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On October 7, 2005, Wallace and his faithful dog Gromit, the much loved duo from Aardman's Academy Award® winning clay-animated Wallace & Gromit shorts, star in an all new comedy adventure -- Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.
In an interview exclusive to this web site, Nick Park shares some of his thoughts regarding his artistic influences, how he uses drawing to start telling a story, and what it was like to bring everyone's favorite plasticine duo to the big screen for the very first time.
It's really a dream come true. Wallace and Gromit were my college creations, and it is quite something to think that they are starring in their first full-length feature film.
I look back on having made the three shorts as if they are, in a sense, like making smaller feature films, so the feature seemed like the next actual step. I guess because I found what was great about working in the medium -- how you can light it, how to do camera work. It satisfied many things for me.
But at the same time I was a bit cautious because sometimes what works in short films works because they are short. I was cautious on how to get there, how to make that step which is partly why we did Chicken Run first.
I was waiting for the right idea to come along that was big enough and simply expansive enough to suggest a full-length movie. An idea that had the potential for an 80-minute film with character development and story but also was inspiring enough to sustain me through for the next four or five years.
Once you decided you wanted to move forward with planning a movie for Wallace and Gromit, how did you start your production?
After I’ve come up with the initial idea -- you know this whole idea of exploring rabbits -- Bob Baker, the writer and I were sitting in a pub in Bristol and we got this lightning strike of an idea -- what if it were a were-wolf movie, but with a big funny rabbit instead eating vegetables instead of people and develop it for Wallace and Gromit? After that I decided to develop it with a guy I was going to co-direct it with named Steve Box who worked with me on Wallace & Gromit: The Wrong Trousers. He animated Feathers McGraw.
We sat there typing it and as we were typing, one of us would be drawing, or vice versa, or the other one would be making a mock up model in clay while we were writing. So it all went on at the same time.
Then there was a certain point when we stopped writing, where the script becomes very visual and we went into storyboard for most of the writing time actually. We spent a couple of years storyboarding. We'd shoot the boards and then put them into a digital edit system. We put our own voices on, temporary music, some sound effects and edit the whole thing.
It would be very rough, but those storyboards would become our story reel. We’d constantly be editing from that. Redrawing stuff, trying to make acts better, trying to find scene structures that were better. Sometimes we’ll throw out the whole scene and decide we don’t need it or add a scene somewhere. It remains a very organic, constantly rolling process to the end of the movie.
It's like making a sketch, really, refining lines, going back and bringing certain qualities forward, deciding if sometime works or not?
Yeah, that’s what we show to Jeffrey [Katzenberg] every few weeks. They make comments and our other writer Mark Burton would come in and think up some better lines of dialog. We’d have a brainstorming meeting over a scene and think -- how can we make this scene funnier? How can we make the story point a bit quicker? You know, that kind of thing. It gives an overall sense of the shape of the movie above all as well. Obviously in this kind of film making we can’t afford to shoot stuff we don't use and we did end up not using a couple of minutes worth.
Concept drawing by Nick Park of Gromit in the Greenhouse.
The finished frame of film of Gromit in the Greenhouse.
A camera lens captures a still frame of stop motion animation.
Nick Park directing the very same scene from the above drawing of Gromit in the Greenhouse.
When did you start to take the world of your 2D drawings into the world of 3D claymation? Was it while you were in college creating drawings?
Yeah. It was really. Sometimes I thought, well, should I do this in 2D? Then I thought it’s such satisfaction making them in clay. The idea that you can make them three-dimensional, so that they had their own natural perspective. You can light it and all. I love that world. There’s a certain other-worldliness. It’s like an almost other reality but it’s not.
And, while I’m interested in clay I think I wanted to take claymation more into the area of story. You know use it for like a bigger thing, than just an animation affect. With clay animation you can treat it like a cartoon really because of all this squash and stretch. Yet you’re working with all these cinematic live action elements, tools and devises: lighting and camera work, drama.
That's why going to film school was so great because it really educated me about movie making. The more films I saw, the more I could learn.
Directors Nick Park (left) and Steve Box (right) reviewing storyboard panels.
How would you describe your take on storytelling? What sort of things did you look at while growing up that you feel influenced you as a filmmaker?
The Wallace & Gromit movies I made were always referencing other film genres outside of animation. Films that I loved all the time. Hitchcock films, film's like (David Lean's) Brief Encounter and I equally love the work of Chuck Jones, Tex Avery, Tom and Jerry cartoons and Disney films. I grew up on all these films.
I’ve always loved slapstick comedy. I love Buster Keaton and all the Laurel and Hardy films. Maybe that’s where I got Gromit looking at camera and giving us kind of a knowing look to the audience. Maybe from Oliver Hardy the way he would seem so "give me strength" -- you know, put upon, looking for sympathy.
I’ve always loved book illustration as well, and collected comic books. In the 70’s and 80’s I read graphic novels, like Hergé’s Adventures of TinTin and the illustrated books of Raymond Briggs. He did a book called Father Christmas and Fungus the Bogeyman which were popular in the UK. I love that graphic and chunky style that he had where everything is rendered. He also did The Snowman, which was later turned into animation.
I always loved those 1950’s shapes, all post World War II. I love a lot of that stuff, too. I used to watch Ray Harryhausen's Mother Goose Stories. He did one called Hansel and Gretel (1951) years before. I love that and that kind of holiday animation that was on TV.
A lot of ideas I have are inspired by those kind of things, those kinds of aesthetics.
I guess it’s the satisfaction of everything I love coming together, you know, Jules Verne stories, H. G. Wells, TinTin Adventures and Laurel and Hardy comedy kind of all coming together but with the atmosphere of a Hitchcock movie.
What is the role of drawing in your films?
I always start off by drawing. I start off with visual ideas. It’s what started off my film
A Grand Day Out. I started drawing this rocket, and I thought it would be great to just build to it. That’s one of the sort of things that attracted me to 3D really. The chance to build something like this rocket in this big cigar shape and cover it with rivets.
Years ago, at college, a lot of my illustrations, the ones I did when I wanted to illustrate books and do the stories were done as just illustrations. So, I've always started off by drawing, drawing nice shapes really that I liked.
Concept drawings and story sketches by Nick Park and Steve Box. All black and white sketches
above are by by Nick Park. Color sketch, second from the top, is by Steve Box.
AN INTERVIEW WITH NICK PARK,
Creator of Wallace and Gromit and Co-Director of DreamWorks and Aardman's
WALLACE & GROMIT: THE CURSE OF THE WERE-RABBIT
MAKING HIS MARK IN CLAY
© 2005 Ron Barbagallo
Nick Park poses with his plasticine creations -- Wallace and Gromit.