This Friday, the first ever full-length movie from veteran British animation studio Aardman opens in the UK. Coming from the subtly twisted brains behind Wallace And Gromit, hopes are high that Chicken Run will be the bestest thing ever, and repeat the critical and commercial success, which saw it achieve the highest ever opening US weekend box office for a Dreamworks movie. Hey now – here’s a whole bunch of stuff you genuinely didn’t know about Aardman, Chicken Run – and chickens! Cluck-me-do!

  1. Aardman was founded in 1972 by David Sproxton and Peter Lord. The pair had met at school, and spent their spare time making amateur animated films using David’s dad’s 16mm camera. They formed the company after being commissioned to provide a short animation for quirky Tony Hart-fronted deaf kids show, Vision On. It featured a clumsy super-hero, dubbed "Aardman".
  2. Chickens ovulate almost every day, and cockerel sperm can remain fertile inside a hen for up to 32 days. Chickens can lay an egg approximately every 27 hours, and will ovulate 30 minutes after laying an egg. Unless the egg is layed after 2pm, in which case a delay of 16-18 hours is normal. A hen will lay an average of 245 eggs a year.
  3. Aardman continued its association with Tony Hart throughout the 1970s. When Hart presented teatime art show Take Hart, Aardman teamed him with a desktop lump of Plasticine called Morph. The unintelligible Morph spun-off into his own series of 26 episodes in 1981, where he was teamed with Chas, a gruffer-sounding unintelligible Plasticine guy, and Foily – a foil woman. Just imagine munching on her bits with your fillings, lads!
  4. Out of the 10,000 species of bird, only 10 are classified as poultry. These are turkey, duck, goose, guinea, pea fowl, pigeon, pheasant, ostrich, swan and – yes – those wonderful chickens!
  5. In 1978 Aardman produced a pair of short animations based around dialogue recorded from members of the general public. Though the two films – Down And Out and Confessions Of A Foyer Girl – were disregarded by the BBC, they were seized upon a couple of years later by Channel 4. The new station commissioned a further five pieces in a similar style, paving the way for Aardman’s Oscar-winning Creature Comforts (best remembered as part of a 1980s electricity ad campaign).
  6. Chickens have no sweat glands, and do not urinate.
  7. In the 80s Aardman moved into pop videos, and their most well known was probably Peter Gabriel’s Sledgehammer – which was worked on by newcomer Nick Park. When Park joined the company in the mid-80s he was already working on the first Wallace And Gromit film, A Grand Day Out. The subsequent two Wallace And Gromit films both won Oscars for their director.  A full length Wallace And Gromit movie will be Aardman’s next major project, after The Tortoise And The Hare.
  8. Chicken navels are connected to the intestine. Also, chickens are unable to bend their backs.
  9. Chicken Run was the inspiration of co-director Park, who worked in a chicken-packing factor and slaughterhouse when he left school, where he spent time gutting the chickens. He describes his experiences as "horrible". Park and Peter Lord pitched the idea to Dreamworks boss Steven Spielberg as "The Great Escape – with chickens". Bizarrely, they discussed the idea with the legendary director over a dinner of roast chicken.
  10. Chickens lay their eggs backwards – large end first. Oh man! That must be like shitting a boot!
  11. Work on Chicken Run begun in 1996, though principal photography took around 20 months for a crew of 40 animators to complete. The total crew numbered 457. Due to the length of the production, Aardman had to use a special blend of Plasticine for the more expressive features of the film’s models. The "Aardman Mix" is harder and more durable than the Newplast clay used on most Aardman films. In total, 57 different colours of Plasticine were used for the characters. To achieve the correct hue, the Plasticine is mixed in a converted chewing gum machine. The first model of each character – the bodies of which comprised of foam latext constructed around a steel armature – cost around £10,000. Subsequent models cost "just" £2,000. Each of the chickens in the film had dozens of different mouths, shaped to vocalise each letter of the alphabet, as well as to convey emotion.
  12. Chickens have cannibalistic tendencies. Farmers will often "de-beak" them, in a process which removes the end of the beaks, in order to prevent them from eating one another.
  13. The human characters in Chicken Run also wear fabric clothes. Mrs Tweedy’s dress was wired stiff to allow it to be animated, and took one person three weeks to complete. Mr Tweedy originally wore a tweed jacket, but the animators found the material restrictive, and so changed it to a leather jerkin (though his name didn’t change to "Mr Leathery"). It wasn’t the only change made to the film – the inventor chicken Mac, voiced by Lynn Ferguson, was originally named "McNugget". Suffice to say, the name was shortened upon legal advice.
  14. Chickens have hollow bones, and are able to breath through them.
  15. There are 24 individual poses per second of film in Chicken Run. The team managed to get 100 seconds of film in the can each week.
  16. Boy chickens have their testes inside their body cavity.
  17. When Aardman was signed to produce Chicken Run for Dreamworks, the Park and Lord insisted the company wouldn’t compromise its trademark Britishness. By way of a compromise, Mel Gibson was cast as the anti-hero Rocky. Gibson, a big fan of Wallace And Gromit, was more than happy to sign. However, he was busy filming The Patriot at the time the production required him, so he recorded many of his lines via digital phone lines.
  18. The process of viewing chicken eggs for quality is via a special machine, and is called "candling".
  19. The actors were required to record their lines in up to 40 different ways, and the animators would later choose the line which best matched the animation. Even then, the actors were often called back to re-record dialogue. Gibson’s co-star Julia Sawalha said it was the most difficult job she’s ever done. However, because of the meticulous planning which went into Chicken Run, the film only required four weeks of post-production.
  20. Chickens go like this: "Bok bok bok"!

Chicken Run opens on Friday 30th June.

The Official UK Chicken Run web site at www.chickenrun.co.uk

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