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A collaboration dating back to caveman times

Since the dawn of stop motion animation, VFX studios have been lining up to work on an Aardman feature film and, with the prehistoric tale of Early Man, axisVFX had the opportunity to do exactly that.

Of course, axisVFX already has history with Aardman. Previous collaborations include Shaun the Sheep Movie and Shaun the Sheep: The Farmer’s Llamas. Howard Jones, axisVFX co-founder and VFX producer also acted as compositing lead on the Oscar-nominated The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists at Aardman. So, having the opportunity once again to work with the studio’s award-winning team on a project of such expansive ambition vision and scope, was an exciting challenge.

Our Bristol-based team, and Aardman neighbours, helped mould Early Man’s spectacle opening sequence, towering stadium shots, bleak badlands, and atmospheric water, fire and lava effects. All in all, axisVFX delivered 1,350 shots during Early Man’s 13-month production.

“Early Man provided axisVFX with an opportunity to further flex its skill set and experiment with new technology,” says Jones. “It was also fantastic to once again work with Aardman. It’s great to see Bristol continue to grow as a creative hub and deliver amazing projects, supporting the broader UK industry as it does so.”

Because our studios are in the same city, if we were required to be on site by Aardman at any time, we could be. It was extremely helpful to see and hear how the stop motion characters would be interacting with their environment. We could then go back to the office and implement any feedback to ensure our work was in line with what Aardman’s artists were leading on. Though the creative concepts always come from Aardman’s team, our approach has always been to work with them to achieve their vision, rather than for them.

“There was a lot of trust,” continues Jones. “At the beginning of any project you do a lot of trust building. We did a lot of testing and development to make sure everyone was happy that it was going the right way. That instilled a level of trust at Aardman that we understood what it is they were after.”

“The first thing you’ve got to do as a VFX studio, is not to talk but listen,” explains Jones. “This way a constant channel of dialogue is kept open. So when we had something we wanted feedback on, even an element in its earliest stages, we felt comfortable asking for their opinion.”

This collaborative relationship only benefited the final product that was Early Man. “The more creative dialogue that goes on, the more creativity goes into the film. That's true across the entire process of filmmakers,” says Howard. “From animators to the model building, you really get the sense that everyone there has a significant part to play in the development of an Aardman film.”

Talking to the press recently, Tom Barnes, Technical Director at Aardman, said: “axisVFX did a fantastic job for us, delivering VFX work that blended beautifully with the look of our prehistoric and Bronze Age worlds – while working under very demanding pressure from our tight delivery dates.”

Early Man is in cinemas now and has grossed over £10 million to date at the UK box office.