Rocky (Mel Gibson) charms Hut 17's inhabitants, including Julia Sawalha's Ginger (left)


John Millar checks out the chickens who want to fly the coop in Chicken Run, and discovers that behind-the-scenes at Aardman Animation are some eggs-citing plans…

In print: JULIA SAWALHA on leading the hen party

From Film Review July 2000

Napoleon once observed that an army marches on its stomach. The same thing could easily be said of the creative geniuses of behind Chicken Run’s superb animation team. Ever since Christmas, the talented team who have been creating Chicken Run have been saying a silent thanks to Jeffrey Katzenberg whenever they break for lunch.

They’ve been eating for free, all because of an arrangement that the DreamWorks’ boss struck when he visited the Aardman studios on the outskirts of Bristol. Katzenberg was impressed by the work that was going into this hilarious spoof on Second World War PoW camp movies, with a cluck of chickens plotting on how best to flee the coop.

But he knew that his smile would be even bigger if the meticulous team, who painstakingly animate the foot-high plasticine models, could manage to film just an extra couple of seconds footage each week. So he came up with a deal… every time they achieved his target and filmed 90 seconds a week, he’d foot their lunch bill. Result: the crew have eaten free ever since!

When Film Review visited the studios for a behind-the-scenes look at one of the summer’s most eagerly-awaited films, the atmosphere was efficient but laid back. The first full-length feature from Aardman’s Nick Park – the Oscar winning creator of Wallace & Gromit – and Peter Lord – the man who gave you Morph – was hatched from a doodle in Nick’s note book, when he scribbled a drawing of a chicken digging with a spoon to try and get under a wire fence.

DreamWorks became involved because they were impressed by the wizardry of Aardman. It also helped that one of Steven Spielberg’s favourite films is The Great Escape. Nick Park’s luck was in again when Mel Gibson was approached to play the voice of Rocky the Rooster. He discovered that the actor’s children were huge Wallace & Gromit fans, so there was no way that their famous father was going to turn down this role.

Filming commitments (Gibson was then shooting the American War of Independence epic The Patriot), meant that the Hollywood star couldn’t record his dialogue with the rest of the cast, which also includes Julia Sawalha, Miranda Richardson, Timothy Spall and Jane Horrocks. He had to do it in the States! “We had to do a lot of recording with Mel from the USA and Canada, so we did it on digital telephone lines which give us good enough quality,” said Tristan Oliver, director of photography.

“There are problems because you have not got the contact with the actor, which as a director you would want. But at the same time Mel is a very professional guy and is very used to it. He will take direction down the phone. Sometimes because the voice is the key it is actually helpful not to think too much of the actual physical person. Mel Gibson does not look like Rocky, but the voice is right...”

Image copyright: Pathé
Feature © Visual Imagination Ltd 2000. Not for reproduction.

Chicken Lickin'
Tasty facts that’ll impress your friends!

Ginger braves the searchlights

• Nick Park and Peter Lord have been working on Chicken Run since 1996

• The research into the film included visiting a chicken farm in Yorkshire

• Around 4,000 litres of paint have been used to paint the backdrops

• 256 ‘Aardman mix’ Plasticine chickens have been made, including 60 peddling chickens. An additional 131 mini-chickens were used to a role-call sequence

• The longest shot in the film was of Ginger as she walked past frantically busy chickens. It took one week to prepare the set and 23 days to shoot. Half-way through this process, Ginger’s dialogue was altered

• Each character went through an astounding number of replacement body parts during the production, including at least one pair of wings per day

• Babs’ knitting is real and was knitted with needles measuring approximately 17cm long. Some of the smaller, trickier parts were even finished off using cocktail sticks!

• The Model-Making Department created 60 pies and 191 pieces of whole vegetables for the Pie Machine sequence.

• When Rocky arrives at the chicken farm, he crashes into and spins on a weather vane. There are actually two puppets to make it look faster

Get the whole feature, with Julia Sawalha interviewed, plus our special preview of CHICKEN RUN in the July 2000 issue of Film Review
Preview also available via Planet Britain site

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