‘The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists’ is the new animated comedy feature from Aardman Animations and Sony Pictures Animation that takes us on a surreal quest through a beautifully created – albeit slightly anachronistic – world, where larger-than-life characters in larger-than-life situations prove Aardman capable of far more than the traditional character designs it’s become known and loved for.
The Pirates! features a greater range of characters – still as loveable and natural as their predecessors – that entertain with plenty of slapstick. Following the mishaps of a group of fairly hopeless male characters in their quest for fame and fortune, we revel in the hilarious consequences of their exploits, from unexpected chase scenes in a bathtub through Charles Darwin’s house in Victorian London, to the surprising sinking of the Beagle. “You’ve got pirates straight out of the Caribbean [in the] 1700s coming up against Queen Victoria,” laughs Loyd Price, supervising animator on The Pirates!
Far surpassing Aardman’s earlier stop-motion projects, The Pirates! required one of the studio’s biggest animation teams yet – and, for the first time, a 3D printer. The problem with Plasticene is that the more detail you add, the easier it is to smudge! As a workaround, 3D printing was used to create hard mouth replacements for the film’s characters: the animation took the initial clay sculpts, removed the heads, cleaned off the hair and scanned them using a 3D scanner – taking them into Maya to prepare the models for 3D printing.
Loyd explains: “We went for the EnvisionTEC printers because they were capable of doing very fine detail. They used to make jewellery and things like that as well. And what we liked about them is the fact that you could get very good surface detail and you didn’t have to sand them… because the things have supports behind them, you would have to cut off and sand the support, but the whole thing we wanted was to try and get texture onto the surfaces.”
The number of mouth shapes per character varied depending on how many lines each spoke: Pirate Captain had about 260; Queen Victoria and Charles Darwin around 220 each; with minor characters having anywhere from 40 made up. “You can cover most of your basic stuff with about 50 mouths [and] we’d also make specials – there’s a bit where [Pirate Captain] goes to kiss somebody, so he’s got to pucker his mouth up… that was the big advantage about having built the things in computer initially,” says Loyd.
Each animator would make a box of mouths for a specific shot. “Sometimes in your box you might get a mouth that says “Ian, Unit 2”, and you’d know that it was in a unit nearby [with] one of the other animators, and you just had to borrow that mouth from him and give it back,” Loyd says, laughing. “In the end I think we ended up building about 5000 different mouths. There was a lot of sanding, painting, and cleaning up!”
For an in-depth behind-the-scenes look at Aardman’s latest flick The Pirates!, check out the new issue of 3D Artist magazine, available to buy now from all good newsagents, supermarkets and at the official Imagine Publishing online store.
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