How did you get into animation as a profession? And what was your journey like?
Well, animation was something that I first did actually when I was quite young, so I was probably about seven or eight and I saw it on a TV program in the eighties when I grew up, kind of thought it was real fun and then I started playing with like bits of Lego and just toys and stuff in front of a video camera. So it was a sort of hobby that slowly, as I got older, and I kept doing it, I realised it could be an industry. There was like a whole career I didn’t know about. And at the same time I was growing up things like Wallace and Gromit and Morph they were really inspiring. Um, so this hobby became more of something I started doing at school as well. And then I started writing to companies when I was about 14, I think I wrote to Aardman and I said, how do I become an animator? And then, uh, yeah, I guess there was a lot of um, like knocking on doors and it took ages, but eventually I got a couple of breaks and did some work experience in the industry. I worked in a few different companies in London and uh, briefly in America and this type of animation happens, like Britain is one of the hotspots for it in the world. So I was really lucky in a way that I could go and visit all these companies that made this stuff.
What was, what is the most rewarding aspect of being an animator?
I think what I love about animating is that it’s like a, it’s like a really old fashioned craft, so it’s like wood work or painting or something like that. But you’re using small scale models and so animators here and in another stop motion companies, they’re, they’re, physically like creating this performance with these puppets and taking photos. And at the end of the day you create a little tiny piece of movement. And like the ultimate goal is that at the end of the project, maybe it’s taken a week, maybe it’s taken two years. You get to watch it in front of an audience and getting a really good reaction from them is he best thing.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
That is a really good question. I’ve had lots of advice I reckon so I’m going to mention a couple of things. When I first came to Aardman I asked everyone I could, so everyone I met who I felt like I could talk to, I asked them what they would recommend I needed to do. Let’s say I was a student studying animation and I said, what advice would you give me for making my final project? And pretty much everyone said the same things, which was keep it simple, don’t make it too long and focus on the bits that you’re really good at or the bits that you liked the most because I think that’s the problem is that college you can do everything. It’s really great, but you can also run out of time and so it was good to be focused on a particular thing and so what I ended up doing was making a short film, which the main aim of that short actual film was to try and get work, a company like Aardman and everyone told me really what I needed to do and just to make the right phone. It was the one that was one about an old man (*inaudible*) But it was really good advice because everyone said you, you can, you can try and stretch yourself too far and if you do that you won’t be able to make a sort of stronger piece of work. It’s the same with portfolios. I think it’s the best stuff. And if you’re not sure about anything, get advice and if people aren’t sure about it, take it out. So what’s the other, one more thing. And this is a funny one, but I learned really early on. Never to say no. So like if you get an opportunity to do something you might think it doesn’t sound great at the time, but it’s always good to say yes because what you can’t do is turn something down and then get that opportunity back. So like this summer holiday I was studying and I rang around a load of studios and I rang about 20 studios and they pretty much all said no, but one of them rang me back and said we’d like you to come in for some work experience. And because I was on the train, heading back to home, I was worried that the reception was going to cut out. So I said, can I call you back later? And I rang him back half an hour later and they’d given the opportunity to someone else. And so I realised then, never say no.
What does a typical work day in your life look like?
So these days I’m working as a director, which means I start very early, I get here about 8:00 AM, and then from 9:00 onwards I’m working across all the different departments. So we’re making a feature film with Shaun the Sheep, and I’m working with the editor team and the storyboard artists first of all, and then the animators and the floor crew. So everyone who works in this building that’s about 120 people, they all need a creative sort of steers as to what they need to do to make the film that was in my head and Rich’s head. So we spent all day long really talking to people and directing and then we have lunch, um, and we finish working with a big crew around sort of 6:00 in the evening and then we stay until sometimes 10:00 at night working on things for the next day. (For the story, yeah really long.)
How many people does it take to work on one scene? And roughly how long does it take?
So a scene in animation, it varies a lot. You can have a very short scene, um, some of the scenes in this film, were just sort of one minute long, and others are nine or 10 minutes, but for each one of those, a huge amount of prep work goes in, so it all starts as a script and we’ve got one writer on this project, mark who’s writing those, literally like a book, writing out the story and in Shaun we don’t have any dialogues. So then the next stage is really important, which is the storyboard, so storyboard artists draw all those words into images. So it’s a bit like the comic strip and in the edit team work with us to turn that comic strip into a film. So that’s our blueprint for the movie. And from that point onwards, the rest of the crew get involved. So for one scene we’ll have the art department who build everything in the environment, so these characters live in physical, small sets, so they’d have to build everything that is existing. Then we’ve got the model makers build the puppets like this, um, and then we have lighting and cameras who set everything out and make you look like a film set. And then the animation team who painstakingly move these characters in front of a camera, so they might have on on one scene, we might have about 20 different people working, but it always comes down to one animator in front of one camera to film a particular shot in that scene, I think the longest, the longest shot we did on the last project was about eight weeks for one animator moving a puppet around in front of the camera to get one shot.
What was your first job?
Oh my first job might see it behind me. So in 1998 when I was 18 years old, I wrote, I’d written to a few times and they said, we’ve got this new feature film project. Would you like to come and do work experience? And that was chicken run. It was here. It was the very first feature film Aardman made. And my job was to make wings for the chickens out of modelling clay. So I spent a whole summer um pressing these wings for the chickens out of these moulds. Yeah.
What would be your advice for someone pursuing a career in animation?
I think the main thing is that you need to practice ah it is the kind of thing that you learn it as you do it, so the more you do the more you learn it is the same with anything I suppose creative, it’s like it takes a lot of work to get good and it takes a long time, but if you, if you’re motivated and you’re passionate about it, then that’s really all you can do and then it’s a case of really showing off your talents and not being too shy about knocking on doors and asking for advice because I’ve found people in the industry have always helped. When I’ve asked the thing to avoid is, is being shy or waiting for someone to call you because it’s a really big industry and there’s lots of competition.
What are you currently working on?
So I’ll pitch you the film, so we’re currently making Shaun the Sheep Movie 2. It’s called Farm Again. It’s a Sci-Fi Action adventure movie that comes out next October. In the UK. We are, so it’s been going for about two years. The production, but the shoot, the shoot that involves the studio floor, so the actual animation, has been going on since about February this year, so we’re about nine months into it and we’re aiming to finish it within the next 5 months, all the animation. And Shaun the Sheep is really quick to shoot compared to a lot of the other films, so we’ve. We spent two years making Pirates, Early Man Wallace and Gromit. All of those projects take a lot longer to shoot. So from the initial idea to the finished film can be anything from minimum of three years, maximum seven. Early Man took seven years from the original idea, so it’s been a long time writing and then storyboarding and writing and story boarding for about three or four years and then it was quite an epic thing to build. So another year before the shoot building all sets and models.
Is that long because of like speech I guess and stuff.
Will: Definitely that makes a difference. The beauty of Shaun is that we don’t have as much clay, so these characters have hard heads and a lot of the time. The animators spend physically sort of sculpting all the different shapes that takes a long time, but also in Early Man there was a vast sort of set like it was in this lush forest and in this huge bronze age town, so all of them had to be built and there are loads and loads of characters in it as well. So the more characters the longer you need the model making team in to build and the more animators you need to animate.
What’s your favourite film you’ve worked one?
Good question. Um, I really liked, I loved working on Wallace and Gromit because it was my first film as an animator and it was really exciting working with Nick Park, the boss. Um, and in those days we shot on film as well film, like a 35 mm film. So it’s quite exciting to everyday you’d, you have a rough idea of what you’d animated, but the next day you can see it on film, whereas now everything’s shot on cameras, digital cameras. So you see it straight away. So we always had to finish what we were doing one day and then send it to London overnight, process it, send it back the next day, but the stills that we use now are quicker, but in other ways they’re slower because we can do a lot more to them afterwards. So when you animate on film, once you’ve committed to it, whereas you can just constantly go back and tweak and do bits, it can take longer.
The awards you have in here. What are they for?
Well they are not mine personally. But they’re all for projects that this company has created. So obviously the most famous award is the Oscar. That one is for, I think it’s seven Oscars. Um, several Baftas as well so we have a Bafta over there and then the company made so many films. Is that an Emmy? I think so, yes. It is. And that’s actually for Shaun the Sheep. But there’s even more at Gas Ferry Road that’s just hmm. Years and Years worth of work.
That’s not far from us. I think maybe for like a question to sum up, what about the future? Do you have any aspirations or what do you think for the future?
Well, my main ambition when I was 12 was to become an animator and so ever since I did become an animator, I’ve been sort of setting new goals, but I never intended to be um here now. I’m really happy because I’ve wanted to make films and direct for a long time, but yeah, really I’m just hoping that we get the best Shaun the Sheep sequel that the world deserves and then see what happens next.
Interview conducted by Ella Staines, Jamie Irving and Rosie Bond
Will Becher has been a stop motion animator for over two decades with studios such as Aardman and Laika on: Wallace & Gromit, The Pirates, Creature Comforts, Shaun the Sheep, Paranorman and Early Man. He has also written and directed three award winning short films and continue to develop new projects.