Meet the Maker: Aardman Senior Model Maker Jim Parkyn
Meet Jim Parkyn, Senior Model Maker at Bristol-based Aardman. Jim is responsible for creating some of the UK’s most loved Plasticine characters – from Morph to Shaun the Sheep. We caught up with Jim to ask about his extraordinary job, current projects and what gets him inspired.
Aardman Senior Model Maker Jim Parkyn
Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do.
I’m Jim Parkyn and I am a senior model maker at Aardman in Bristol. Essentially it is my job to make the puppets, characters and models that go in to making an animation.
What inspired you to go into model making in the first place?
When I was younger I would really enjoy watching animations like Wind in the Willows, Morph, Wallace and Gromit and Trapdoor and i would be fascinated by the process. Playing with modelling clay meant that I could try and make my own worlds and characters at the dining room table. ( and get them in the carpet.)
The real joy to making Morph is his simplicity or seeming simplicity. He is just a lump of clay!
How old were you when you discovered you had a talent for making things?
From an early age I was able to draw and naturally progressed on to modelling clay, Lego and Meccano. Anything I could get my hands on to make things with. I didn’t really share it at school as there wasn’t the opportunity in art classes to be that adventurous so was always something I did at home.
How did you become a model maker for Aardman?
I was working in animation in Wales for a few years after graduating and then various friends had left wales to work on Chicken Run which was excitingly Aardman’s first feature film. They needed a large crew and a lot of chickens to be made so it was a foot in the door for me and has continued up to now. I was bought in to make beaks and cheeks, heads and wings and to sand chicken bums for a while. I then progressed to sculpting the chicks for the final scenes of the film.
I have been very lucky to be able to design some of my own characters and even voice one in Rex the Runt
What projects have you worked on for Aardman?
Most things since Chicken Run I have had a hand in. Wallace and Gromit through several films and short films, Rex the Runt, Creature Comforts, Timmy Time, Shaun the Sheep, The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists and lots of commercials and short films.
Where do you get your inspiration from when designing your models?
Projects vary wildly really. If I am working with Nick Park (creator of Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep) then there is a very definite brief and calls for very little from me as the drawing has a lot of information in it. Others can be much more open and then I look to the real world for animal inspiration or pick up a pencil or lump of clay and push it around until something good comes out of it. I look at Instagram and Pinterest probably more than I should as well!
Which character do you most like to make?
My favourite character and really one of my earliest animation inspirations is Morph! The real joy to making Morph is his simplicity or seeming simplicity. He is just a lump of clay! No armature, no expensive toys, just clay. within an hour or so you can make a character and start animating it which is quite amazing.
You can very quickly make something that looks like Morph but it really takes time to add the surprising amount of anatomy that Morph has to make a really good one. He has elbows, lovely mitten like hands, an arch to his back and even a little bit of a bottom as well.
Morph in particular is fun because we all add a little bit of ourselves in to what we are making and this becomes very apparent when making him. The other great thing is, by changing colour or proportions you can make a whole host of characters from the same process and accessories them to create a cast of thousands. There is only one Morph though.
What are your models made out of?
Having talked a lot about modelling clay, you would have thought that this was all we used and people often do assume that this is the case. In fact we use lots of different materials to bring these characters to life. Highly engineered steel armatures to support the characters, 3-D printing, fur fabric, silicones, foam latex and resins and many more. Often we use these other matrerials to make things look like clay to make them easier to animate but still give us that modelling clay look. Keeping things funny and thumby (looking handmade) is the key phrase at Aardman!
Do you have much input on the character design?
I like to think I have some influence over a character design and I have been very lucky to be able to design some of my own characters and even voice one in Rex the Runt but often there is such a strong design it is a case of breathing life in to this fully formed character.
What are you working on right now?
Currently I’m touring the country showing lots of people how to make Morph, Gromit and Shaun the Sheep at various festivals, schools and events. A rare chance to see day light!
Do you have any other crafty passions?
I love to make my own characters away from Aardman but also I love to make prints with wood cuts or lino and enjoy playing with ceramics as well. My day job is a lot of how I like to spend my time out of work.
If you weren’t making models, what do you think you’d be doing for a living?
Well, I’m too tall to be an Ewok. I look more like Chewbacca anyway. I would love to be able to make a living producing my own art and if I could combine that with being a zookeeper I would be in paradise!
What are your top tips for anyone who wants to become a model maker?
There are lots of good courses you can get involved in and model making sessions around the country. ( Come and join us at ours!)
But there is no real substitute for just making stuff. Get your hands on clay and wire and what ever you like and make things. you will learn so much from just doing it and also look at on line films and making off to get tips from the professionals out there.
Win a Make Your Own Morph Kit!
Aardman have teamed up with us this half term to give you the chance to win a Make Your Own Morph kit by Plasticine! Enter on this page »