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Posted 22.05.19

DEGREE SHOWS – Putting Aardman modelmaking skills to the test

By Phillip Buchan
27-year-old Elliot Rowe from Elburton, Plymouth, trained as a carpenter and boat builder before coming to Plymouth College of Art to study BA (Hons) Animation.

When 30 students from the Animation programme attended a day of workshops at the internationally-acclaimed Aardman Animations, led by Creative Director Neil Pymer and Senior Model Maker Jim Parkyn, Elliot was so enthused that he made plans to return to the studio for further workshops and industry training.

As Elliot prepares to graduate from his degree and puts the finishing touches to models, sets and props for the stop-motion animation he’ll be showing at the end of year Degree Shows, we sat down with him to find out which animations he loved most as a child, what 3D printing can offer to animators and how dyslexia has affected his creative journey.

What did it mean to you when you first visited Aardman?

I’ve been a fan of Aardman Animations since watching Morph on Art Attack as a boy. Morph is such a simple character, but has endured for over 40 years. Visiting the Aardman studios was a dream come true for me, particularly when Senior Model Maker Jim Parkyn led a workshop on how to make our own Morph models. The workshop was exciting and fun, in part because of Jim’s unrivalled enthusiasm for his craft.

Ba (Hons) Animation students visit Aardman Animations

I also learned a lot from Neil Pymer’s paper prototyping workshop, going through the step-by-step process of idea generation all the way up to defining and refining that idea, ready to create a prototype and move on to the end product. It was really useful the way that he showed us how criticism and being open to feedback helped us to refine our original ideas into something much more powerful.

How did you feel after the end of the workshops?

At the end of the day, I didn’t want to leave, so I asked what opportunities they offered for further training, and was invited to attend a three-day Aardman Academy Finishing Touches Modelmaking Course.

Jim Parkyn showed us from start to finish how to develop wire armatures into finished models with hair, facial features and costumes. His knowledge of armature fabrication is incredible, and he really has a knack for communicating things in an accessible way, which is essential to me because I’m dyslexic. He also spotted my colour-blindness straight away and ensured that it wouldn’t hold me back.

What sort of skills did Aardman animators teach you?

Working with Aardman’s 3D printed body parts, was brilliant. They pride themselves on working in a cost-effective way, so the tips that they taught me were all things I’m able to bring into my own personal practice.

Developing an armature from my own design in this way has really given me an enthusiasm for possibilities in my future career. Sculpting faces, working on the eyes, the hair, the clothes… Jim demonstrated how we could make the finished models as close as possible to our original concept designs. I learned so much about things like proportion that you can only really master by working in a hands-on way.

Do you plan to go back to Aardman Academy again?

Definitely. Aardman offer such incredible opportunities, because not only do they teach you these invaluable skills, you’re also getting a chance to work under and network with respected figures in the animation industry. I feel like I took a part of Aardman away with me that will be with me for the rest of my life.

Elliot at work in the studio

How do you feel like your dyslexia has affected your journey towards becoming an animator?

Growing up I had a passion for boats as well as animation. I struggled at school because of my dyslexia and my family felt like I needed a practical trade, so as a result, I became a fully qualified carpenter and boat builder, skills I used in my first career.

I’ve always had a passion for art and animation, so I visited an Open Day at Plymouth College of Art to find out how to take that passion further. I discovered the worlds of stop-motion animation, set and prop fabrication, all of which build on my carpentry and practical skills to offer new career opportunities in my future.

Pirate finished using 3D printing technology

Has Plymouth College of Art helped you to build on your existing skills?

Definitely. Lecturers at the college have taught me how to take my practical skills to the next level. I’ve been working with expert staff in Fab Lab Plymouth to 3D print skulls and other features to go with the armatures I began developing at Aardman Academy. 3D printing is such a cost-effective method to work with, it’s an essential tool for stop-motion animators to have at their disposal.

I’d been working in carpentry since I was 14 years old. I’m 27 now, preparing to graduate in BA (Hons) Animation, and because of the skills I picked up along the way I feel like now I can design and build anything. I’m currently working on a hand-built solid-oak galleon for an animated short that I intend to submit to festivals when it is ready.

When do you expect the film to be finished?

I’ll have a shortened edit ready to show at our Degree Shows next month when I graduate, but stop-motion takes time to do well, so I don’t expect the finished film to be ready to submit to festivals until 2020.

I could not be any more grateful to our Programme Leader, Tim Pattinson, for everything that he’s taught me since he joined the college, about the studio pipeline model and what will be expected of me in the industry. I could happily build props, armatures and sets every day for the rest of my life. As CGI takes over the industry I hope that the specialist skills that I have to offer will be valued now more than ever. It takes finesse to create a physical work of art.

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