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Aardman Animation’s Early Man hits theaters on February 16 and looks like the latest in the company’s string of quality family films. Since the company began in 1973, Aardman’s unique use of stop-motion animation has become a cornerstone of its brand. Creating a stop-motion film can be grueling, but Aardman’s incredible crew, which previously created the Wallace and Gromit films, and Shaun the Sheep, works hard to bring their lovable characters to life time and again.

Early Man centers on a caveman named Dug who, along with his sidekick Hognob, faces off against the evil Lord Nooth. The “good vs. evil” setup is standard, but Early Man’s use of stop-motion animation and Aardman’s irreverent humor make it something to look forward to.

Stop Motion: The Past And Future Of Animation

Stop-motion animation, which creates the illusion of movement with a painstaking process that requires moving models by hand for each frame, is one of the earliest filmmaking techniques. Over the years it has brought films like The Nightmare Before Christmas and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer to life.

Difficult as stop-motion is to produce, it’s no more difficult than CG animation. Given the success of stop-motion animated films, it seems like more studios would embrace the style. But with the advancements in CGI, older forms of animation are considered outdated. In the film industry (especially in animation) “outdated” can be the kiss of death. Aardman’s Early Man, however, looks to prove that stop-motion animated films can still land with modern audiences.

In the last 20 years, many companies have moved away from utilizing stop-motion animation in favor of CGI. A few production studios, such as Aardman and Laika, have kept the style alive. In fact, Laika has become a leader in stop-motion animation and has produced one critically-acclaimed film after another. Laika’s Kubo and the Two Strings, The Boxtrolls, and Coraline proved that stop-motion can shape worlds that couldn’t exist in any other format.

While making a stop-motion film can be incredibly time consuming, the result is stunning. Unlike CGI or 2D formats, stop-motion films have a depth that can’t be fabricated. The models and worlds they inhabit have a tactile quality that leaps off the screen. Sets and models are real, and the work put into each object is apparent in every detail. The aesthetic is only part of what makes the style appealing to audiences. As with any film, it’s the stories they tell that make them special.

Story And Animation Develop Together

Companies like Aardman have mastered the art of character and story just as they have with animation. Creating and filming the models takes years to complete. That time is also devoted to refining each story so that the models, characters and worlds all evolve together. The thought and care put into films like Early Man is remarkable, and creates a unified effort in which all elements complement one another.

We’ve seen Aardman prove it can master this process time and again, and their results may be quirky, but they’re anything but outdated. If anything, stop-motion animation still appeals to audiences because of the personal and individual nature of the work. Based on early reviews, Early Man looks to continue the tradition of other stop-motion animated films and delight audiences everywhere.

See Early Man when it hits US theaters on February 16, 2018.