Visionary prowess

This year, beloved Bristol-based animation studio, Aardman, collaborated with Lucasfilm to create an episode for Star Wars: Visions Volume 2. It received rave reviews from fans and critics alike so we sat down with director Magdalena Osinska to talk about the inspiration behind her creation, I Am Your Mother…

When the phone rang on one cold March day at the Bristol-based HQ of the world famous, four times Academy Award winning animation studio, Aardman, there was a slim chance anyone was expecting it to be Skywalker Ranch, home of the legendary Lucasfilm, on the other end.

With the call came an extraordinary opportunity to take charge of one episode in the second instalment of Star Wars: Visions, an animated anthology series created for Disney+. The first volume of Visions consisted of nine anime short films produced by seven Japanese animation studios. The films were set in, or inspired by, the Star Wars universe, with each episode being a self-contained narrative. True to Lucasfilm form, the first series, released in 2021, rose to critical acclaim.

For volume two, they decided to reach out to animation studios around the world, commissioning El Guiri (Spain), Cartoon Saloon (Ireland), Punkrobot (Chile), Studio Mir (South Korea), Studio La Cachette (France), 88 Pictures (India), D’art Shtajio (Japan), Triggerfish (South Africa/Ireland), and, of course, Aardman.

As soon as the big red ‘end call’ button was pressed, the Bristol studio got to work on the fourth episode of the nine-part series. They asked 30 of their directors to pitch ideas for the 10-minute production.

After short deliberation, it was the work of award-winning director Magdalena Osinska that caught the eye of Lucasfilm’s executives. Osinska’s vision for Visions was inspired by her move to the UK from her home in Warsaw, Poland and her reflections on raising her young son.

“I prepared four ideas all together but I Am Your Mother was the first idea that came to mind,” Osinska explains.

“At the time I was pitching, my son was four years old. My life had changed quite a bit. I had started to think a lot about myself as a mother, how I was trying to find a balance between motherhood and work. I also started to think about my own mother. Now that I’m older, I see how much she has helped me through my life. When I was younger, I wasn’t always so appreciative – a feeling I think we can all relate to in some way. I wanted to write a love letter to all mothers. In Stars Wars in particular, mothers often take a back seat so I wanted to do a positive spin on the famous “I am your father” line.

“Lucasfilm really loved the story from the beginning. They loved that it had a personal touch and that it had heart. They always championed it and were very supportive.”

Osinska’s episode follows young pilot Anni, who is embarrassed by her sweet, but clingy mum, Kalina. They have moved to Chandrila from a faraway fishing planet so that Anni could study at a prestigious flight school. When an end-of-year madcap family race comes around, Anni must team up with her mother to be in with a chance of winning. Their relationship is soon tested by the elements.

Lucasfilm and Aardman are renowned for their visually rich and distinctive styles; both have undoubtedly influenced a generation, but, at first glance, it feels as though they derive from disparate corners of the universe. “The most challenging part was getting the balance between the Aardman and Star Wars aesthetics,” admits Osinska, but it was a challenge that was accepted and achieved with distinction. The two worlds come together in a harmonious marriage. Aardman’s stop-motion style and comedic voice is projected beautifully through a Stars Wars lens.

Much to the delight of Osinska and the entire Aardman team, Lucasfilm gave the studios free rein to re-envision the ideas of Star Wars as they saw fit, following guidance from Lucasfilm’s executive team. The creators of volume one had incorporated black-and-white samurai showdowns and a vibrant rock band rhapsodie, which suggested that not much was off limits.

“They gave us a lot of freedom,” said Osinska. “It was a very nice ride in terms of the collaboration. To start with, we were told to make a film without lightsabers, which was quite challenging because when you think about Star Wars, you think about lightsabers and Jedis and The Force, but actually it was a really good creative challenge.

“Lucasfilm also originally said that we weren’t able to use existing characters or existing species but later they suggested we use the alien species Twi’leks, which is what Anni and Kalina are. I was very excited because the species is very recognisable and they have beautiful shapes and colours. They also agreed that we could use Wookiees and other species too.”

Eagle-eyed fans of both universes may spot cleverly planted Easter eggs throughout the film. For instance, the robot cooker and orange rocket from A Grand Day Out appear in the kitchen at the beginning of the film. What’s more, the Gammorean pigs, which are one of the alien species in Star Wars, are suspiciously similar to the pigs seen in Shaun The Sheep.

‘I wanted to write a love letter to all mothers. In Stars Wars in particular, mothers often take a back seat so I wanted to do a positive spin on the famous “I am your father” line’

In true Aardman fashion, subtle jokes are also peppered throughout the short film. “One of the Star Wars Easter eggs that I really liked was the inclusion of underwear,” laughs Osinska. “It was inspired by a speech Carrie Fisher made at the 2005 AFI Lifetime Achievement Award ceremony, which was a tribute to George Lucas. Talking to Lucas directly during the speech, Carrie said, ‘when I was playing Princess Leia, you told me I couldn’t wear a bra because there was no underwear in space,’ but Padmé Amidala, who appears in the prequel, looks like she is wearing one. It was a hilarious speech so I wanted it to be a nod to Carrie Fisher to confirm that there is underwear in space if she wishes.”

Aardman stop-motion films, including Wallace and Gromit and Chicken Run, have always been highly commended for their meticulous attention to detail in every frame. Their craftsmanship brings characters and settings to life in a way that captivates viewers, and their use of clay figures adds a tangible and endearing quality to their films. Their ability to push the boundaries while staying true to their traditional roots is a testament to the immense talent and artistry that exists within the team. They create worlds that transport audiences into imaginative and magical realms and I Am Your Mother is no exception.

Speaking about the creative process, Osinska says: “The sets in I Am Your Mother are stunning, but the really magical moment comes when I speak to the animators about the performance and the scene we are rehearsing, then I leave them for a day or two and when I come back, the puppet is alive, it suddenly lives and breathes; it’s always incredible to see.”

After nearly two years of hard work, Star Wars: Visions Volume 2 was released on this year’s Star Wars Day (May the 4th be with you). The celebrations proved to be an emotional time for Osinska, who, for so long, was sworn to secrecy. “The Star Wars Celebration in London earlier this year was an amazing experience. Lucasfilm chose my film to be screened in front of 4,500 people. From not being able to talk about it for such a long time to then suddenly seeing it presented in front of a huge audience was really something else. To see my name up on the screen with George Lucas’ was a heart stopping moment.

“It was also great to meet the other animation studios. Every one of them is really talented. We all come from very different backgrounds but I think the common thread was that our films were all heart-warming, personal stories.”

Osinska’s own story is too an inspirational one. Having joined Aardman 12 years ago, Osinska has worked her way up from render artist to director, refining her skills in stop-motion, CGI, 2D and live-action along the way. Her credits include Wallace & Gromit’s The Great Sofa Caper and Share the Orange commercials. She is a graduate of the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, as well as the Polish Film School in Lodz and Art College in Warsaw. Her love of stop-motion animation – and specifically the work of Aardman – truly set in during her third year of film school when she was granted a scholarship to study a three-month animation course run by the University of the West of England and Aardman. “When I came to Bristol, I visited the studios a couple of times and Peter Lord [the co-founder of Aardman] came to talk to us. I got so obsessed with it; I loved it even more and I really wanted to work there. I remember my mum came to visit me and I asked her, am I being delusional? She said to me like a Jedi master, I believe in you, if you want it, it’s going to happen. When I Am Your Mother was released, Aardman put a massive banner on the staircase and it was such an emotional moment because it really reminded me of what my mum had said that day.”

As expected, Visions Volume 2 has been lauded by the fans and critics alike. I wonder, could there be more to come?

“When we were developing the characters, we created a whole back story for each of them. We approached it like a feature film so there are definitely enough ideas for it to be longer. I would love to do more,” Osinska beams.

A charming, authentically Aardman stop-motion story filled with Star Wars mastery and, ultimately, a whole lot of love. We can’t wait for the story to continue. | Watch Star Wars: Visions Volume 2 on Disney+.
Film shots courtesy of Aardman Animations