Jonny Duddle share’s his experiences working with Aardman features in Bristol as a character designer for Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists.


In his own words…

What are pirates made from? Sugar and spice and all things nice? Or maggots, and weevils and all things evil? In the case of the Pirate with Prosthetics, he‚’s made of an interesting assortment of antique furniture. Which meant I could finally make use of the a very heavy book that I‚’d been lugging from house to house for twenty years, ‚’The Millers Antique Price Guide 1994‚’. My wife doesn‚’t share my enthusiasm for my ever-growing book collection, and worries about my studio collapsing into our kitchen, so it was good to show her the assortment of table legs on my first Prosthetic concept, that would surely justify the structural risks.

The Pirate with Prosthetics was one of the first characters I worked on, and unlike most of the other characters I helped design, he wasn‚’t based on any existing drawings, and evolved from the first concept to finished design reasonably quickly. So he‚’s probably a good choice for explaining the role of a character designer.

The first thing that happens is Peter Lord gives me a brief. Sometimes this is at the studio in Bristol, and sometimes Pete would brief me over the phone (because I‚’m a freelance illustrator I did a lot of the concept work in my home studio in Wales). Pete briefed me for the Pirate with Prosthetics during my first work visit to Bristol. He described him as a particularly unlucky pirate, with a variety of prosthetic additions, and that was about it. So I started off with a very scrawly sheet of ideas, from the practical (like a ‚’fishing rod attachment‚’) to the downright silly (erm, ‚’ship biscuit ear‚’?).

Then Pete and Jeff looked over the first sketches with their wonderful eyes (the lucky blighters have more than one each which is testament to the relative safety of animation when compared to pirating), and sent me an email with lots of feedback, such as ‚ÄúWooden teeth are a great idea‚Äù, ‚ÄúI wonder if you could design a head that has both the innocent simplicity of the first head, with some of the craziness of the second‚Äù and ‚ÄúI like his hook and the sort of wooden hinged arm that goes with it. No idea how it‚’s meant to move, but somehow I don‚’t think anybody‚’s going to worry about that!‚Äù

I read the feedback and got on with another sheet of drawings.¬† This time I could pick the bits I liked from the first sheet, mix them up, and work with Pete and Jeff‚’s feedback and what they liked to create something which gets us a bit closer to a suitable design. Pete looked at the new sheet, and said the body was looking good and his favourite head was the one in the middle.

So then I did a colour one in Adobe Photoshop, combining the body and the head that Pete liked. The proportions are a bit awry,  and the colours changed for the finished puppet, but amazingly the Pirate with Prosthetics was pretty much done.

All that was left to do was a turnaround, showing him from the front, back and side, and then the drawings were sent off to the model-making rooms, where the sculptors work their magic to bring it all to life .

Here’s a link to the Pirates! production blog, which is full of fascinating insights into the wonderful world of Aardman Animation and their talented team of creative.