Subscribe to the daily newsletter.

MacKinnon and Saunders celebrates 30 animated years with Sale exhibition

Mars Attacks! publicity poster, Warner Bros

Manchester animation giant Mackinnon & Saunders will celebrate 30 years in the business with a brand new, free exhibition at Sale Waterside’s Lauriston Gallery.

Running from Saturday November 19 to Saturday February 25, 2023, Mackinnon & Saunders: 30 Years and Beyond will showcase a rare selection of original puppets, images and models that the model builder and animator has created for TV shows and film productions over the years for some of the world’s most successful studios, directors and filmmakers.

The exhibition is the latest in a series of animation displays at Waterside, with previous editions having featured  favourites such as Postman Pat and Cosgrove Hall Films.

Going on display for the very first time will be an original puppet and models made by Mackinnon & Saunders for Guillermo del Toro’s forthcoming retelling of Pinocchio. This will mark the Oscar-winning director’s stop-motion animation debut and will be streamed on Netflix later this year.

Displayed alongside these will be puppets and models from the current Netflix animation The House. Paying homage to MacKinnon and Saunders’ long-running relationship with director Tim Burton, several puppets and models the company made for two of his films, Corpse Bride and Frankenweenie will also be in the exhibition as well as work from their contribution to Wes Anderson’s acclaimed Fantastic Mr Fox.

Childhood favourites Raa Raa the Noisy Lion, Twirly Woos and Bob The Builder, produced by erstwhile Altrincham animation house Hot Animation, itself set up by Cosgrove Hall alumnus Jackie Cockle, will also be on display.

Running in partnership with Manchester Animation Festival, the exhibition will also feature a series of black and white behind-the-scenes photographs to celebrate the vision, skill and artistry of the local animators and model-makers who have brought these iconic characters and wonderful stories to life, connecting with audiences all over the world with their model-making and animation production skills.

Ian Mackinnon and Peter Saunders began working together in the 1980s at Brian Cosgrove and Mark Hall’s Cosgrove Hall Films, the Chorlton home of classics such as Chorlton and the Wheelies and Dangermouse. Together they pioneered new techniques in puppet making on productions such as the BAFTA-winning The Reluctant Dragon and Emmy Award-winning The Fool of the World and The Wind in the Willows.

At the start of the 1990s, the pair left to form the new business. In 1995 they expanded internationally when director Tim Burton asked them to design and construct the Martian characters for his feature film, Mars Attacks! Subsequently the duo set up a design studio in LA to make puppets and life-sized Martian characters for the film, and increased its Manchester based team from five to 45. Following on from the success of this collaboration, Burton asked Mackinnon and Saunders to create the puppets for Corpse Bride.

At the time, Burton said of the company“…there was no question in my mind that these were the guys to do it…They do such beautiful work, very sensitive and textural; you really do believe the characters are alive.”

The puppets for Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr Fox were created in the Mackinnon and Saunders workshops in 2007, and in 2009 Mackinnon & Saunders collaborated with Tim Burton again, working closely with the director to create the characters for Frankenweenie.

In 2013, the founders were presented with the Bradford Animation Festival Lifetime Achievement Award and in the same year, they received a special Judges Award from the Royal Television Society North West.

The team received a BAFTA nomination in 2014 for Best Children’s Pre-School animation of Postman Pat SDS, produced for DreamWorks Classics. The following year, the pair received Honorary Doctorates from Staffordshire University in recognition of their special contributions in the field of stop motion animation.

MacKinnon and Saunders have been responsible for creating countless puppets and animations and, during the life span of the company, have employed hundreds of talented artists from around the North West, the the country and the world.

Saunders said: “If Mackinnon & Saunders have achieved anything as a company it is because of the talent, hard work, loyalty and good humour of all the people who have come to work with us over the years. Ian and I are indebted to each and every one of them. We are also indebted to all the creative people who have entrusted us with their projects, and we hope we have done justice in bringing life to their vision.”

Mackinnon & Saunders: 30 Years and Beyond runs at Waterside from 19 November 2022 until 25 February 2023. The exhibition is free is and open Mondays to Saturdays from 10:00 to 17:00.

Related News