Marika Aakala studied MA Animation Production, graduating in 2016 . She now works as Junior Puppet Maker for Aardman Features whilst studying a Research Degree part time at AUB. We caught up with her about her experience, and asked for her ‘one piece of advice’.
What originally attracted you to studying the MA at AUB?
“My background is in creative therapies and rehabilitation, but after several years of self-directed studies, workshops and short courses, I wanted to be working more creatively and with stop-motion animation. I applied to the MA Animation Production course because of AUB’s good reputation, and because of the discussions and advice given by Professor Paul Ward during my application process. I was also attracted to the idea that this course was only one year long, which meant I could start my dream job within a year.
How did you find your time at AUB?
“My year at AUB was wonderful. The staff and fellow students were all very supportive.
What were the most important lessons you learnt?
“I learned the true value of one to one feedback and group critique. Getting and giving feedback was incredibly important during my studies and I still remember every piece of advice I received. I also learned the importance of following my own passion and interest, while also collaborating with other students and learning together.
How did the course prepare you for entering the creative world after AUB?
“The support for building my network within the animation industry and the support from Professor Paul Ward for getting a work placement in stop motion animation feature production, helped me to create invaluable connections and to understand the innate characteristics of stop motion animation productions. The way the MA units were designed and lectures arranged gave me an opportunity to design my own studies in a way that helped me to reach my professional goals.
Can you explain a little about your career journey since graduating… what jobs have you had and where? What does your job involve?
“Since May 2016 I have been working at Aardman Features, in Bristol. I work at Aardman’s Puppet department with a wonderful group of talented and dedicated people. The first film I worked on was called Early Man, directed by Nick Park. I started my work before I graduated and I completed my MA studies while working at Aardman. I started as a Trainee Puppet Maker and have since moved on to another feature film within the same organisation. My title is now Junior Puppet Maker. Every day at work is different, which is one of the reasons I love what I do. I make puppets, I do puppet maintenance in the studio, and I collaborate with other puppet makers, my team leader, head of department, puppet co-ordinator, animators, assistant animators, producer, and the director.
Tell us a bit about your current role, what is the best bit about your current job and what attracted you to it?
“My work involves, to a varying degree; sculpting, mould making, casting, painting, metal work, sewing, maintenance, and documentation. The great thing, in my mind, is that at Aardman’s puppet department we are all doing similar tasks, so I guess I could call myself a puppet generalist. I have mostly been making puppets called multiples, meaning that I will duplicate an existing puppet design. The more important the puppet’s role in the film, the more multiples we make of the same puppet to speed up the production time. This means that I will cast, seam, and paint all the parts to make the puppet and assemble the parts onto an armature. Towards the end of the film a big chunk of my time is needed for maintenance, fixing and cleaning to make sure that the puppets look good and clean, the continuity aspect works, and that they work as they should.
Can you tell us a little about the work you’re most proud to have produced so far?
“There are so many things I feel proud of, and naming just one is not possible. Everything original I get to design and make, that is approved by my supervisor and our director makes me happy, for sure. Also, every job that I am given is always a new challenge, an opportunity to learn and improve my skills. I just feel so grateful to be able to do what I do and work for such an amazing company.
Do you have any future career aspirations?
“I hope to have a long career as a puppet maker and I would love to keep working at Aardman for as long as possible. To increase my theoretical understanding of my practical work at Aardman, and the production aspects of stop motion animation, I recently started a part-time post-graduate research degree at Arts University Bournemouth. In many ways, this work follows on what I was researching throughout my Master’s studies. During my current research, I will be considering remediation processes, production pipelines and aesthetics in stop motion animation.
Finally, what’s your one piece of advice for the next generation of creatives?
“Remember that everything is possible. Be humble and persistent, listen to all the advice you are given and never give up. And you are never too old to study and follow your dreams!”
Aardman image credit: Dave Alex Riddett