Macabre is not generally a word used to describe Aardman Animations projects, but Luis Cook's blackly comic The Pearce Sisters is certainly dark by the standards of the Bristol-based animation powerhouse.
The 10-minute short tells the story of a pair of elderly spinsters who resort to extreme methods in their search for companionship. With only one line of dialogue, the film takes place on a bleak, rain-whipped strip of fishy coast. As director Cook points out: 'It's hardly Creature Comforts.'
The project was born from a staff contest at Aardman. 'As a studio we hadn't made a short film for 10 years,' says Cook. 'There was an internal competition and this was the one they chose. It came with no stipulation about what the project should be; it was just 'let's make a good short film as well as we can'.'
Based on a short story by Mick Jackson, the film took a year and a half to make and combines hand drawing and 3D. The film was animated in 3D on computer and then printed frame by frame on to paper. The film-makers then drew over the top, and the drawings were scanned and re-composited on to the 3D.
Cook, who has worked in the commercials department at Aardman for more than a decade, drew on expertise in the company. 'It's quite open here ... you end up talking to people and showing people your stuff and getting responses so there was a kind of inadvertent market research that went on.'
Since premiering at the prestigious Annecy animation festival last year, where it won the special jury award, The Pearce Sisters has picked up a clutch of prizes, including the best animation film award at Clermont Ferrand, the best short animation at this year's Baftas and the Prix UIP at Tampere.
'It has done extremely well,' says Aardman co-founder David Sproxton. 'It's a very different sort of film and it's a very different approach and it's gone down really, really well.'
Cook is undecided about his next project. 'I'd like to do a longer-form thing but it's whatever you become passionate about ultimately,' he says. 'It could be short form or a long form or a painting.'