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Everything We Learned From The Set Of Chicken Run: Dawn Of The Nugget

Summary

  • Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget is a long-awaited sequel to the original film, with Ginger and Rocky now living on a hidden island with their chicken friends.
  • The cast features both new and returning faces, with Thandiwe Newton and Zachary Levi taking over lead roles. Director Sam Fell wanted to bring a fresh look to the film and take a more female-centric approach.
  • The sequel has a new genre, becoming a heist thriller rather than a war escape drama. The story follows the chickens as they break into Fun-Land Farms to save Ginger’s daughter and other captured chickens.

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After over 20 years of waiting, Aardman is returning to one of their most iconic properties with Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget. Having successfully escaped from Tweedy Farms in the original movie, the animated sequel finds Ginger and Rocky living a peaceful life with their chicken friends on a hidden island, only to have to venture out into the world when their daughter runs away.

Thandiwe Newton and Zachary Levi have taken over the Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget cast from Julia Sawalha and Mel Gibson, with the rest of the ensemble featuring both new and familiar faces, some of whom include Bella Ramsey, Romesh Ranganathan, David Bradley, Daniel Mays, Imelda Staunton, Nick Mohammed, and Miranda Richardson. Helmed by Flushed Away‘s Sam Fell, the sequel looks to flip the original’s central formula, becoming a heist thriller instead of a war escape drama.

Earlier this year, Screen Rant was invited to the set of Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget to get a behind-the-scenes look at the upcoming sequel, and some of the impressive sets and to talk with director Sam Fell about the movie’s 20-plus-year development.

Related: Chicken Run: Dawn Of The Nugget – Release Date, Trailer & Everything We Know


Chicken Run 2’s 20-Year Road To Being Made

Ginger in Chicken Run Dawn of the Nugget

Though still the highest-grossing stop-motion movie of all-time, and coming from the home of the Wallace & Gromit franchise, a Chicken Run sequel wouldn’t properly begin development until about 10 years ago, when original directors Nick Park and Peter Lord landed on the concept of the chickens breaking in instead of breaking out. Fell would take over the director’s chair from the duo, though Park and Lord would stay on as executive producers, often offering insight and ideas for the sequel, which the director cited as bringing “that authenticity” of staying true to the original.

Nick said earlier, because at some point early on when we were doing the reels, I bumped into Nick in the lunch queue. He’d seen some stuff, he was like, “Oh, I’m a bit jealous, actually. You’re doing Chicken Run 2.” I was like, “Oh, sorry Nick. This is bad.” But he was like, “No, it’s all right, Sam. You’ve got it.” Which is the most generous thing, I have to say. Yeah, lucky, but yeah, I do feel the responsibility.

While those at Aardman had been reflecting on the sequel since the original, their focus on Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit and the Shaun of the Sheep franchise resulted in Chicken Run being “put aside.” Interestingly, before Fell was brought on board, the movie was said to be “more of a Rocky story“, with the director wanting to bring the focus back to Ginger, having felt part of what made the original so successful was it being a “female-centric” plot.

Dawn of the Nugget’s New & Returning Characters

Chicken group in Fun-Land Farms in Chicken Run Dawn of the Nugget

Said to start five years after the original, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget will see the return of the fan-favorite protagonists Ginger and Rocky and their friends, Mac, Babs, Bunty, Fowler, Nick, and Fetcher. While Jane Horrocks, Imelda Staunton and Lynn Ferguson are reprising their roles from the original, many of the original stars have been recast, with Westworld‘s Thandiwe Newton becoming Ginger, Shazam!‘s Zachary Levi taking over as Rocky, Harry Potter‘s David Bradley replacing the late Benjamin Whitrow as Fowler, and Romesh Ranganathan and Daniel Mays playing the sneaky rat duo Nick and Fetcher.

When asked about the recasting, Fell acknowledged a variety of factors that went into this decision, the primary one being he wanted “to make my own film” and “take a fresh look at it.” Another was the feeling the casting choices for the original were better suited to the time it was made and where the characters were in their lives, teasing “new and interesting” dynamics for them coming into the sequel and an approach that was “almost as much a reboot, in a way, as a sequel.”

So yeah, I just thought, when I got into it, I just sort of opened up all the casting again. I asked the casting director to make suggestions for everybody and just went through it. Then I just sort of saw who stuck and who kind of felt new and interesting to me, knowing what I wanted to do with the characters.

One of the biggest characters to return from the original is the villain, Mrs. Tweedy, who Fell describes as the franchise’s equivalent to iconic Disney antagonist Cruella De Vil. After being pushed away by her husband, Tweedy has now married the wealthy Dr. Fry, a “clever scientist” whose money she used to get a makeover and enact her new plan for mass-producing chicken nuggets, with the director describing it as a “fantastic apocalyptic event for all chicken-kind.”

She’s really become a Bond villain, basically. Now, this is our new genre we’re playing in. If the first film was a World War II escape movie, then this is like a Bond movie, a Mission: Impossible-type break-in. Dr. Fry, her doting husband, as I say, very intelligent but not an ounce of common sense. Completely blind to the fact she’s just using him.

In addition to the returning cast, a variety of new characters are joining for Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, beginning with Ginger and Rocky’s daughter Molly, played by The Last of Us breakout star Bella Ramsey. Fell praised the young actor for their efforts bringing Molly to life, drawing parallels between the new character and Ellie through the “nuance and pathos and humor” in their performance, while also humorously noting “with less swearing” and changing the weapon from “a flick knife” to a tablespoon.

Additionally, Molly is being paired up with fellow teenage chicken Frizzle, played by Josie Sedgwick-Davies in her debut role. The character is from Liverpool and forms a quick bond with Molly as they find themselves caught and taken to Fun-Land Farms, with their friendship acting as one of the main threads through the movie. Though they share similarities in their adventurous natures, Frizzle becomes easily manipulated by Tweedy’s methods to keep the chickens happy before killing them.

Lastly, the cast will feature the introduction of Reginald Smith, the manager of a chain of restaurants known as Sir Eat-A-Lot, which is nicknamed after his business. Played by iconic British comedian Peter Serafinowicz (Shaun of the Dead, Guardians of the Galaxy), Fell describes Smith as “really just a straight man” who finds himself wrapped up in “the wacky world of Dr. Fry and Mrs. Tweedy.” Fry himself is being voiced by fellow British comic Nick Mohammed, well-known for his role as Nate in Ted Lasso, as well as being the creator and star of the comedy show Intelligence.

How Dawn of The Nugget’s Story Picks Up From Chicken Run

Molly storming out of Chicken Island in Chicken Run Dawn of the Nugget

Having escaped from Tweedy five years prior, the movie will open with the chickens now living peacefully in a bird sanctuary the crew has named Chicken Island, or as Fell describes, “a chicken Wakanda.” Now having given birth to Molly, Ginger’s mission in life has become to protect both her daughter and her family as a whole, wanting to stay hidden from the world, with the group having constructed a camouflage net to conceal their existence. Though the group has gotten their “happy ending“, as Fell describes, the peace will be broken when the adventurous Molly decides she’s tired of being constrained to the island and decides to venture out into the world, building a canoe and sneaking away.

After finding herself on a highway road, Molly is introduced to Frizzle, only for them to shortly thereafter be picked up by an employee for Fun-Land Farms, with Ginger and Rocky catching up to them just in time to follow the truck to the supposed happy business. Upon arrival, they discover it to be another prison-like structure for chickens, and have to convince their friends to help craft a plan to break in and save both Molly and the rest of their kind being kept there.

They’ve each got their own roles. Rocky’s the flyer, Mac’s the brains, Bunty’s the muscle, Nick and Fetcher are the pickpockets, Bab’s the wall specialist, and Fowler is the getaway guy. So, they’re all set to break in, which is by the end of act one.

Meanwhile, inside the facility, the chickens are treated to a seemingly idyllic life with a bright play area full of food and entertainment for those living there, due to Dr. Fry determining that a “wonderful mixture of behavioral science and mind control” has made the chickens all the more tasty when turned into nuggets. Unlike her friend, Molly remains unfazed by the brainwashing techniques, venturing further into the facility to learn more of their secrets while her family tries to break in and save her.

How The Filmmaking Has Changed From First & Major Inspirations

Rocky and Ginger with Fun-Land Farms sign in Chicken Run Dawn of the Nugget

With almost 25 years gone since the original Chicken Run was produced, Fell and Aardman’s overall process for making the stop-motion sequel changed as well. To begin with, the actual production of the models changed drastically from the original, with the studio instead utilizing 3D-printed silicon figures instead of their traditional clay. This in turn led to different steps in putting them together, including crafting individual parts and painting them before putting them together on the metal skeletons. Though a lengthier process, it actually allotted the team more options for facial molds and expressions.

Another of the changes made was the actual genre inspiration for the movie as it shifted the overall tone. Fell recalled the original being largely inspired by movies like The Great Escape, whereas for the ’60s-set sequel, the Chicken Run director looked towards the likes of the original Mission: Impossible and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. shows for inspiration, as well as various “Euro spy” genre shows. Tweedy’s lair in Fun-Land Farms itself was designed after a Bond villain, which resulted in a lot of extra layers to bring to life for Fell and his team:

That’s where we were really bringing in more visual effects, matte painting, and miniature models in order to create and get a bigger scope world. Lots of materials from the ’60s and design cues from that time and that sort of lair, the central place. And then, a lot of these kind of brutal concrete inspired by Jerry Anderson, a lot of it, actually, as well, in the ’60s, British miniature model stuff. And the first Mission: Impossible TV series, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., all of those kinds of things. And even Bond, but then sub-Bond, kind of Euro spy, things like 077 and that kind of slightly cheesier kind of Yugoslavian/Italian co-production.

Much of the actual character animations are based on live-action reference footage. One example, shared by Animation Supervisor Ian Whitlock, is from a dance sequence involving Rocky. Whitlock filmed himself to work out the timing and blocking of the sequence, which director Sam Fell saw and “liked the performance of“, giving him a few notes and subsequently resulting in the proper shooting with the models. One of the big things the team realized during the stop-motion animation process was finding a balance between the smoothness of computer animation and original stop-motion. Whitlock recalls making some changes to avoid going “a bit too soft in the movements” and retain the “energy” of the original movie.

One of the unique challenges in the production process was creating the Fun-Land Farms escalator leading to the “Chicken Heaven”, which is actually where they are turned into nuggets. Supervising Art Director Matt Bay showed us a first-hand look at the practical version of the working escalator, including the various “trackers” and gears that they had to shoot on practical plates before blending them in with VFX to match the stop-motion animation.

We’ve played some tricks for this one. We haven’t made a huge long length of escalator. In some shots, as it comes up and over, we only need to run it all the way through in the plates, so that we didn’t need to make literally a whole one that goes back and comes round again. We could just use that element and comp in the whole run, if you like. So that’s also gone on this set.

And the other thing is on these is, just for ease’s sake, this has all been lit up. But we are not actually doing the running lights. We don’t do the running lights, actually we leave that for comp. We just do a plate with the lights all on, plate’s all off, and then they can have control for the speed at the comping stage of it.

So that’s going on as well. So running lights… Although we have done that before, but it’s quite complicated. You have to program all the lights, and it’s a lot of lights. And you need to know at the beginning, how you’re connecting them together to be the ones that are on all at the same time, what the spacing is. And sometimes, we’ve just got to get on with shots. And then the direct hasn’t quite worked for that yet, so that can happen later. That gives them control at the end of the film. So yeah, in the post-production stage of things. I think in design was about three or four weeks. I think in construction it was another, I think it was four weeks. And then there’s all the painting and stuff and the electricity. Yeah, I’d probably say all in all, it was probably 10 weeks.

Another impressively challenging shot from the movie was the opening sequence revealing the Chicken Village on the island. Comprised of 22 houses on the set and individual machines, the “massive” 30-second shot took 18 weeks in total weeks to put together, partly due to the scale of the set that itself took “two man-years” to construct as well as the animation team’s varying schedules:

Yeah, slow going all animation. But it was all so long, not just the animator was literally animating all of that period. It’s like we had to take blocks away to get to this guy. We were doing it in sections. But the MoCo had the whole move in it set out, but then we just had to split it away and do each little section. Put the set back in, carry on the move. Yeah, it was massive. I think the biggest shot I’ve ever [done].

Interestingly, Fell teased that there is a “really good” concept ready to go for a third movie after Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget with “big ideas” behind it, though acknowledged that audience interest will be key to it being produced. As to whether he would return to direct it, Fell acknowledged that while he is interested in doing so, he wants to take a break, namely with how long the development and production process has been on the upcoming sequel. The filmmaker teased that the potential Chicken Run 3 would revisit the father-son story that was reworked from Dawn of the Nugget‘s original idea, admitting that he “didn’t quite have the through line” while developing the sequel.

Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget begins streaming on Netflix on December 15.

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