It began, as most successes have, in a garage. The studio's name comes from the title of Sproxton and Lord's first traditionally-animated short, "The Aardman," about a superhero who evoked stereotypical western English machoism, i.e. an "'ard man".note When it came time to deposit their cheque for the film, they realized they needed to create a new bank account for it, which became the Aardman Animation account. Several other films commissioned by The BBC, as well as hugely popular TV ads, would follow throughout the decades.
In the '80s, they began by producing The Amazing Adventures of Morph, a claymation series of children's shorts. Around this time, they hired a fresh-faced film school student named Nick Park to work for them on Peter Gabriel's famed "Sledgehammer" video while he finished his thesis film, A Grand Day Out. Park not only earned the studio its first Oscar with Creature Comforts (which was nominated against A Grand Day Out), but the characters from his thesis would become the first of the studio's Flagship Franchise, Wallace & Gromit, for which they would later produce three more shorts and a feature film, earning several more Oscars in the process.
Aardman would break into feature films at the dawn of the 21st century and have worked with a rotating cast of American distributors. Their first and most successful three were made in collaboration with DreamWorks Animation (five films had been planned, but the studios split due to some ugly behind-the-scenes politics), followed by two films with Sony Pictures Animation, a split due to diminishing returns, then two with Lionsgate followed by another spit due to diminishing returns. As of this writing, their latest partner is Netflix, with an exclusive new series of Shaun the Sheep specials being produced as part of the deal.
They have also done the English dubs for the Belgian-produced A Town Called Panic.
Works include the following:
- Chicken Run: The studio's first full-length feature, and the first of a planned 5-film collaboration with DreamWorks Animation (which was cut short after three films). Distributed by French studio Pathé in Europe.
- The Curse of the Were-Rabbit: The Movie of Wallace & Gromit and the second collaboration with DreamWorks. See below for more details.
- Flushed Away, first CGI feature, and their last film made in cooperation with DreamWorks.
- Arthur Christmas: Their second CGI feature and first collaboration with Sony Pictures Animation, starring James McAvoy, Hugh Laurie, Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton among others.
- The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists!: Their second and last work with SPA, based on the first in a series of books by Gideon Defoe, starring Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman, Salma Hayek, BRIAN BLESSED, Jeremy Piven, and also Imelda Staunton. Outside the UK, it was called The Pirates! Band of Misfits.
- Shaun the Sheep Movie: Exactly What It Says on the Tin and their first collaboration with European company StudioCanal.
- Early Man, the studio's second attempt at the story that eventually became The Croods had Aardman and DWA not broken off their contract early, and their second film with StudioCanal.
- A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon: Sequel to the first Shaun the Sheep movie and their third film with StudioCanal as well as their first to be released by Netflix in America, Canada and Latin areas.
- Wallace & Gromit:
- A Grand Day Out, the first Wallace & Gromit short, it was released in 1989. It was nominated for the Academy Award for Animated Short Film, but lost to Aardman's other work, Creature Comforts.
- The Wrong Trousers, a 1993 short, it won the Academy Award for Animated Short Film that year.
- A Close Shave, released in 1995, it won the 1995 Academy Award for Animated Short Film.
- Cracking Contraptions, a set of 10:30 shorts that were released on the Internet, then later as a limited edition Region 2 DVD, and again as bonus material on the Curse of the Were-Rabbit DVD.
- The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, a theatrical release full-length feature made in 2005. It is the first Wallace & Gromit entry that isn't a short, and it won not only the Academy Award for "Best Animated Feature", but also the British Academy Film Awards' "Best British Film", the British Comedy Awards' "Best Comedy Film", and the Hugo for "Best Dramatic Presentation - Long Form", among many others.
- A Matter of Loaf and Death, short film released in 2008, Academy Award nominee for Animated Short Film the following year.
- Wallace and Gromit's World of Inventions, an educational TV program that started airing in 2010. Wallace talks about famous or revolutionary inventions with Gromit's assistance.
- Shaun the Sheep, a television series that began in 2007 with a 40 episode season. It's a Spinoff centered on the character of Shaun, the sheep from A Close Shave. It does not feature Wallace or Gromit, though. It has currently finished its sixth season, and in 2008 won the Emmy for "Children's Production."
- Timmy Time, a spin-off of Shaun the Sheep featuring Timmy the lamb and his friends at preschool; aimed at a younger audience than the previous examples.
- Two features (see above).
- Creature Comforts, a 1989 Academy Award winner for Animated Short Film, later adapted into a 2003 television series, with an American version in 2007.
- Morph, a plasticine man who spoke in gibberish and could change into shapes. He originally appeared in 1977 during one-minute shorts on Take Hart and later his own shows. Was revived as a YouTube series in 2014.
- Rex the Runt: The studio's first primetime animated series, with two 13-episode seasons shown between 1998 and 2001 on BBC 2. Has become something of a Cult Classic.
- Chop Socky Chooks, a short-lived TV series for Cartoon Network featuring kung-fu chickens (really)
- Angry Kid, a web series originally hosted on Atom Films about the daily misadventures of a bratty adolescent.
- The Presentators, a series of shorts commissioned by Nickelodeon UK from 2002 to 2004, starring the same three characters from The Deadline, a 2001 award-winning short about three animators of indeterminate species apologizing for missing their deadline.
- Shaun the Sheep: See above for more details.
- World's Funnest: A series of shorts starring childlike versions of Batman and Superman for Cartoon Network's DC Nation block.
- Planet Sketch, an all-CGI variety show co-produced with Decode Entertainment.
- Counterfeit Cat, a co-production with Atomic Cartoons for Disney XD about a little blue alien disguised as a cat and his yellow feline friend.
- Spitting Image: Some stop-motion sequences for a few episodes and the 1987 Christmas special.
- The Penny cartoons seen on Pee-wee's Playhouse.
- Animated music videos for Peter Gabriel's "Big Time" and "Sledgehammer", Spice Girls' "Viva Forever" and Coldplay's "Daddy."
- ...and hundreds of television commercials.
Tropes associated with Aardman:
- Affectionate Parody: Their films lovingly reference and even satirize movies and other works of pop culture.
- Art Evolution: Lord and Sproxton openly admitted that they learned their craft as they went along. The earliest films to bear the studio's name usually had, at most, one person handling each step of production (set design, puppet building, animation, etc.), if they weren't created entirely by one person and a couple of assistant, and used puppets made of pure clay, resulting in the animation looking rather crude. Once they hit the mainstream in the mid-90s, they had to streamline their process to meet the tighter deadline, which meant hiring more animators, using computer-assisted on-set playback and changing the puppets from pure clay to clay-covered armatures, resulting in their animation becoming much smoother and more fluid.
- Art Shift: Beginning around The New '10s, they'd move away from working exclusively with stop-motion and experiment more with CGI, mixed-media and even traditional puppetry.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Sproxton and Lord's first collaboration, The Aardman, was traditionally animated rather than claymation.
- Signature Style: Quirky and colorful stop-motion family films with charming characters and inventive British humor.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Closer to idealism and light entertainment, but not without the occasional introspection. For example, the 1986 short film, Sweet Disaster: Babylon is an unambiguous anti-war and anti-arms trade film, but ultimately points to a solution for the problems it brings attention. Ident, meanwhile is a claustrophobic, existential nightmare of a short with a Downer Ending, but has an otherwise straightforward Be Yourself message.
- Something Completely Different: Arthur Christmas is not only an All-CGI Cartoon but lacks the trademark Nick Park-inspired visual style of Aardman's most famous works to the point that many were surprised to find out it even was an Aardman production.
- Stop Motion: Their bread and butter. In the English-speaking world, theirs are perhaps the second most famous works of clay puppet stop-frame animation behind Gumby. Their first two features are the highest-grossing stop motion films of all time.