While the trademark thumbprint pressed into Gromit’s snout is the archetypal giveaway of British animation studio Aardman’s distinct material style, I was always more preoccupied by a splodge of jam. In several scenes of The Wrong Trousers (Nick Park, 1993), hapless inventor Wallace uses a typically convoluted contraption to fling globs of viscous red jam at dainty slices of white bread. The thick, brightly coloured splatters are an effective marker of Aardman’s meticulously formulated aesthetic because they take something familiar and render it in the tactile medium of stop-motion animation. It’s a familiarity, however, that is deliberately routed in something quintessentially British. Aardman’s jam and toast are as British as the techniques used to create it, the craft-heavy animation styles that Rachel Mosely points out dominates much of the United Kingdom’s children’s television like Bagpuss and The Clangers. Equally, craft-heavy animation is distinctly associated with Aardman. Therefore, Aardman is distinctly British.

In several scenes of The Wrong Trousers (Nick Park, 1993), hapless inventor Wallace flings globs of viscous red jam at dainty slices of white bread. Credit: Aardman Animation 1993

It’s an association the studio has carefully cultivated, the explicit regionality of their work only intensifying over time. From early shorts to their contemporary blockbuster releases, Aardman eschews sweeping narratives in favour of smaller stories in local settings like farms or unassuming northern towns, peopled with characters speaking in parochial accents. Even their broadest stories like The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists (Peter Lord and Jeff Newitt, 2012), Flushed Away (Sam Fell and David Bowers, 2006), Early Man (Nick Park, 2018), and Arthur Christmas (Sarah Smith, 2011) make ample use of regional accents and British iconography like Queen Victoria, football, or London landmarks. Often this iconography appears in unexpected places: Big Ben is made of cardboard and located in a sewer; a football match is played in the wild forests of pre-history. These images of Britishness become our access point to unfamiliar or fantastic environments, thereby enhancing their significance as the very thing that connects with the spectator. 

They are also, crucially, created mostly using stop-motion animation, a technique in which objects are photographed, incrementally altered, then photographed again to create the illusion of movement. It is a technique that predates the cinema, commonly viewed as the old-fashioned, analogue alternative to culturally dominant CG methods as seen in modern animation from major American studios like Disney, Pixar, DreamWorks, or Illumination. 

Furthermore, recognising Aardman’s reliance on stop-motion explains their increased fervour in stressing their innate Britishness. Scholar Mihaela Mihailova has identified a renaissance in contemporary American stop-motion, beginning with the release of Laika Studio’s Coraline (Henry Sellick, 2008). Since this film, twenty-one stop-motion films have been released from mainstream Hollywood studios and given high-budget cinematic releases. These films, especially those released by Laika, combine traditional analogue animation with emerging computer graphic technologies, creating increasingly sophisticated movies with broader scopes for expansive storytelling and more complex visual effects. 

As American animation absorbs and reforms the definition of stop-motion animation, Aardman has been influenced by the medium’s expansive modernisation. Recent Aardman films like Pirates! and Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget (Sam Fell, 2023) show evidence of what Aylish Wood defines as hybrid spaces, in which the studio combines the ‘tactility of handmade animation and the intangibility of digital work.’ In these films, explosions rock vast and expansive backgrounds while impossibly proportioned puppets perform complex movements, devoid of the rigging necessary for such intricate manoeuvres. Additionally, Aardman has embraced the dominant American studio system on several occasions. In October 1999, Aardman signed a deal with DreamWorks, giving rise to their Oscar winning feature length film Curse of the Wererabbit (Nick Park and Steve Box, 2005), and a brief foray into digitally animated films with Arthur Christmas and Flushed Away. More recently, Aardman has relied on major American companies like Netflix to distribute films like Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget.

These instances coalesce to prove Aardman is not entirely detached from the Hollywood system, while affording an insight into how that influence is handled. As both Aylish Wood and Christopher Holliday attest, Aardman is working hard to stress the analogue over the digital. Wood argues that, in Pirates! the Claymation tradition is invoked to help the film maintain its character and hide the effects of digitisation. In a similar vein, Holliday suggests Aardman’s two CG pictures bear what he refers to as the ‘fossilised mark’ of the fingerprint, intentionally and artificially placed, to attest to the labours and energies of the filmmakers. The digital is being subsumed, hidden away in favour of something more traditional. 

Which returns us to the explicit evocation of British iconography in Aardman’s films. This studio’s identity rests on presenting itself as a traditional, intimate, artisan studio creating something distinct from the homogenous mainstream. As the animation field dominating Hollywood system expands to absorb stop-motion as a significant part of its repertoire, the mere use of stop-motion as a technique becomes less of a differentiating factor. For Aardman to maintain its individual identity, even as it embraces the exaggerations and enhancement of the form, it becomes all the more important for the studio to stress its Britishness, through accents, icons, and of course, jam on toast.


Holliday, Christopher ‘Between Plasticine and Pixel: Aardman’s Digital Thumbprint’ in Aardman Animations, edited by Annabelle Honness Roe (London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2020)

Mihaela Mihailova, ‘Coraline: A twitchy, witchy girl in stop-motion land’ in Coraline: A Closer Look at Laika’s Stop-Motion Witchcraft, ed. Mihaela Mihailova (London: Bloomsbury, 2021),

Moseley, Rachel, Handmade Television (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016)

Wood, Aylish ‘Aardman! In an Entanglement with CGI!’ in Aardman Animations, edited by Annabelle Honess Roe (London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2020)

Markus Beeken is a second year PhD student at King’s College, London. Previously, he studied English Literature at Brasenose College, Oxford and a Master’s in Film Studies at KCL. He has a particular interest in stop-motion animation and philosophies of animation in general, and has published several blogs on the subject.