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Dawn of the Nugget INBTWN Dawn of the Nugget INBTWN

Netflix will release Aardman Animations’ Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget this week, so we asked INBTWN Animation, Cartoon Brew’s exclusive online event partner, to speak with the film’s director Sam Fell.

Fell is an accomplished and Oscar-nominated filmmaker whose directorial credits include Flushed Away, ParaNorman, and The Tale of Despereaux. During his sit down with INBTWN, we egged him on to talk about where his love for animation comes from, how he started working with Aardman, and adopting vegetarianism during the production of Dawn of the Nugget.

Starting in Animation

Asked why he got into animation, Fell recalled, “I fell in love with animation quite a long time ago, and then a number of times. I fell in love with it as I was growing up in the 1970s in the U.K. There was some amazing stop-motion animation, especially on tv.”

Fell taught himself the art of stop-motion by making experimental films in the basement. “I remember it clearly,” he said. “I did a three-minute reel 16mm film in my basement with a couple of lights, just making things move and transforming things and moving the camera as well. I got the film back, and I was just smitten with the magic of stuff coming to life.”

After showing some of his work to the bosses at Aardman, he began working at the studio in the early 1990s.

Why Stop Motion?

Fell says he’s agnostic when it comes to animation styles but that there is something timeless and magic about stop motion. That said, he also admits the technique does require more patience than other approaches to the medium.

“Each film is an arduous thing, and you’re always back to square one at the end,” he explained. “It’s taken me 20 years to make four films. But I think they stand the test of time, and there is something in them that still delights me.”

Landing Dawn of the Nugget

Several years ago, Fell was at an event celebrating British animation at 10 Downing Street, the residence and offices of the British prime minister. Aardman co-founder Peter Lord approached him there and asked if he’d be interested in directing another film for the studio.

Fell agreed and later visited the Bristol-based studio to see what projects Aardman was mulling over. He says the chickens caught his eye. “They had lots of good projects, but there’s Chicken Run sitting there and sort of luring me in,” he recalled.

The prospect of making a sequel to Aardman’s biggest-ever box office hit was frightening at first, but Fell says that was part of the allure. “If I’m daunted by something, I’m more attracted to it, I think.”

Bigger and Better

It’s been more than two decades since the first Chicken Run film hit theaters, and Fell knew that if he was going to make a sequel now, he had to expand on what the first film accomplished.

“The bigger and better challenge was all very exciting in the first year or so, talking about it,” he joked. “Then when we finally got into it, it was like, ‘Oh my god, this is really difficult.’ Hats off to the crew because, there was a stage where I was thinking, ‘I don’t know if we can do this.'”

Fell explained that for most shots, two units would be filming simultaneously. One would film things on a human scale and the other on a miniature clay chicken scale. “That drove the production manager crazy, scheduling two teams for every shot.”

Kids Say the Darndest Things

Dawn of the Nugget is a family film, and when asked about creating art that viewers of all ages can enjoy together, Fell was proud to say that there is something really special about making movies for kids.

“Yeah, we’re artists, and we’re dealing with important things and all this, but there’s something about kids that is so important, so amazing,” he said. “I’ve been on the road for about five weeks now, talking about the film and getting audience questions… the best question the other day in Paris came from a little kid. The question was, ‘Why do you have villains in films?’ It was so profound. You go to answer, and… there are so many layers to that question.”

When pressed for an answer, Fell said he was still trying to come up with a suitable one. “I think heroes have to have [villains]; otherwise, they’re not challenged. It’s like a whole yin and yang thing about the whole universe.”

Creating A Legacy

According to Fell, one of the charms of making an animated film is how they often stick with audiences for years and years.

“We wanna make a splash for now. We want everyone to watch it over Christmas. But also, I want people to watch it in 10 years’ time or 20 years’ time,” he explained.

Fell wrapped up the interview with an anecdote about how Dawn of the Nugget will stick with him for years and years.

“I became a vegetarian on this movie,” he said before calling out his colleagues. “But the crew didn’t! They served chicken every Wednesday in the canteen!”

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