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Chatting with new Aardman 2D director Åsa Lucander

By Randi Altman

Not long ago 2D director, illustrator, animator and graphic designer Åsa Lucander joined the iconic Aardman Animations team in Bristol, England. This Finnish-born artist first came to England to study illustration. After being introduced to animation, her world opened up a bit further, and she has never looked back.

After the studio she worked at shut down, she found herself at Aardman (@aardman) and on a new path. We reached out to Lucander to find our more about her past, her current job and her work ethic.

You recently joined Aardman — can you talk about why this studio is a good fit for you and your artistic talent?
I’ve always been a big fan of Creature Comforts, Wallace & Gromit and all the other endlessly funny pieces that come out of Aardman. But like so many others, it is the wonderful stop-motion animations that I associate with Aardman.

What I’ve recently learned is that Aardman is about so much more, and with other great styles. I hope I can bring a different layer to Aardman’s talent, coming from a 2D background and from a small studio where you are hands on in all the stages of the production. I’m sure I will learn a lot from Aardman, but also hope that I can bring a new perspective to jobs I will work on.

Aardman has quite a reputation in the industry and a long and storied history. Was it at all intimidating to be joining them or just exciting?
Absolutely! Aardman is like a British institution, and of course you feel slightly intimidated. But I was also very excited about surrounding myself with such great talent. I can only see that as inspiring. I do thrive on challenges, which force you to push yourself and develop.

Can you tell us a bit about your background and how you ended up at Aardman?
I’m originally from Finland, where I studied graphic design, going on to work in an advertising agency. After two years I decided I wanted to return to studies as drawing has always been my biggest passion. I moved to London in 2001 to study illustration, and it was here that I first came in contact with animation. It was like a whole new world opening up for me. Seeing your drawings come into life is like creating pure magic. I’m sure many people have the same epiphany, and after that moment I was hooked.

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We had a guest teacher, Tom Mortimer, teaching us animation in the third year of my studies. He asked if I wanted to come and work for his company, 12foot6, after graduating. I did a work placement first and then became full-time employed. I stayed there for 11 years! Sadly, last year the company shut down, and that wave brought me to Aardman. It was a whirlwind of a year… I finished my short film, Lost Property (shown above), the company shut down, I had a baby, I got taken on by Aardman and relocated to Bristol. But I’m very much enjoying the ride.

How does having expertise in illustration, graphic design and animation inform your work?
I think the more tools you have in your bag the better. I’ve always loved drawing, and I feel the visual look is as important as the rest in animation. A bit of knowledge in graphic design helps with the overall layout and balancing elements and texts as well. It all works hand in hand really. I do like to be hands on and be part of each stage of the process.

What tools do you typically call on?
I always start with drawing in my sketch book, then tracing characters in Adobe Flash where I animate them. I use the same process in my backgrounds and then mix up all the textures, collage and digital painting and put them together in Photoshop.

Can you describe your directing style?
I do quite like an old-school style of animation, re-drawing quite a lot frame by frame rather than using too many symbols and tweens. I also like to pay attention to small details, or small sub-plots, that help to make the outcome quirky and interesting… drawing in the viewer and creating a multilayered animation that is much more than what first meets the eye.

When starting a new project, what are the first steps you take?
It depends on the project but if I’m working on a script/brief I start by getting into a certain mindset and then read the script over and over again, scribbling notes on the side of the page — little ideas, details, doodles and sub plots. Then I begin my research by collecting influences, reference pictures, looking for color palettes and other inspirations for the visual look of the project. Then I sit down to draw the characters and nail the look of the background art. What follows is a storyboard, animatic, animation and so on.

You mentioned your short film, Lost Property, which is playing at some festivals at the moment. Can you talk about it?
The idea for the film came to me when listening to the radio. Someone was talking about a lost property office. I thought the subject matter sounded very interesting. All the very strange things that people leave behind or lose in one way or another.

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I found this world could be an intriguing starting point to base a short film on. Developing the idea further, I imagined that a lost property office could represent something else, be a metaphor for something different — our mind.

Lost Property (above) is a love story, but above all it is about the fragility of the mind — how we take it for granted, and how lost we are without it. It is about hope, persistence and devotion. It portrays an illness — Alzheimer’s — that robs us of who we are.

After the initial idea, the script came fairly quickly to me. I had one of those rare moments of having a dream, and when I woke up all the loose ends tied together and I pretty much wrote down the script there and then. It was five o’clock in the morning.

Visually I wanted to do something different to what I had done before. I explored digital painting and spent a lot of time getting the visual look and feel with an interplay between a rich color palette and lights and shadows.

I was very lucky that when telling the idea to the film to my producer he jumped on it, and 12foot6 decided to privately fund it. So I had a great team behind me that worked many nights in order to bring it to life.

Since joining Aardman you worked on a project for British Gas. Can you describe the job?
British Gas was a fun little film about British Gas Apprenticeship. We were given audio of an interview with the apprentices, and from there we worked out the script. It was a very quick turnaround and we had to animate 20 seconds in only one week.

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I felt a bit faint to start with when I heard the schedule, but its surprising how much you can achieve when you have to be time efficient and organized to the second. It was also a pleasure to work with the creative team from Ogilivy.

Do you have any advice for young people just starting out in the business? Maybe something you wish someone told you early on?
Work really hard, and always follow your strengths and dreams. Nothing is impossible.

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