• Looming Deadlines
    4 September 2002 | Leonard Teo
     Image: The new Deadline series for Nickelodeon follows the same format as the original short -- but this time, our three hapless heroes are asked to present a TV show.

    Although Aardman are better known for their clay animation productions ranging from Wallace and Gromit to the box office smash Chicken Run, their CGI (computer generated imagery) department is starting to make waves. At 3D Festival Copenhagen 2001, Aardman’s short film “The Deadline” took the award for Best Animated Short. Following this success, Nickelodeon UK approached Aardman to produce five more episodes following the misadventures of the three hapless heroes.

    The original Deadline short came about when Aardman needed a film to showcase the abilities of its fledgling CGI department to various advertising agencies in the US. After much time and lots of ideas that seemed no good or too complicated, Aardman settled on the idea of an apology from the animators who were unable to come up with an animation. Stefan Marjoram (who also directed the short), Dan Lane and Wee Brian were each responsible for modeling, animating and voicing their respective characters.


    The animators used Alias|Wavefront Maya for modeling, animation and rendering, Adobe Photoshop for texturing and general purpose imaging and Adobe After Effects for compositing. Once the basic animations were blocked out, each character was refined by their respective animator and rendered. The three characters were then composited together as separate elements.

    Nickelodeon UK loved the characters from the original Deadline short film so much that Aardman was commissioned to produce five episodes following the same format. While the characters were to remain the same, this time the three hapless heroes have been asked to present a TV show – with catastrophically hilarious results.


  • The five Nickelodeon UK episodes:

    Lever: Brian is obsessed by a lever he finds on the desk. Stefan tries to tell him to leave it alone but he is unable to resist.

    Phone-in: Brian mans the switchboard while Dan and Stefan answer questions from the viewers -- if only it were that simple!

    Argument: Stefan has finally had enough of the unprofessional attitudes of his co-hosts and storms off!

    Pets: Brian brings in his pet stick insect, which seems a bit more stick-like than most stick insects.

    Sound FX: Using a special button, Stefan and Brian explore the exciting world of sound while Dan finishes the episode with one of his very own songs.

    The three characters were rendered separately in Maya and composited together with Adobe After Effects.


    Image: Aardman used Alias|Wavefront Maya 4 for modeling, animation and rendering.

    The new shorts for Nickelodeon are about half the length of the original short – approximately one and a quarter minutes. Steve Blake took on the task of animating the Yellow character as Wee Brian was working on another job at the time. Although Brian voiced the character, Blake produced the animations and successfully emulated Brian’s animation style.

    The original Deadline short took one and a half months of brainstorming, character designing and settling on an idea, followed by a subsequent one and a half months of actual production time. In contrast, the Nickelodeon shorts took one week to script all five episodes and ten working days for each short to run through the pipeline.

    The various mouth positions for the red bloke in Maya.

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  • “I like to make things easy for myself,” reflects Stefan Marjoram, Director for the Deadline shorts and the blue character in the films, “Simplicity is the key. The characters were really simple models and we chose instead to concentrate on telling the story and animating the characters well, to make them believable.”

    As the setup was fairly simple with no legs and a locked camera, Aardman had a set routine from which to produce work of a similar standard of the original film in a short span of time.

    In "Argument", Stefan (the blue bloke) has finally had enough of the unprofessional attitudes of his co-hosts and storms off.


    Image: Our three blokes. Aardman chose simplicity in the character designs and concentrated on characterization.

    “I didn't want to compromise the look of it or the quality of the animation for the sake of getting them done quickly,” continues Stefan Marjoram, “We ironed out a lot of the problems while making the original short, which meant the others ran very smoothly.”

    The new Deadline shorts will air on Nickelodeon UK in October. The original Deadline short film is available for viewing online on the Aardman website. [3DF|CGN]

    Words: Leonard Teo
    Images: Aardman
    Special thanks to Stefan Marjoram, Aardman

    Related Links
    The Deadline

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