Entertainment & Arts

Oscars: A Morning Stroll animation heads to Hollywood

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Media captionClip from A Morning Stroll, courtesy of Studio AKA

British animation A Morning Stroll - about the exploits of a chicken in New York - was made as a spare-time project. Now its creators are set to stroll up the red carpet at the Oscars.

Why did the chicken cross the road?

It's one of the best-known jokes in the world. Now British animators have given it a new twist and created a short film that's taking them to Hollywood.

Directed by Grant Orchard of Studio AKA, A Morning Stroll shows a New Yorker out for a walk when he passes a chicken in the street.

Told over three acts, the story begins in 1959 and is told though flickery old-school animation. Then it leaps 50 years to 2009, where a similar scene plays out in a very different style.

Finally, the CGI chicken has a feather-ruffling adventure in the year 2059.

Image caption City slicker: The chicken checks out 1959 New York

"We're riffing on the joke about the chicken crossing the road," explains Orchard when we meet at Studio AKA offices in the heart of London's Soho.

"I like to set out certain laws that I have to abide by when making a film. I thought that by leaping 50 years in each chapter it could be interesting to see where that goes.

"The whole thing is the build-up to a really bad pun. I didn't think we'd be working on that pun for two years!"

Whatever the punchline, the animated short's tally of success is no joke.

In the space of two weeks in January, A Morning Stroll was nominated for both a Bafta and an Oscar - and won the Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival.

Loosely inspired by an urban myth, the film started out as a one-minute project that would let Studio AKA test out its animation skills.

Under Sue Goffe, the studio's head of production, the project turned into a fully-fledged short film project.

Image caption Will the chicken distract this plugged-in New Yorker?

"Our core business is commercials, but we've always tried to have a studio philosophy that we'd have a project of our own that we can move forward during downtime," she says.

Studio AKA's packed trophy cabinet is testament to that philosophy. Goffe has collected Baftas for children's animation Lost and Found (2009) and short animation Jojo In The Stars (2003). Varmints was Bafta nominated in 2008.

"These sort of projects are the ones everyone wants to work on. As many people as possible had a hand in it," Goffe says.

Orchard adds: "The receptionist did a lot of the artwork - we used everyone."

Image caption Zombie alert: A smartphone game provides a diversion in A Morning Stroll

With the success of A Morning Stroll, Studio AKA wants to make more animated movies. But this raises the issue of future film funding.

"We're at a pivotal point," says Goffe. "We've managed to build up a portfolio so people see us as film-makers, not just animators who make commercials.

"We need to be able to find some finance to get us onto the next bit. If we can get support from people like the BFI we could be poised to start that bigger journey.

"I'm aware that there's a spotlight over [our offices at] 30 Berwick Street and you have to make the most of it, as it doesn't last that long."

The team at Studio AKA found out about the Oscar nomination by checking the Academy Awards website.

Image caption Sue Goffe (producer) and Grant Orchard (director) of Studio AKA are Oscar nominated for A Morning Stroll

Goffe recalls: "Grant was scrolling through really slowly, and we thought our category would be listed in alphabetical order. We expected to see A Morning Stroll at the top, but it didn't appear.

"And then we got to the fourth one and it was us - and the place went completely bonkers. Even the guys in the cafe opposite asked us what had been going on. Then we had a big client presentation to do.

"It was just the most surreal day."

The Bafta film awards take place in London on Sunday 12 February, while the Oscars are two weeks later in Los Angeles on 26 February.

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