Production Spotlight: Ben Barrowman

New year and a new interview for the blog! This month we spoke to 1st Assistant Director Ben Barrowman about what it’s like working on the Aardman Features studio floor…

1.How did you start out in the industry and what is your role at Aardman?

I did 4 weeks as an unpaid intern on ‘Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit’, fortunately there was a runner’s position going at the end of it and I got the job. These days I’m a First Assistant Director working in stop motion feature films. I schedule the shoot and manage the studio floor to run to that schedule.

2. To date, what has been your biggest professional achievement?

I would have to say going on a pub crawl with Bill Murray.

3. Name three people who inspire you: 

Roald Dahl

Taika Waititi

Ron Swanson

4. Tell us what a typical day at the studio is like for you? 

When we’re in full production I normally get in at 0800 and anticipate all the things that could go wrong and what the plan is if they do. Then I head the 0900 morning meeting with the floor crew and tell them how everything is going to go right. After that it’s a blur of scheduling, PPMs, shot approval sessions, negotiating, coercion, tears and maniacal laughter. I normally leave the studio at 1900.

5. What do you like most about working at Aardman?

The amazingly talented people who I get to work with. For one of the leading animation studios in the world there are very few egos and almost no prima donnas. Everyone just gets on with it and most of the time with a great sense of humour.

6. Facilitating a smooth workflow for the director is a key aspect of a 1st Assistant Directors role, what’s the biggest challenge you have to deal with day-to-day?

Definitely seeing the bigger picture for the production as a whole. There is never enough time in the day and every dept. wants time with the Director. The temptation is to always prioritise the floor because that’s what you’re directly responsible for but that will ultimately cause delays further down the line. You have to be very familiar with your schedule to be able to prioritise quickly and decide what is really urgent and what can wait. Also creating the illusion of calm and order so the Director doesn’t feel like they’re being rushed from pillar to post (which they often are).

7. What’s your desk/work area like – messy or tidy?

 Err… This is a particularly bad time in my life for desk tidiness. 

8. What are your goals for the year ahead?

To take some time off, relax and spend it with my family. Then get ready for the next big feature at Aardman!

9. How do you maintain a work/life balance?

That’s tricky and definitely my least favourite thing about working in production. 50 hour weeks are pretty much standard once we’re at our busiest on the floor but you get used to it. It just means I try and make the most out of weekends. Until we start working Saturdays…

10. What has been your all-time favourite project that you’ve been involved with?

I have very fond memories of ‘Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit’ because everything was exciting and mysterious. Back then it was a great honour to be asked to get Nick Park his lunch and I was blissfully unaware of the challenges and complexity involved in a stop motion feature shoot. These days I work closely with Nick every day and I’m acutely aware of the challenges and complexity involved in a stop motion feature shoot! I still love it and on a bad day I just remind myself to look around at all the amazing things everyone is doing and I smile and I ask them how long it’s going to take.

11. What’s your best advice for people wanting to get into animation production?

Formal qualifications don’t really count for a lot. Obviously having a degree shows a certain level of intelligence and dedication but I don’t believe not having one would be any kind of barrier. Stop motion production in particular is such a niche area, your best approach is to get some work experience as soon as you can, find out if you like it then work hard and be nice to people.

12. Who is your favourite Aardman character and why?

Currently the cockroach in Early Man, he (she?) only has a cameo appearance but there’s something about it that always make me laugh.


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