ENTERTAINMENT
14/02/2015 13:59 GMT | Updated 15/02/2015 13:59 GMT

Shaun The Sheep The Movie: Behind The Scenes Where The Magic Happens At Aardman Studios In Bristol (EXCLUSIVE)

From the outside, it all looks pretty conventional - a neat, unassuming building tucked away in a corner of an industrial park on the edges of Bristol. One step across the threshold, however, and it's clear that a rich, woolly world lies within the walls of Aardman Studios, where Shaun The Sheep is on the verge of joining their other big screen stars.

My eyes immediately land on a pile of merchandise, and I lament that I'm probably not in the acceptable age bracket for a 'Shaun The Sheep' pencil case, even if those backpacks proved to have ageless and universal appeal when Shaun first became a TV star back in 2007, following his debut appearance in the 1995 short film 'A Close Shave'.

shaun the sheep

Shaun The Sheep prepares for his close up at Aardman Studios in Bristol

Now, Shaun and his cohorts are making it to the big screen in their own feature, which is why we're here today, to see just how that all comes about.

After a quick chat with the team behind Shaun's big move to the big screen, we're invited onto the sheep (baaah!) floor where the only appropriate reaction is to stand in awe at the amount of organisation, artistry and dedication involved in bringing these furry friends to life in their stop-animation glory.

The massive studio is divided into miniature sets, with a military wall chart accounting for every single character's movement, clothes, time spent. It really is mind-boggling. In each cloistered set, an animator works at the top of his game to manipulate teeny, tiny sheep through the finest of movements and then stop to snap it all with an enormous, delicate-looking camera. If he or she is lucky, there'll be a few seconds in the can at the end of the day, to be forensically inspected by the powers that be upstairs. These artists all work for hours at a time in silence and solitude, they appear to have the patience of Zen masters and they all agree there isn't a job in the world they'd rather be doing.

Upstairs, it's wardrobe… of a kind. Thousands of character sketches lines the walls, fibreglass figures are on every worktop. There's more noise and chatter up here, but the same sense of collective attention to detail and tireless dedication by model makers, set dressers, script consultants, the list is endless. All this for a couple of minutes' completed footage per week, if they're lucky.

shaun the sheep

'Shaun The Sheep The Movie' is Aardman's first full-length feature animation without the backing of a major studio

None of this comes cheap, of course, with studio boss Peter Lord giving me a rough estimate of "hundreds of thousands of man and sheep hours" when it comes to the production of Shaun's big screen debut. The good news is - cross everything and touch one of the farmer's tiny barn doors - that, so far, it's always paid off for Aardman. 'Shaun The Sheep The Movie's great reviews and mass audiences follow their success with films such as 'Arthur Christmas' and 'Chicken Run', and these come on the back of Peter Gabriel's mould-breaking 'Sledgehammer' video, Peter Lord's own 'Early Bird' series and, of course, Morph.

A quick glance in the boardroom provides a reminder that critical acclaim is not lacking either - Nick Park's Oscar for 'A Close Shave' is in the corner cabinet, and he has three others for 'Creature Comforts', 'The Wrong Trousers' and 'The Curse of the Were-Rabbit'.

shaun the sheep movie

'Shaun The Sheep The Movie' is Aardman's most ambitious creation yet, with Shaun and his cohorts heading to the city to rescue their lost farmer

Anybody worrying about the British film industry would be comforted by the combination of hard work and accolades on show here in Bristol. And, despite their previous production partnerships with Dreamworks and Sony, Peter Lord makes it clear that their hearts remain very much here at home. 'Shaun The Sheep The Movie' is their first full-length feature without the backing of a major studio, and it seems that's something they're all enjoying very much.

Peter Lord says, "It's very important to us. The humour might be universal, but Shaun's world has to be essentially British, with the music, the visuals, the in jokes all giving us a sense of a simpler, innocent time that we all still hold dear."

We say our goodbyes, and it's time to leave, to head back through the doors and face the less simple, woolly world. Except… surely there's just time to make a brief stop to see a sheep about a pencil case...

'Shaun The Sheep The Movie' is in UK cinemas now. Watch the trailer below...

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