Peter Lord pays tribute to animation director Alan Short
Aardman co-founder Peter Lord remembers Alan Short, animation director and former head of CG at Aardman, who sadly passed away in November.
Those who knew him at Aardman – and there are many of us – remember with great affection the cheerful, talented bloke who was such a key part of our rapidly growing computer animation department.
Alan joined us as we were developing CGI at Aardman – a company usually associated with stop-motion. It was an exciting time – and a challenging proposition to create a whole new team. Alan was fully up-to-speed with the world of computer animation, but for us his credentials really had less to do with the medium and everything to do with his training and instinct as a sparky animator and story-teller.
There are some computer animators – and I say this with great respect – who can be somewhat reticent, a little private. They may be brilliant at animation – which is all about performance – but personally of the shy-and-retiring school. Not Alan. He was a great animator certainly, but personally he was gregarious, confident, funny and charming.
All of these qualities set him up perfectly as he added ‘director’ to his animation skills working usually on TV commercials. It was a job that suited him really well, combining all his skills especially for communication. Directing commercials can be a complicated dance with several partners, and Alan was great at leading that dance – convincing, reassuring, negotiating but always, always pursuing the best, most creative, most entertaining version of the brief. And it was a business that often demanded long hours. Many times I’d clock-off at a comfortable 6:30, leaving Alan cheerfully contemplating an all-nighter to get a job finished on time.
Alan’s great love was comedy, and in 2010 he managed to find time between jobs to complete his own comedy short ‘Fly’. It’s a fitting reminder of his mischievous humour and his love of classic animation slapstick.
After progressing to Director, he then shared the role of Head of the CG department. But his next challenge was probably his greatest. He took on a key role at the heart of Arthur Christmas, a very high-profile animated film, directed by Sarah Smith, which we were then making with Sony Pictures,. Alan was deeply involved in setting the project up in Bristol and of helping to grow the team. But in due course, the whole production moved to Los Angeles where it was executed at Sony Pictures Animation. Alan then went across to the States as part of a key group representing an essential injection of Britishness and Aardman-ness into the American studio. Along with his colleagues, he championed British comedy and sensibility from his crucial role as Animation Director.
It was an achievement to be proud of, and when it was finished, it set Alan up for his move away from Aardman after nine marvellous years, to pursue other projects at other studios.
So that’s what Alan did. How he did it is rather more fun. He was sociable, cheeky and wise; great at his job and great with people too. He was always looking for opportunities to have fun, to do the job as well as he possibly could, and yet take it no more seriously than was strictly necessary. I recall his kindness and humour, delivered in an expressive Derbyshire accent, and everyone will remember him as a self-appointed social secretary, organising events, most often at the quirky Mardyke pub in Hotwells – which just happened to be pretty well next door to where he lived.
Alan was a much admired member of the animation community and he will be deeply missed by the team at Aardman. Our thoughts are with Alan’s family and friends at this very sad time.