"Northerners are great, northerners are good, and clever and modest and misunderstood." That was one of the spine lines of brass, a wonderful experiment that was launched in ’98, a handful of years before its time. These days, it wouldn’t have been weighed down by the ink-on-paper costs of a printed magazine; instead, its irreverent editorial - part consumer, part business mag', part Private Eye, part Viz - and strongly graphics-led style would be ideally suited to publishing on the web.
It’s gratifying to find that, for Aardman Animation, home is a converted banana ripening warehouse with a front door halfway between the SS Great Britain and an architectural salvage yard on somewhere called Gas Ferry Road. For a studio whose most familiar ambassador is arguably a rocketeering contraptor, an address more ordinary would have been a disappointment.
Popular preconceptions like these, however, are troublesome things for Aardman: on occasions, the glaring limelight which Nick Park’s success has brought to the studio has washed out the wealth of detail that makes Aardman Animation what it is. More than just Wallace and Grommit’s best mate, Nick is one of the studio’s key animators: since his arrival in ’86, Nick has become one of the mainstays of that Gas Ferry Road esprit d’animation which has been carefully fostered by long-time stop-motion collaborator and Aardman co-founder Peter Lord.
Peter’s something of a creative figurehead at the studio, a mentor to the legion of other successful directors in the Aardman stable, where his ‘plasticine under the fingernails’ approach is one of the company’s important cultural differences which have created an inclusive atmosphere that communicates itself as an almost palpable enthusiasm for being, well, Aardman.
"Aardman's strength," says Heather Wright – who left Charlotte Street's adland to become head of commercials at AA – "lies in its ability to generate characters." Capturing the subtleties which define a character – the niceties of timing and the silent eloquence of a look-to-camera by a beady plastic eye – and turning a sequence of stop-motion frames into something animate, engaging and dramatic does seem to be an Aardman hallmark. When you see it in an Aardman production – Lurpak's Douglas, the Scotch Tapes skeleton, the Creature Comforts, erm, creatures – it's as distinctive as a thumbprint in plasticine.
Taking a tour around the old banana warehouse is just the same: Heather's brisk walk spins up the many glimpsed facets of the company to 25-frames-per-second and that enthusiasm for being Aardman comes to life. Sometimes it's even hard to tell the difference between the people and the characters: The Aardman name, for example, is popularly rumoured to belong to a sleeping partner in the business. The truth is, Aardman was the first character created by Peter Lord and the company's other co-founder Dave Sproxton; Aardman was sold to the BBC for £25, and the cheque was banked in an account opened in Aardman's name...
As distinctive as a thumbprint in plasticine
Faintly surreal: Bawlmaster was, of course, fictitious – a bit of inside back cover fun – but the northern creativity about which brass wrote was usually perfectly real