As the studio behind the "Wallace and Gromit" movies herds its "Shaun the Sheep" into cinemas worldwide, the directors revealed that they modelled their fluffy protagonist on silent-movie star Buster Keaton -- and also that they are not sorry to see parts of their stop-frame works go digital.
Richard Goleszowski and Mark Burton, the brains behind Aardman Animations' latest stop-frame, no-dialogue feature film, made the remarks to AFP in Paris ahead of a new exhibition in the French capital showcasing the studio's work.
"Buster Keaton was always a model for us for Shaun," said Goleszowski (who directs under the professional name Richard Starzak).
"I had a picture of Buster Keaton pinned on the studio door just to remind the animators that they didn't have to make (it)... bleat too much, or be too physical," he said.
Charlie Chaplin's silent films also added inspiration for Shaun's new sidekick in the movie: a streetwise, and "dentally challenged", dog named Slip.
"One of the things you note from Charlie Chaplin films... is that there's often a little orphan girl character, and so we thought 'Well, let's do an Aardman version of that'. And so we created Slip, and she sort of acts as Shaun's guide in the big city," said Burton.
- 100% positive reviews -
The reception for "Shaun the Sheep", which started out as a children's TV animation in Britain under Goleszowski, has been extraordinary since it started its worldwide release last month.
Rottentomatoes.com, which aggregates reviews, ranks it at 100 percent positive, with critics praising its high technical quality and generous humour.
The Australian movie blog Film Ink said "it serves as a sweet antidote to the slick, computer-animated family entertainment of the now".
The movie's co-directors (also its writers) appear thrilled their ovine work has found a place in the sun away from Aardman's star duo.
"Wallace and Gromit cast a very big shadow," admitted Goleszowski. While he looked forward to a likely "Shaun" movie sequel, he also hinted that the two Aardman franchises' "paths might cross again".
Part of what makes Aardman's films distinctive is the very Britishness of them: the prominence of cardigans, scones, politeness and preoccupation with the weather, for instance.
But the men behind Shaun said that was merely the DNA of the studio's work and not a conscious put-on.
"We just do what we do and what makes us laugh. And people tell us it's very British. And we like that. But we don't know what that is necessarily," said Burton.
"We do put in our own culture," said Goleszowski, but added: "I don't think people are necessarily buying into the Britishness, they're buying into the quality of the story, and the Britishness comes with it because that's what we are."
- Digital 'relief' -
For Goleszowski, who started his long career with Aardman and has come back to the studio, much of the hard work that goes into making stop-frame animation -- manually moving the characters a little bit at a time then stitching the images together to make a smooth sequence -- has changed little over the past century.
Except, he stresses, for the crucial area of digital camera technology -- its introduction has greatly streamlined the whole process.
Before, when the movies were shot on 35 millimetre film, the celluloid had to be taken away to a lab for overnight processing for each sequence -- and would often come back with faults like hairs or glitches visible.
"There usually was some kind of problem," Goleszowski said.
"Now, it's a blessed relief to me to be able to shoot digitally because it means you can see what you're making while you're making it.
"So I haven't got the romance, the feelings about 35mm film -- I love digital," he said.