effect I wanted. I do like how Flash is hard edged a lot of the time, but I wanted to get away from that with this film.

Were you working on this at the same time as Pythagasaurus?

Snowball was made in about 2 months during a 3-4 month period when production on Pythagasaurus was on hold.

What inspired the style of the video?

I wanted to make a story for that piece of music. It feels like a very melancholy song and I wanted to make something quite delicate. The characters were to have long thin legs and be a bit more elegant than the solid clay style models I have used in my other films.

The film is based around a song by the band Elbow. Do you know if they have seen it?

My favourite radio programme is Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour on BBC 6 music. I sent him the video but got no reply. Then, unknown to me, my friend Wendy Griffiths sent him an email telling him to watch it. He read that email out on air and apologised, saying that the film was really good. There’s now a link to the film on Elbow’s website.

Snowball (dir. Peter Peake)

Snowball (dir. Peter Peake)

What is the biggest difference between making films on your own compared to working at Aardman?

I guess when you are working on your own, it’s all about motivating yourself. I’m very lucky, most of the time I find that easy. Once you get into something like that, the tricky thing is to stop and have lunch. Making a film at Aardman, you work specific hours and have colleagues to bounce ideas off. When you work on your own though, all the decisions are on you.

Can you tell us what are you working on now?

Right now I’m working on commercials for Aardman for a campaign that’s been running for about 15 years. I’ve also got an idea for another short film that’s quite developed now, so I’m looking for ways to make that. It’s CG, but its quite different from Pythagasaurus.

For more information on the work of Peter Peake you can check out his Aardman profile and Vimeo channel.

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