Fans of clay animation favourite Morph can rejoice – the beloved children’s television character is climbing back out of his wooden pencil box for a new series of episodes on YouTube. ETAN SMALLMAN talks to the man behind the cult star…
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IF ANYONE is planning a Morph flashmob, could they please invite Peter Lord?
The co-founder of Aardman Animations and co-creator of the 14cm (6in) terracotta terror was as surprised as anyone when a throng of home-made Morphs gathered outside the Tate Modern in 2009 to mark the death of artist Tony Hart. With the power to, well, morph into anything he liked, Morph – along with sidekick Chas – caused havoc on Hart’s desk ever since he propelled himself out of his wooden pencil box in 1977.
‘The flashmob was in the days when, frankly, we had forgotten about Morph a bit,’ Lord told Metro. ‘It was great because it was completely spontaneous – I wish I’d known about it. It just showed a sort of affection and playfulness.’
That reaction – and the wave of lasting warmth it signified – got Lord and his colleagues at Aardman thinking – how could they resurrect their first hit character for the digital age?
The answer came in the form of crowdfunding and, in October last year, they launched a Kickstarter campaign that aimed to raise £75,000, which would be matched by the studio.
Some 2,654 backers from around the world pledged a total of more than £110,000 to fund 15 brand new one-minute episodes of Morph – the first in almost 20 years.
They are being broadcast on YouTube but the original laborious stop-motion animation techniques YouTube but the original laborious stop-motion animation techniques remain unchanged. Lord’s company has gone on to produce the likes of Wallace And Gromit, Chicken Run and Creature Comforts, winning international adulation and Academy Awards in the process but it is Morph that holds the most affection for the 60-year-old .
Indeed, he is the only character who is honoured with a ‘memory room’ in Aardman’s Bristol HQ.
Lord admitted that Morph was just another character to begin with – he and his partner in Plasticine, David Sproxton, ‘were just happy to have the work’. His genesis could not have been more humble.
Morph was given one colour ‘because working with mixed colours was a nightmare’. He was made the size he was because ‘an inch taller and he would fall over’.
However, the 162g (6oz) piece of modelling clay provided the foundations for a couple of ‘naive’ students, recruited by the BBC because they were cheap, to mould an animation giant.
Lord recalls being irritated by the snobbery among his 1970s and 80s contemporaries, who dictated that because Morph’s main audience was ‘school kids and their mothers’, it could not have any artistic merit.
He said that when attending ‘snooty’ international film events: ‘It always used to really p*** me off that the festivals would never take Morph seriously because it was “for kids”.
‘So I plagiarised us in the early 90s with a film called Adam. He was very like Morph, except he has a bit of hair and some delicate genitals and he’s meant to be the first man, so Tony Hart was replaced by God. And that was very well received internationally.’ In fact, it was nominated for an Oscar for best short film.
The animator conceded that Morph is hardly the most sympathetic of characters. ‘He is not perfect. The comparative characters of the time, like The Wombles, Paddington Bear and The Clangers, were pretty well blameless,’ he said.
‘I think Morph’s rather vain – he fancies himself quite a lot. He can be quite selfish and sometimes a bit, sort of… pompous.’ And yet, even after all these years, a squeaking piece of clay manages to raise an instant grin among children and grown-ups alike. It has to be more than just nostalgia, surely? ‘It is true,’ said Lord. ‘I feel it myself. It is partly that he’s a very simple design and nicely-proportioned.
‘So maybe adults haven’t lost that delightful idea of something small, benign, good-natured and independent living secretly in our world. It’s very attractive.’