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Working on BAFTA-nominated Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget

Among the huge crew who created Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget – the sequel to the original 2000 film – were 17 USW graduates.

Now up for Animated Film at this year’s BAFTAs, which will be held this Sunday (18 February), we spoke to some of the alumni who worked on the Netflix hit.

Sean Gregory, from Caerphilly, graduated from BA Animation in 2014, and was Lead Animator on the film. He said: “The character I was assigned was the villain, Mrs Tweedy. This role involved initial animation testing for the character, figuring out the intricacies of how she should move, in a way that was not only faithful to her character in the original, but also gave her a new Bond villain-esque side. I then went on the animate her key moments in the film, while making sure the other members of the animation team were on model with her design and understood her character traits.

“My favourite moment to work on was definitely Tweedy’s reveal sequence. I was tasked with animating her walking down a magnificent glass spiral staircase, along with her delivering some great lines when she got to the foot of the stairs. She’s such an iconic Aardman villain and to reintroduce her in such a funny, creative and technically challenging way was an absolute honour. One of the highlights has been seeing the fan reactions to the scene. People really seem to enjoy the whole sequence so I’m very proud that we pulled it off.

“Due to the complexity of the lighting and set, I had to animate Mrs Tweedy walking down the stairs without any rigs or supports. This definitely harked back to my time learning the preliminary basics of a walk cycle at USW, all those years ago!”

Sean can be seen animating Mrs Tweedy on the famous spiral staircase in this Instagram reel: https://www.instagram.com/reel/C0_mVSoM6j2/?utm_source=ig_web_button_share_sheet&igsh=ZDNlZDc0MzIxNw==

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Mathew Rees, from Cardiff, graduated from an HND in 2D Animation in 2001. He is Head of CG Animation at Aardman and worked as CG Animation Supervisor on the film.

He said: “Although the film was predominantly a stop-frame production, the sheer scale of it meant that we had to have many digital doubles for the chickens – often for crowd shots where we’d need to populate the background with chickens, but also when there were issues with scale. For example, when there were human characters in shot with the chickens (in reality, they were the same size) we’d often either have a CG human character or a CG chicken.

“My job was to supervise a team of up to nine CG animators to ensure that the animation met with the director’s brief, and to help the team to keep their work on schedule.

“My favourite moments of working on the film were being given the freedom to come up with idiotic things for the chickens in the Fun-Land sequences to do! They were supposed to be brainwashed in this section, so would act a little bit sillier than normal. It was also great to work with such a talented team of people on the whole film.”

Grace Mahony, from Bristol, graduated from BA TV & Film Set Design in 2016. She worked as Assistant Art Director and later Art Director on the film.

She said: “Being a part of the Chicken Run 2 team was a real dream for me! I worked on the project for nearly two years, and during this time I was given the opportunity to step up to Art Direct many of the iconic sets of the film, including Mrs Tweedy’s villainous control room, the backstage area behind Fun-Land, and the loading bay through which the chickens made their second great escape!

“It was very much a collaboration – everything I designed would be presented to and discussed with the director, Sam Fell, among other key crew members, before I was to draw it up and brief my fantastic construction and set dressing team, who would turn the technical drawings and concept art into incredible, characterful sets.

“I have many fond moments of working on the film. However, a real stand out for me was the very first thing I drew up – the spiral staircase which Mrs Tweedy descends when entering the film. Seeing that sequence go from storyboards, to animatic, to technical drawings, to set build, to final shot – it was a proud moment which filled me with excitement for all that was still to come!

“Studying TV & Film Set Design at USW definitely set me on the path to realise my dream of becoming an Art Director. The lecturers are so supportive, enthusiastic and inspiring, and the work experience opportunities in Cardiff are invaluable – it’s the perfect combination to ensure that you enter the industry feeling eager to continue your journey of learning and progressing. I really enjoyed my course and would recommend it time and time again to anyone keen to work in the art department.”

Tim Allen, from London, graduated from BA Animation in 1998, and spent eight months animating on the film.
He said: “Working on Chicken Run 2 was a personal milestone for me. When I graduated from university, the first Chicken Run was early into production and realistically, I was too inexperienced to be considered for any significant role. Fast forward 23 years, Aardman asked me to join the team on the sequel, and I jumped at the chance!

“From my first day on set I was interacting with a mix of experienced animators from the first film and the next generation of talent – some of whom were my own students from my time as a lecturer at USW. It was a beautiful, full circle moment.

“As I learnt to animate Ginger, Rocky and their new brood of characters, I saw the same thing play out within the studio; Chicken Run veterans side by side with a new lineage of filmmaking talent.”

James Carlisle, from Bristol, was a Stop-Motion Animator on the film. He graduated from BA Animation in 2014.
He said: “We started out with a few weeks of testing to get used to the style of the film, with feedback from the Directors and Animation Supervisor. It was a great way to get up to speed.

“I was animating on the film for around 10 months, starting out on a lot of action-based sequences before moving onto more character performances as the shoot went on. The directors cast animators on shots/sequences based on their strengths.

“Stand out moments of shooting on Chicken Run 2 were definitely the handful of shots of Rocky breaking in to Fun-Land, which were mainly him running away from all of the Moles and pole vaulting over the moat. I was also lucky enough to have a few shots of Mrs Tweedy – she’s such an iconic villain and the Lead Animator for her was brilliant at sharing information to get the best performance out of her, while maintaining her character from the original.

“The BA Animation course at USW is a great foundation for Stop-Motion Animation, but for me, the links into the industry were fundamental. Having contacts working in the industry is so important for being able to get your foot in the door.”

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