The English animation studio Aardman has long been at the forefront of stop-motion, not only in terms of technical proficiency but also in their distinctive British wit and charm. Their new “Shaun the Sheep Movie” carries on that tradition, as well as carrying over a world shown over several seasons of the TV show. It’s also, like the show, completely dialogue-free — a rarity in animation, and film in general. “Shaun”’s directors, Richard Starzak and Mark Burton, talk to Metro about the difficulties of making a film without talking, what their job titles really mean in the world of stop-motion and how the eyes are the windows to the brain.
Did you have much in the way of pushback when it came to making a film without any dialogue?
Richard Starzak: Not really. “Shaun” the TV show didn’t have any dialogue. But it scared us, I have to say. We worried if we didn’t have dialogue children might run out of patience after awhile. As we started to put the storyboard reels together we became really confident that it was going to work.
Mark Burton: There’s a fine line between keeping it nice and simple, so you understand the narrative, and being so simple that you just get bored. We tried to create a strong emotional story, and we made sure that at any point you knew what was going on in the characters’ heads. If you understand what a character is thinking and what the problems are, you don’t need words. You can get it all from non-verbal communication.
RS: I do say the best movies you can watch with the sound turned down.
Plus animating speaking, I imagine, is difficult.
MB: Yes. It adds another level to the animation and slows the whole process down. The original idea of having no dialogue was a financial one, but it’s actually helped us globally.
So much of the communication in the film, and in other Aardmans, is in the facial expressions, and especially in the eyes.
RS: I directed the “Creature Comforts” TV series, and we did a lot of research into Method acting, such as what your eyes do when you’re speaking — because your eyes can betray whether you’re telling the truth or not, or whether you doubt what you’re saying, whether you’re trying to remember something while you’re speaking. We put that into use in “Shaun.” How we used the eyes was very important. There is a universal language of where your eyes are — whether you’re looking down, up, or left or right. There’s a universal language in how we use our eyes to access our brains.