I spent the afternoon and evening in Bristol where I was part of an impressive line-up at the Colston Hall to raise money for the city's slapstick festival. But in the afternoon a few of the comics went along to Aardman to have a look around and attempt to make a Morph.
Morph is about 37 years old now and first hit our screens on the the TV show Take Hart in the mid-70s, but Aardman are bringing him back in a series of YouTube shorts paid for by a kickstarter campaign. I am a huge fan of Aardman and always delighted to get a chance to nose around their studios and it was a great honour to properly meet Peter Lord, the co-creator of the iconic plasticene man. Peter's son was in return a big fan of TMWRNJ and still quotes bits of Histor's Eye at his dad. When you've helped creat so many iconic animated characters it must be annoying that your own child taunts you with the catchphrases of some poorly animated and obscure puppet crows.
Bristol is such a cool city and the people here have such a great attitude and Aardman is the jewel in the crown of the place. In spite of their Oscars and Hollywood ties the people here are reassuringly down to earth and just love what they are doing. I was hoping the Morph I would make would be so good that they would throw away all the other models that he professionals had made and sack all the other animators and give me the Aardman factory in a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory style contest.
I was never very good at Art or doing anything with my hands, apart from dropping things, so I wasn't holding out too much hope. But my friend Jim was on hand to instruct us (you can experience his expertise and advice here). The make-a-Morph kit is surprisingly simple, containing just two and a half strips of orange modelling clay, a tiny ball of white clay and a smaller amount of black and a couple of cocktails sticks.
How could someone have created an icon from something so simple?
And would it be simple to do the same.
Not for me, unsurprisingly. I pummelled the clay into a ball, just like Peter Lord was doing and then when it was maleable enough I made it into a chubby starfish, from which the head and limbs of the character would emerge. But from there on in I was struggling. The Morph that emerged from the clay of the God-like Lord was smooth and perfect and an exact copy of the original. Mine had short legs and hands like a crab's claws and wrinkly skin. He looked like a Morph who had been left by a fire or been smoking crack for the last thirty years.
The other comics there did a bit better than me, with Graeme Garden perhaps producing the best effort. Mine was the portrait in the attic that Morph must have somewhere. But I took a photo of mine with one of the professionally made ones. See if you can spot which is which.
My Morph then fell over, squashing his priapic nose into a limp sausage. The people at Aardman decided that my Morph must be killed, just to prevent it accidentally appearing in one of the animations by some terrible chain of unlikely events.
But Morph cannot be killed and I took him away in his box. I will be giving my creepy, melty, crack-head Morph away at the end of this month in the subscribers' draw, so sign up for a pound or more a month to be in with a chance of winning this unique item.
I did wonder if there might be a cartoon about the freakish, mutant Morphs that got made in today's session. Perhaps they are thrown down some shoot and end up in a subterranean world beneath the Aardman building, shunned by society for just not looking right. But who is to say that my Morph is not as good as the Morph that Peter Lord created with such ease. Why does everything have to be perfect these days anyway? Why should we hide away those that are different. Why don't the imperfect Morphs rise up against the non-wrinkly and proportioned Morphs and do their own show, where they keep falling over because of poor weight distribution and their legs break off and they frighten the children?
The problem with that is that I don't think a genuinely artistic person would be able to create an aberration like the one I had made. And even I, the genius who had created this new character, would not be able to recreate a facsimile. So unless we could keep the original one in perfect imperfect condition (unlikely given the rigours of making stop-frame animation) then it would probably only make an 8 second film before the anti-Morph melted into the clay from whence he came.
But then that's going to happen to us all. My Morph is a much better representation of the futility and degeneration of life than Aardman's one. And probably also different enough from the original that I wouldn't even need to get their copyright to use it.