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SHAUN THE SHEEP: FARMAGEDDON – THE INTERVIEW

Shaun the Sheep’s second feature-length movie, A SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: FARMAGEDDON takes the world’s favourite woolly hero and plunges him into an hilarious intergalactic adventure he will need to use all of his cheekiness and heart to work his way out of. When a visitor from beyond the stars – an impish and adorable alien called LU-LA – crash-lands near Mossy Bottom Farm, Shaun soon sees an opportunity for alien-powered fun and adventure, and sets off on a mission to shepherd LU-LA back to her home!

Here at The Journalix, we have had the absolute honour of interviewing co-director and all round nice guy Will Becher! A very talented man, Will has made the transition of being a fan, student, member of the animation team, then lead animator on many different Aardman features over the years – but now takes co-directing duties on (alongside Richard Phelan) for Shaun’s follow-up to the worldwide 2015 hit movie.

He will also be bringing Shaun to Manchester for the Animation Festival taking place at HOME from 10-14 November 2019 – don’t miss out!

A SHAUN THE SHEEP MOVIE: FARMAGEDDON

J: The idea of an alien vising Shaun’s farm has been done before in an episode of the TV show of Shaun the Sheep. Does that tie-in at all with Farmageddon?

WILL BECHER: Richard Starzak (director and creator of the Shaun series) has toyed with alien visitors a few times in past projects, so it wasn’t entirely new to the Shaun world. But this is a brand new story with an Alien called Lu-La (who’s name was devised from tasking the first two letters from the Lunar Lander). The film’s title Farmageddon was offered as a joke by Nick Park, but we liked it so much it stuck.

J: Did you spend much time down on the farm to help inspire Shaun’s latest outing? Or rather NASA’s space station?

WILL BECHER: I often drive pass fields of sheep or get stuck behind a tractor on my way into the studio, as I live just north of Bristol in the Cotswolds. I’d love to go to into space with NASA, but I don’t think our accounts department would be OK with that.

WALLACE & GROMIT

J: Given Shaun was born in A Close Shave, do you still have input from (Wallace & Gromit creator) Nick Park?

WILL BECHER: Yes, [he] watched the reel at various stages during production and gave notes and feedback. At Aardman we are surrounded by talented filmmakers and storytellers, like the company founders Pete and Dave, so my co-director (Richard Phelan) and I were grateful for their support.

J: How tempting was it to include references to Wallace & Gromit’s outer space adventure A Grand Day Out?

WILL BECHER: As a tribute to Nick we included a couple of references to his famous characters (with his blessing of course).

COOL SOUNDTRACK

J: Given Ash’s Tim Wheeler provided the opening song for the first Shaun the Sheep movie – can we expect any more gems on the soundtrack for the sequel?

WILL BECHER: Absolutely! We are really excited by the soundtrack which contains some brand new songs by upcoming artists. We’ve got some fantastic musicians including Tom Walker, Jorja Smith, and of course the collaboration no-one expected; Kylie and The Vaccines. I think Sony are releasing a soundtrack album for any die-hard fans.

J: Tom Howe composes for Farmageddon, as he did on Early Man. Does it help keeping the same team together?

WILL BECHER: Yes, it was lovely working with Tom again. As Shaun has no dialogue, we rely more heavily on score to help tell the story and the comedy. Tom created an amazing suite of music which captures the sci-fi feeling perfectly. Listen out for some nods to other classic sci-fi movies too.

WILL BECHER

J: I believe you wrote fan letters to Aardman as a child – you must be living the dream right now?

WILL BECHER: I never imagined those letters would lead to me animating with Nick Park, let alone co-directing Aardman’s latest feature film. I know it’s a cliché but it really is a dream job. It’s a challenge too – directing a film is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. But I’m so pleased to have had an opportunity.

Directors Will Becher (L) and Richard Phelan (R) briefing on set.
Directors Will Becher (L) and Richard Phelan (R) briefing on set.

J: Away from Aardman, who else has influenced your career?

WILL BECHER: I loved reading Tintin as a child and watching films like Back to the Future and Indiana Jones. Tim Burton’s Nightmare before Christmas was the first stop motion feature film I watched and I thought it was amazing. Nowadays, I love watching films with my two kids – I have huge admiration for the storytelling in Pixar movies.

WORK EXPERIENCE

J: You worked on ParaNorman – how was the experience working for a different studio?

WILL BECHER: The set up of the studio was very similar and a number of the crew were English, which made it feel like a home from home, despite being on the other side of the ocean. I loved experiencing Laika’s investment in cutting edge 3D printing. Their animation puppets are some of the most advanced in the world.

J: You’re a clay-animator at heart but is there any chance you could transfer your directing skills towards CGI like Arthur Christmas or Flushed Away? Or even venture further into real-life actors?

WILL BECHER: I love stop motion, because you can reach out and touch everything. The most amazing thing about working on a film like this is seeing designs on paper turn into actual objects, locations and characters. And then watching as these inanimate objects are brought to life by our animators. Walking around these exquisitely detailed miniature worlds really takes some beating. Having said all that, I want to tell stories and I’m always open to the best medium for the job… Not every idea will work in stopmotion so I wouldn’t rule CGI out.

J: How are your drawing skills?

WILL BECHER: Having spent the last 18 years surrounded by phenomenal artists, I feel a bit intimidated when it comes to drawing. So I avoid it unless I have to. My wife Eve Coy is a children’s book illustrator so I often turn to her for advice.

AARDMAN STUDIOS

J: When you look at Aardman’s Wallace & Gromit films, each one made huge strides forward in terms of ambition and how polished the animation style was. Have we reached the peak now? I guess the challenge is to maintain these standards?

WILL BECHER: I don’t think we’ve reached the peak… It always amazes me how resourceful and ingenious the crew are. The look of Farmageddon is really ambitious, we have never seen such expansive locations before. Shout out to our art director and team Matt Perry – there is a particularly cool secret underground base a la Bond layer. I would urge you to watch this film on the big screen to really enjoy those details, it’s a widescreen sci-fi spectacular!

J: We’re huge fans of Aardman productions and its legacy. Are there some unwritten rules and limits to an Aardman style of animation? Is there a Peter Lord guidebook to follow?

WILL BECHER: I think there are, yes. There’s something very unique but also warm and comforting about Aardman characters. It’s partly that handmade aesthetic and those big sympathetic eyes and finger prints.

And if we ever forget how to make them, there is actually a guidebook by Peter Lord called ‘Cracking Animation’, although he didn’t write this for the staff.

THUMBPRINTS

J: How clear did you make your thumbprint in this film…?

WILL BECHER: There are elements of Lula’s character inspired by my own kids (see supermarket scene) and elements of our lives in the situations the character’s go through. Somehow making it personal helps it to connect with a wider audience. So Rich, myself, Paul and the story team would often reference personal stories and situations looking for comedy.

But when it comes to thumbprints there are literally hundreds of talented people involved in making this film – so the creative touch is vast.

MORE THINGS TO LOOK OUT FOR

J: Like all Aardman films are there any jokes in the background to look out for in Farmageddon?

WILL BECHER: Definitely! There are so many details in the background of every scene – so we have some great jokes which you might not catch first time round. Our art department who make all the miniature props, will often come up with ideas to add whilst we are filming. I particularly like a reference to the film Arrival, and to a doctor who gag involving a portaloo.

J: The Blue Peter badge has made an appearance in Pirates and Early Man… Do you own one?

WILL BECHER: I do and I’m very proud of it. I’ve been lucky enough to appear on Blue Peter a couple of times over the years and I have my badge on my desk. Actually, Shaun the Sheep has one too on his backpack – it’s less than a centimeter tall.

AARDMAN’S BRITAIN

J: Given our current political plight, Farmageddon is delightfully British. It’s not that bad a place is it?

WILL BECHER: Britain has a huge amount to love about it – and I think this film celebrates both the big and the small things that make up our unique nation. The comedy in Shaun the Sheep feels very British, but somehow seems to translate across continents.

J: What’s next on the horizon for Aardman?

WILL BECHER: Lots of exciting new projects are already underway, but you’ll have to watch this space to find out what’s next… I’m off to have a lie down.

A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is set for nationwide release on Friday 18 October
A Shaun the Sheep Movie: Farmageddon is set for nationwide release on Friday 18 October

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