Although not as publicly renowned as his National Film and Television School contemporary Nick Park, Mark Baker has nonetheless garnered Oscar nominations for his animated short films The Hill Farm (1988), The Village (1993) and Jolly Roger (1998), and is widely regarded as one of the leading British animators to emerge since the 1970s. His work typically features a deceptively simple, almost childlike hand-drawn visual style, but this conceals a far more sophisticated, adult-oriented view of the world.
Born in London in 1959, Baker made 8mm animated films in his teens (including The King's Jester, 1978), and studied animation at the West Surrey College of Art and Design, where he made The Three Knights (1982). He then spent a year animating television commercials for Richard Purdum Productions, after which he enrolled at the NFTS to study film animation. There, he spent much of the time making The Hill Farm almost single-handed. Dialogue-free, it depicts three very different groups making use of the same part of the countryside for farming, hunting and camping, and shows a vivid awareness of the essentially cyclical nature of country life. Completed in 1988, in addition to its Oscar nomination it won a BAFTA, the Grand Prix at the Annecy Animation Festival and many other awards - and was also highly praised by the great Russian animator Yuri Norstein.
After graduating in 1989, Baker worked as a freelance animator and director for various companies including TVC, Speedy Films, David Anderson Films and Pizazz Pictures. During this period he also worked on The Village, which Channel Four commissioned following widespread acclaim for The Hill Farm. Completed in 1993, it depicts life in a remote village whose inhabitants spend half the time trying to uncover each other's dark secrets, and the rest ensuring that their own stay buried.
Jolly Roger (1998), a lively romp about a cowardly pirate, was the first of Baker's films to make use of computer animation - though the artwork was originally hand-drawn on paper prior to scanning and digital manipulation. The 13-part BBC children's series The Big Knights (2000), co-directed with Astley, returned to the territory of The Three Knights in its sending-up of traditional chivalric myths. Its vocal cast included Brian Blessed as Sir Morris, whose boisterous enthusiasm compensated for his lack of skill.
More recently, Baker and Astley have catered for even younger audiences in the BAFTA-winning Peppa Pig (2004-) and Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom (2007-). The first, about a cheeky piglet and her family, has been widely acclaimed as a model example of pre-school children's animation, matching genuinely witty scripts to brightly-coloured, childlike designs that nonetheless unmistakably echo Baker's earlier work.