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Former St Simon Stock School pupil Emma Diaz talks about doing her dream job as an assistant animator on Shaun the Sheep Movie

Watching Disney’s the Lion King at the age of six changed Emma Diaz’s life forever.

After stepping out of the cinema she declared to her mother that she wanted to have a career in animation - and 20 years on, that dream is a reality.

Now an animator with Aardman Productions, the 26-year-old is doing the job she set out to do, and her work is currently on the big screen to prove it in Shaun the Sheep the Movie.

Emma with the poster for the film she worked on, Shaun the Sheep
Emma with the poster for the film she worked on, Shaun the Sheep

She worked on the Aardman Productions’ film as an assistant animator and has recently been promoted to animator. But it’s been hard work and determination to get there.

Her first foray into animated film featured a caveman fashioned from garden wire and plasticine for A level Art at St Simon Stock School in Maidstone, after attending More Park Primary School in West Malling.

She said: “I always wanted to do it. The Lion King got me into animation but Wallace and Gromit honed my interest. I always wanted to work at Aardman even from my A levels.”

Emma blends the mouth of an old man puppet while working on Shaun the Sheep the Movie
Emma blends the mouth of an old man puppet while working on Shaun the Sheep the Movie

After studying animation at Bournemouth University, specialising in stop motion in her third year, she networked and worked for free, before securing a work placement with Aardman, working on The Pirates, after a guest lecturer at Bournemouth put her name forward.

“I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. It was just completely overwhelming,” she said. “I was completely in awe of some of the people. It was fantastic. The sets were just brilliant and so luxurious.”

Some of her animation actually made the final cut, despite being on work experience. More unemployment followed before the call she’d been waiting her whole life came, offering an assistant animator’s position with Aardman, working on Shaun the Sheep Series 3.

“I think I cried on the phone and asked him if he was sure. My heart was pounding, I was so excited,” she said. “This is what I have always wanted to do, so it is a lot of pressure and it is, like any job, stressful. Every shoot you do you think ‘how am I going to do this?’ Every shot you’re bringing to life something you have done. I am very lucky top be in a position where I love my work.”

Emma at work on the set of Shaun the Sheep the Movie
Emma at work on the set of Shaun the Sheep the Movie

She worked as an assistant on two series’ and on the movie, and is now working on Series 5.

Shaun has played quite a part in her life, despite being a silent film star of minute proportions. Her dad even incorporated a cuddly toy version into his Father of the Bride speech when she married Serafin last year, who she met at school.

But Shaun’s non-speaking did make the film a challenge. “We had to make the plot so good to make sure it would carry the film along and the animation had to be so good quality.

Emma at the Odeon in Lockmeadow, Maidstone
Emma at the Odeon in Lockmeadow, Maidstone

“You have to get the emotions across without using any words. You have to make a character look sad without words, so it’s a flick of the eyelids or body language. Animators are actors really but without the confidence to act.”

It takes a nine-hour day to create two seconds of footage, but she said: “It may sound like it takes ages but the time absolutely flies by.”

With the release of the film this month, she watched it in Bristol where she now lives and enjoyed listening to both children and adults laughing along.

She has travelled back to her parents’ home in Yalding, and the whole family watched it at Bluewater.

Although she has now reached the dizzy heights of Aardman at just 26, she isn’t resting on her laurels. Her ultimate goal is to work with Aardman creator Nick Park on a Wallace and Gromit film.

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