Aardman Animations, the studio behind Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, tackles cavemen in an appropriately British manner. The cavemen of Early Man play soccer, and they even call it by the correct British name football.
“That’s what we call it, that’s all,” Early Man director Nick Park said. “Actually, we do call it soccer sometimes, even as a kid.”
When Bronze Age society invades a tribe of cavemen, Dug (Eddie Redmayne) suggests a soccer match.
“You never see soccer games hardly ever,” Park said. “There’s a film called Goal which does it really well in live-action, but even in live-action, often the actors are maybe not very good at the sport. Or if you have real football players, they’re not very good at acting.”
Park hoped that he could do the sport justice by animating it frame by frame. He also had big cinematic ambitions for Early Man’s soccer.
“I had Gladiator in mind as a model to how to do this in terms of big dramatic cinematic excitement with the crowd,” Park said.
Animating two teams of characters was quite a task. Just maneuvering around the set of their stadium was a challenge.
“We found that because the puppets are this big, the actual football field was just massive, five times bigger than this room,” Park said. “Just reaching the puppets at the back of the pitch, it was something like 30 feet long.”
Early Man is a true stop-frame animated film, but the complexities of the soccer required some digital magic.
“Even with the players in the background, we would go digital,” Park said. “We would scan in the actual puppets and go digital.”
Then there was the crowd of soccer fans filling the stadium.
“The crowd itself, some of the closeups are using real puppets, the real models,” Park said. “We’d scan those into the computer and we would create this massive crowd of thousands digitally. Anything in the background was digital.”
You can see cavemen playing soccer in Early Man, now in theaters.