Morph Tribute
Defining Moment:
Plasticine Animation Takes Shape, February 15 1977

In the beginning, there was a ball of plasticine. A terracotta-coloured ball, weighing precisely 5.5oz.

It rolled on to the screen in 1977 during the first episode of Take Hart, a children's TV programme about art. It got in presenter Tony Hart's way by mischievously changing shape - into a star, a cross and, finally, a little humanoid with a pointy nose and a piercing look. This was the birth of Morph, a loveable animated creature who graced each episode of Hart's series with his cheeky, inquisitive presence until 1993. Morph also heralded the beginning of a joyous new world of plasticine animation. Without him, there would be no Creature Comforts or, even more unimaginable, no Wallace and Gromit.

Morph's creators were Peter Lord and Dave Sproxton, founders of Aardman Animation - now a company with a multi-million-pound turnover, most famous for Nick Park's Wallace and Gromit and the film Chicken Run. Lord and Sproxton had had the idea for plasticine animation when they were still at school, where they also came up with the Aardman name (a mix of "superman" and "aardvark", which they found hilarious). Morph was to be their first commercial venture.

It took them three to four days to animate Morph for each minute-long weekly slot. "That was lightning fast," says Lord. "Nowadays, people film about two seconds of animation per day. It was all so low-tech then, but all the better for it." While Wallace and Gromit have metal skeletons, Morph was spineless and so much more delicate. "He used to get messed up very quickly. If he takes six steps his legs get substantially knackered. As you keep sculpting him, all the plasticine runs to his feet, so they get bigger and bigger."

Although Morph didn't talk much sense (he spoke a sort of gobbledygook, part-Teletubbies part chewed-up cassette tape), he had a strong character for a wee fellow only 12-13cm high: "Morph was an anarchist force of nature. Quite revengeful - but also an enthusiast, a great poseur who liked to play different roles," says Lord. Morph lived in Tony Hart's pencil box, and was later joined by his chalky mate Chas.

When Hart died on January 18 the internet was flooded with tributes. These days, any newcomers to the Aardman fold are asked to prove their skills by animating Morph for a few seconds. This month he is finally stepping out into the public eye once again - as a model in Esquire magazine.