‘Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget’ Director Sam Fell on How Technology Helped the Sequel 23 Years in the Making

TheWrap magazine: Fell says without computer animation, they’d “still be doing the movie”

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget
Aardman/Netflix

“Chicken Run,” released in 2000, was the first feature film from Aardman Animation, the Oscar-winning stop-motion studio that had been responsible for the “Wallace and Gromit” shorts, among many others. It proved not only that the studio could expand into larger projects but that those projects could be appreciated globally, even after computer animation had taken hold. (It remains the most successful stop-motion movie of all time, grossing $227 million worldwide.) It took 23 years, but a follow-up, “Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget,” is finally here.

If the first film was a riff on “The Great Escape” but with chickens, then the sequel is “Mission: Impossible,” also with chickens. Instead of the chickens breaking out, they now have to break in to save one of their own. And instead of a mere farm, the chickens here are dealing with the advent of industrial farming, or as director Sam Fell puts it, the “notion of chicken nuggets being this apocalyptic event that’s being visited on chickenkind.”

Fell is a longtime veteran of Aardman, having worked at the studio in the 1990s as an animator and directing 1996’s short film “Pop.” In the early 2000s, he developed a movie called “Flushed Away,” eventually released as the studio’s first computer-animated feature in 2006. And while he moved away from the studio after that, directing “The Tale of Despereaux” for Universal and “ParaNorman” for Laika, anytime he would check in with his pals at Aardman, the subject of a potential “Chicken Run” sequel would come up.

While at the U.K. Prime Minister’s residence in 2016, he ran into Aardman head Peter Lord, who suggested that Fell come back. He surveyed some of the projects that were in development there, but the thing that caught his eye was a “Chicken Run” follow-up. “It was twinkling, luring me towards it,” Fell said.

The director said he had a “slightly daunting feeling” about the project, but he pushed aside his misgivings. “There’s an audience for it,” Fell said. “The world wanted it. It’s important to make things that people want.”

Of course, returning to one of the company’s most beloved properties also meant upping the ante considerably—to do, in Fell’s words, “a big Saturday-night action movie.” Perhaps the best sense of the scope and scale of the new film is in a sequence where the chickens are hypnotized into a sense of euphoria by their electronic collars. It’s partially a musical number, but the glee is built on top of sheer horror. For crowd sequences like this one, Aardman built 30 chicken puppets.

“The further back you go, there’s half chickens and then there’s just heads on sticks,” Fell said. For big scenes like this, computer-animated chickens were mixed in as well. “For animators, crowds are a nightmare, to be honest,” Fell said. The uncanny mixture of mediums helped them add scope to the sequence but also saved them invaluable time. If they were all puppets, Fell said, they would “still be doing the movie.”

This story first appeared in the Awards Preview issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Awards Preview issue here.

Ava DuVernay (Maya Iman)

Credits
Creative Director: Jeff Vespa
Photographer: Maya Iman
Photo Editor: Tatiana Leiva
Stylist: Kate Bofshever
Hair & Makeup: India Hammond

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