23 years since the stop-motion animated comedy Chicken Run introduced us to a pair of scrappy chickens named Rocky and Ginger, they are returning for a sequel — Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. Directed by Sam Fell and executive produced by Aardman Animations’ Peter Lord, it’s set to begin streaming on Netflix on Dec. 15.
But if you’re worried about how AI and the digital animation age may have affected this beloved chicken family, fear not — the filmmakers behind Dawn of the Nugget believe in embracing the imperfections of hand-modeled puppets for a more emotionally relatable viewing experience.
Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget: Sam Fell and Peter Lord on Embracing Imperfection in Animation
Fell (ParaNorman, The Tale of Despereaux) and Lord — a veteran animator known for co-directing the first Chicken Run with Nick Park as well as for producing Wallace and Gromit through his and David Sproxton’s animation studio Aardman Animations — sat down for a Q&A at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
There, they shared their best advice for filmmakers who want to maintain that homemade, human touch in stop-motion animation.
“I don’t think perfections is a terribly interesting idea. I don’t like perfection very much. A bit of edge, a bit of bite, a bit of imperfection is what we like,” Lord explained.
“It’s possible now to make, and others do, exquisite, very smooth puppet animation, which is almost indistinguishable from CGI animation. And we don’t see the point in that. We believe that knowing that these are real puppets in a real studio — sensing that if you were lucky enough to be there, you could reach out and touch them — knowing that they’re puppets and believing that they’re alive at the same time is the magic that we we seek.”
The story of the original Chicken Run found the plucky Ginger plotting an escape from mean Mrs. Tweedy’s egg farm, where chickens who couldn’t lay eggs risked being eaten for dinner — or worse, made into pies. The arrival of Rocky Rhodes the rooster gives Ginger the idea that he can teach her and the other chickens to fly, and thus, find freedom.
The original Chicken Run director Nick Park also returns to executive produce the sequel alongside Lord and his Aardman Animations partner, David Sproxton, who serves as co-executive producer.
The sequel picks up years later — after Ginger, now voiced by Thandiwe Newton, and Rocky, now voiced by Zachary Levi — have started a family and are living happily at a bird sanctuary. But their daughter, Molly (voiced by Bella Ramsay, The Last of Us), doesn’t find it to be the paradise that her parents do, and she yearns to experience the outside world. Just like her mother, she makes an escape — only to be captured and taken to Mrs. Tweedy’s horrifying new factory farm where she’s created a new invention: the chicken nugget. This time, Ginger’s task isn’t escaping from Mrs. Tweedy’s farm — it’s breaking back in.
Fell broke down the technical process of how they are able to retain a homemade feeling in their animation that gave the original Chicken Run its special touch.
“We always encourage the animators to leave their thumbprints on the faces as well,” he says.
30 different animators worked on Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget to bring the characters to life, and 16 individual puppets were made of both Ginger and Molly. Each puppet’s face is made of clay, which is how animators achieve such intricate detail in their emotions and facial movements.
“That’s what we care about. It’s not a trick. It’s the performance that we do,” Fell says. “The animators successfully — rather brilliantly — bring them to life.”
They prefer shoot 12 frames per second, or what Fell refers to as “twos” — meaning that two pictures are taken per every frame of movement rather than just one.
“That twos thing, it just gives it a little — texture is the perfect word, actually. Yeah, that’s exactly it. And so again, it’s all part of that handmade feeling,” Fell says.
“If anybody wants to get going starting stop-motion, I recommend shooting on twos, if not fours, in fact, because that also works. There’s a little sense of it being homemade.”
Fell adds: “The studio comes from Peter and David, his partner — they started together with a piece of clay and a camera on a kitchen table. And I still think we’re trying to retain the flavor of that, even though the studio is a big operation now. We still want to have that sort of hobbyist kind of feeling.”
Main Image: Sam Fell (left) and Peter Lord (right) with puppets from Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. Courtesy of SBIFF.