In an era dominated by the increasing capabilities of artificial intelligence (AI), whether the traditional artist is becoming obsolete has been a topic of concern. Software programs like Midjourney have made it easier than ever to create images and videos with minimal effort, even leading to AI-generated e-books climbing bestseller lists. However, the recent release of “Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget” by Aardman Animations serves as a testament to the enduring value of art in our lives, defying the notion that artists are on a path to redundancy.
Aardman’s latest release defies AI trends
“Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget” is the latest offering from Aardman Animations, a studio celebrated for its iconic creations like Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep. This sequel comes 23 years after the original “Chicken Run,” which remains the highest-grossing stop-motion animated movie ever made, raking in $224.8 million at the box office. The release of the sequel has been met with widespread anticipation and joy.
Craft and labour: The heart of Aardman’s success
What sets Aardman films apart is their compelling storytelling, lovable characters, and the painstaking craft and labour that go into their creation. Aardman specializes in stop-motion animation with clay puppets, opting for the labour-intensive route rather than the easy path of modern technology. For instance, the opening shot of “Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget,” lasting just 30 seconds, took 18 weeks to shoot, five weeks of preparation and two years of work to construct the set.
Over the past 23 years, Aardman has faced challenges of epic proportions. A devastating fire in 2005 destroyed hours of labour, sets, and puppets in their Bristol warehouse. Following that disaster, a flood compounded their woes as three days of relentless rainfall damaged sets and puppets right after they were painstakingly recreated. Then came the COVID-19 pandemic, which further delayed production. Aardman’s director Sam Fell humorously remarked, “Weather, wind, pestilence, plagues – we survived it all. The next one’s coming out in 2050.”
Tangibility and Artistry Trump AI convenience
Amidst the convenience-optimized technology of the modern world, one might question why Aardman chose to endure such trials. The answer lies in the tangibility of their labour, which is central to Aardman’s success. While AI offers the convenience of software backup and rapid production, there’s something in the tangible effort that elevates viewers’ appreciation of Aardman’s films.
Modern shows and movies produced in a fraction of the time lack the narrative of construction and the viewers’ awareness of the countless hours of labour invested. Behind-the-scenes spin-offs of Aardman series have become highly popular, with ‘the making of’ books, films, and articles becoming integral to Aardman releases. A documentary showcasing the meticulous craftsmanship behind “Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget” was released alongside the film on Netflix, highlighting the graft and artistry of creating a full-length claymation feature. Audiences are just as interested in the making of these films as they are in the films themselves, a perspective that AI-generated content cannot replicate.
Aardman is not averse to technological advancements, as they have incorporated CG effects into their films and even experimented with AI. However, crucially, they ensure that the movements of their clay characters remain limited to what their physical counterparts can achieve. Initial attempts at using CG were scaled back because the results were deemed “too smooth.” Animators strive to maintain the tactile feel of their clay models, sometimes even allowing fingerprints to remain visible on the clay.
In essence, it is these imperfections and limitations that make art thrive. While AI offers boundless creative possibilities, art often thrives on the constraints imposed by its medium. When we admire art, we are not only the end product but also the process of the story behind the creation. It is this storytelling element, coupled with the craftsmanship, that AI cannot replicate.
“Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget” symbolises art’s enduring value in an AI-dominated age. Aardman’s commitment to craftsmanship and the tangible labour that goes into their films reminds us that, despite the convenience of modern technology, art remains a deeply cherished part of our lives. The story of art’s creation, the hours of labour, and imperfections elevate our appreciation, something AI-generated content cannot replace. Art will continue to thrive alongside technology, each enriching the other uniquely.