Seeing as this month audiences everywhere were treated to the teaser trailer for Shaun the Sheep we look back over the early work of claymation maestros Aardman for this month’s Movies in Motion.
Before they bestowed the world with Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, Chickens and Pirates, the animation studio had built its work and reputation t,hrough advertising. Able to bring its distinctive style and quirky character to a number of well known brands, such as Cadburys, Kelloggs, Walkers Crisps and British Telecom. Of all the studio's advertising work, there is one campaign and character that stands out distantly - Douglas the trombonist, from the Lurpak commercials.
The predominantly silent Douglas was part of a double act within the main run of the adverts. The campaign came to be narrated by Penelope Keith, known for her well spoken vocals in programs such as The Good Life and To The Manor Born. Keith is present to promote Lurpak as a sophisticated and refined brand, while Douglas adds humour by constantly interrupting her to play his trombone. The adverts banter continued in such a way with Keith and Douglas always at loggerheads.
To begin the campaign, the original butter character was a singing man who used a plate and set of knives to row across the table and morphed into a crumpet. Next, the butter man became a Marlon Brando from The Wild One-inspired biker. He rode in on his butter bike steed to a cover of ‘Leader of the Pack’, ("Our Leader is Lurpak").
Finally, the character evolved into a trombonist who tries desperately to make his musical talents heard. Douglas interrupts his irritated narrator with his musical offerings and Keith finds evermore inventive ways to silence him. This does not stop Douglas from trying as the continued run of the campaign shows the banter between the determined but lovable Douglas and the stern but sympathetic Keith.
One Christmas advert sees Douglas sitting depressed on top of a block of Lurpak. Keith injects and states, "Oh, go on then. As its Christmas," and giving him back his trombone. An elated Douglas whips out a Santa hat and graces the audience with a segment of Deck the Halls.
Douglas removes the ring, which is in fact his trombone in disguise and plays as an angry Keith slams the ring box closed. The adverts continued in this style with Keith there to represent the idealised version of Lurpak as a luxury brand and Douglas there to give the adverts warmth and humour.
The animation style is classic Aardman, except here it is mixed with live action sets and, of course, a human hand. Despite claymation being a painstaking form done with miniature models, the animators have been able to inject their characters with real emotion and personality. Douglas is able to project charm, humour, cheekiness and sometimes depression through the animator’s hard graft. Douglas’s interactions with his surrounding and the human hand are precise and you never think to question our small butter friend is present on the table.
The adverts ran for twenty years until Lurpak decided to reposition itself with the "Good Food Deserves Lurpak" campaign. Despite this, the brand is still very much associated with their butter man Douglas. His enduring popularity is testament to why companies approach Aardman for advertising. With them, you gain an edge over your competitors through the studio's ingenuity. They represent brands with their distinctive animation style, creating humour and lovable characters that build on the brand's awareness.
He may have only graced our screens in short bursts, but Douglas is a great accomplishment of claymation and a credit to Aardman’s body of work.