Aardman Digital – Animation for games, educational resources and advertisements
I’m lucky to have had a long relationship with Britain’s leading animation studio, Aardman Animations, particularly with their thriving digital department. Since 2011, I have animated content for several games, apps, educational resources and advertisements. Below is just a handful of some of the best projects I have had the pleasure of working on with their team.
I have worked on a number of projects for BBC Bitesize with Aardman Digital. The first was a series of 21 Geography activities and I was responsible for the animation on 8 of them. The target audience is Key Stage 3 pupils, which translates as children aged 11-14, although I certainly learnt a lot about meteorology, coastal erosion and global trade in the process of making these short interactive activities, based on character design by Ben Steers.
Shaun The Sheep's Beauty Baahn
Aardman let me loose on their popular ruminant, Shaun the Sheep, for this animated crash course in running a hair salon. The brief was to render the characters in a suitable style, then animate them. The sheep kick their heels whilst waiting for attention, growing increasingly bored and frustrated if you ignore them. You then herd them through the sheep dip, dry them, snip and style their shaggy fleeces, then send them on their way.
The object of the game, which was commissioned by Tangle Teezer, is to run the hair salon efficiently, earn as much money as possible, then blow it all on fancy salon upgrades. You can get stuck into managing the shop, or just go wild with some freestyle sheep shearing. The end results can be uploaded to a Facebook gallery for a chance to win prizes.
You can see a video preview of the game on the Aardman website.
Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders
Guide Pee Wee and Nits through time as the little boy and his dog solve increasingly complex puzzles in order to save his friends from a surprisingly malevolent Tony Robinson.
Publishers Pan Macmillan hired Aardman Digital to create this online game to promote Tony Robinson’s Weird World of Wonders books. The books are beautifully illustrated by Del Thorpe, whose characters I was tasked with bringing to life for the game.
Tony Robinson worked closely with Aardman and together with developer Chris Underwood’s ingenious level design we produced an extremely playable adventure. I certainly gave it a more thorough testing than it probably needed.
Regular Show - Cupcakes of Doom
A blue jay and a raccoon on the shoulders of a skipping yeti are pursuing an evil flying baby. Their mission is to capture the Milk of Redemption and save the Guardians of Eternal Youth, who have been corrupted by the titular cupcakes. It’s a premise that makes Gumball’s Dino Donkey Dash look fairly sensible. Cupcakes of Doom is another Aardman Digital game for Cartoon Network, this time for the Regular Show.
Like Trunki’s Paddlepak Party, the game was built using Unity3D. On this occasion, however, all the animation was created in Flash. And unlike Dino Donkey Dash, where we had a wealth of animated assets from which to create the game characters, on Cupcakes of Doom the characters were animated with just a few stills for reference. It was an interesting challenge, because many of the required poses had no reference in the show.
This game showcases my ability to take well-known characters and adapt them for use in a game, even where limited character assets are available. It’s also a lot of fun to play, and you can do so here.
You can find out more about the game, and links to actually play it here on the Aardman website.
Gumball's Dino Donkey Dash
Here’s the concept: sneak up on a sleeping tyrannosaur (with your brother, a goldfish), pry your sister’s toy donkey from its claws, then escape the junkyard before you’re eaten alive. Your sister’s a rabbit, and you’re a cat. It’s another game for Aardman Digital to promote the new series of Cartoon Network‘s Gumball, and as that summary suggests, it’s every bit as silly as the show.
Dino Donkey Dash is in fact three micro-games which together comprise a sequence from an episode of the show. The animation, for which I was responsible, is largely re-purposed from existing assets provided by the show’s creators. The games can be played alone, or as two players simultaneously collaborating (you’re both trying to rescue the donkey) and competing (you’ll get points along the way).
One thing I love about my job is the absurd things I find myself doing. Poking a sleeping dinosaur with a pole ranks up there with some of the silliest. If you’d like to have a go yourself, you can find links to the game and more information about the production on the Aardman website.
Deadly Dash 4 Extreme
Outrun condors, polar bears, leopards and other assorted animals hellbent of doing who-knows-what to you in this absurdly fast-paced pole to pole adventure that throws natural disasters into the mix introduced by the preceding games in CBBC’s Deadly Dash trilogy.
This was the first game in the series I had worked on for Aardman, so the animation style was already well-established. Animals were made to gallop, glide and scamper via the simple expedient of a single jpeg per-animal, some fairly brutal Photoshop dismemberment, and shrewd reassembly of their scurrying and flapping run-cycles in Flash. In addition to this, I created rising flood waters, erupting volcanoes and a pretty fearsome tornado to make the going harsher, and in some cases, quite literally uphill.
Personally, I’m struggling to get out of Canada. You can probably do better. There's a video demo and links to the game here on the Aardman website.
It also occurred to me whilst working on this project that it was the third time I’d animated a T-rex for Aardman, and my second volcano. It seems that there’s a preoccupation with beasts of the late cretaceous period and eruptions in Aardman’s digital department. You can see my previous T-rex in Gumball’s Dino Donkey Dash, and cause your own volcanic catastrophe over in the BBC Bitesize activities.
Maryland Lotto Commercial
After many jobs with the Aardman Digital team, I ventured upstairs to their advertising department in order to help out on this Christmas themed commercial for the Maryland Lottery. Animated entirely in Flash, it was then given a lick of varnish by one of Aardman’s After Effects specialists.
Full Steam Ahead
If you work as an animator in Bristol for long enough, eventually you will be called upon to animate Isambard Kingdom Brunel.
Tasked only with bringing Brunel to life, I can take very little credit for this beautiful game from Aardman Digital. Full Steam Ahead teaches pupils the value of trial and error, learning from mistakes and perseverance, as they attempt to build a series of seaworthy vessels.
Available as a flash game on the SS Great Britain website, and in the near future as a mobile app. Don’t forget to look out for the animated Isambard, who adorns various screens of the game. I did that bit.
Trunki’s Paddlepak Party features a rare bit of animation that I didn’t create in Flash. Built using the powerful Unity3D game engine, Aardman Digital challenged me to master SmoothMoves, a 2D skeletal animation tool. In animation, as every 2D animator knows, the Z-axis is the axis of evil. Using a 3D game engine to create 2D animation forces you to enter that troublesome third dimension and attempt to understand its idiosyncrasies.
None of which ought to matter to players of Trunki’s Paddlepak Party, especially those 3-6 year olds at whom the game is targeted. Hopefully they’ll be too preoccupied with picking their favourite aquatic beastie and gobbling up assorted beach accessories. Created by family travel brand Trunki in partnership with Aardman animations, Trunki’s Paddlepak Party is available in the app store.