David Sproxton and Peter Lord

HOF Entrepreneurs David Sproxton And Peter Lord 1920X1080

Published: 17/12/2021

Peter & David registered the name Aardman as joke: ‘Aard man’ was one of their first characters, a slovenly superhero. They never believed there was a career to be made out of animation – and certainly not a multi-million pound enterprise.

How it started

While the character Aardman did well, it was Morph that proved their early triumph. The plasticine man that became a comic foil to TV presenter Tony Hart pulled in over 13 million viewers and became a staple of 1970s children’s TV.

With rogue friend Chas, Morph appeared in a series of children's art programmes including Take Hart, Hartbeat and Smart and even bagged his own show, The Amazing Adventures of Morph.

We thought Morph would be a gateway, but that wasn’t the case. We didn’t have a lot of work and we almost gave up.” Their saviour came in the form of Channel 4, then an innovative new TV station trying to break the BBC/ITV duopoly.
David Sproxton And Peter Lord

Channel 4 started commissioning work, including a number of experimental films from Aardman. These went out at night, so were seen by advertising executives looking for ideas. They started to get advertising and video work, and finally, things began to take off.

Each team member brought different skills. David says: “Peter would do the animation and model-making, while I would do the production and photography.

We also had a guy called Chris Lyons who would do our model-making. Slowly, we built up the skills we needed.”

Crucially, in 1985, the pair were joined by Nick Park, a talented animator, who was still officially at the National Film and Television School, where he had started to make the first Wallace and Gromit film, A Grand Day Out. Peter and David suggested that he make one of the films for Channel 4. Nick made Creature Comforts, which won him his first Oscar and led to a string of advertising work.

The business ticked on happily for a decade, with hit after hit. They made videos for Peter Gabriel (‘Sledgehammer’) and for Nina Simone (‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’). Also in the 1980s, they created the trombone-playing character ‘Douglas’ in a television commercial for Lurpak butter. Two more Wallace and Gromit shorts, The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995), followed both winning Oscars.

The production moved up a gear with a deal from Dreamworks in 1995. The deal saw Peter and David step back from the studio floor and take on more of the business management.

The Dreamworks deal allowed them to make the big budget films for which Aardman has become famous – Chicken Run was made in 2000. Wallace and Gromit returned for The Curse of the Were-Rabbit in 2005. However, the two studios parted company in January 2007, citing ”creative differences”. At the time, Peter said: "The business model of DreamWorks no longer suits Aardman and vice versa. But the split couldn't have been more amicable”.

In April 2007, Aardman signed a three-year deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment to finance, co-produce, and distribute feature films. The next year, Aardman released a new Wallace and Gromit short film, “A Matter of Loaf and Death” followed by “Arthur Christmas” and “Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists”.

How it’s going

The feature film deals split the company in two parts – one feature films and the other commercials and short films Peter says: “That fracture line still exists, much though we try to erase it. Trying to make both sides understand they are part of the same business isn’t easy.” He says this has been one of the greatest challenges they’ve faced.

The studio has had to keep up with some significant shifts in production and distribution. Their first foray into computer animation happened almost by accident. A company they worked with were using the new technology. David said: “We realised it was being used a lot in the advertising world and thought we would probably be left behind if we didn’t adopt it. We built a small team of people with the right skills.” Their first computer animation feature film was Flushed Away made in 2006 with the Dreamworks producion team.

Peter adds: “The world has changed enormously in the time we’ve been running the business. We originally just wanted to put 3D images on screen and stop motion was the only way to do it. We needed to stay with the pace. Increasingly, computer generated models look like the model work anyway. It’s made things much easier in lots of ways. Our latest production, RobinRobin, is beautiful. The industry is flourishing in the way it never was.”

They have had offers to buy the studio but, for, Peter and David the cash has never been the point. Peter says: “We are very keen on our independence. Emotionally, it is very important to us. We weren’t all that interested in the money.”

Shaun the Sheep has been a huge success for the studio making over 300 episodes and two a feature films (“Shaun the Sheep Movie” and “Farmageddon”). The studio recently released a Christmas musical special, Robin Robin, on Netflix. It has also done a spin-off from Morph, almost 40 years after the original, “The Very Small Creatures” is now on Sky Kids, aimed at one to three year olds.

What’s next

On 9 November 2018, Peter and David transferred their majority ownership of the company to its employees in order to keep the studio independent, making it an Employee-Owned company. They are comfortable that this was the right choice for their successors. David says: “We’ve seen companies taken over and it’s been tough for people in the business. It is essentially the John Lewis model. A trust owns the shares on behalf of the employees. To our mind, it’s given everyone a real sense of ownership, while also promoting a culture of stability and long-termism.”

In January 2018, they released a book detailing the history of the studio, “Aardman - An Epic Journey Journey, Taken One Frame at a Time"