Thursday, September 15, 2005

Mavericks: Nick Park

The Mavericks program was set up by the festival to allow filmmakers and other industry people to talk about movies in an interview/Q&A format. This is the first year that it has been open to the general public. I managed to get a ticket for the session with Nick Park, creator of Wallace and Gromit. Wallace and Gromit's latest adventures are featured in the film Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, which is screening at the festival this year. Park showed the actual models of Wallace and Gromit that were used in the latest movie.

Richard Corliss, a columnist with Time magazine since the 80's, interviewed Nick Park:

  • At the age of 12 Park was into drawing cartoons and playing with plasticene.
  • His parents had an 8mm Bell and Howell camera that had an animation button on it, and he used it to experiment with clay and cut-outs.
  • At 15, Park had a film shown on the BBC.
  • He made about half-a-dozen to a dozen films at home on his own, and cited Terry Gilliam as an influence.
  • While at the National Film and Television School, he first had an idea for an animation featuring a man building a rocket in his basement. In sketches, Wallace has a moustache, and Gromit has visible teeth.
  • Originally, Gromit was supposed to be a cat, but Park found it far easier to model a dog. Also, he felt there was a good dynamic in the man/dog relationship. He likes to think of the two as an old married couple.
  • Penguins show up frequently in work by both Park and Aardman Animation. Park says he has nothing against them, but wanted a villian different than anything seen before.
  • Park worked summers at Aardman, and eventually founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton convinced him to come on board full time if they helped him to finish Wallace and Gromit, which he had been working on for three years at school.
  • One of the first projects Park got to work on at Aardman was the video for Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer. They only had a week to do the video, and Gabriel wanted it to look like a 14-year-old kid did it in his attic.
  • Much of the video was shot with a camera mounted looking down at the floor. One of Park's main contributions was a bit involving actual raw chickens, which scared him at the time, as there was a salmonella scare in Britain at the time. The MP who created the scare and was later forced to resign was named Edwina, and her name was later given to the chicken in Chicken Run that gets her head cut off.
  • Park's sister, now a painter, had a pet chicken when they were young. It had an imaginary boy friend she called the "lone free ranger" which made it into Chicken Run in the form of Rocky.
  • Further on the chicken theme, when Park was about 17 or 18, he worked in a chicken packing factory. He spent a day in the slaughterhouse, and the machines in there would later give him inspiration for the pie-making machine in Chicken Run.
  • For his next project, Park had the idea for recording conversations of people at the zoo talking about animals, and then turning it around, pretending the conversations were actually animals talking about people. Unfortunately, simply recording conversations proved to be uninteresting, so Park turned to actually interviewing people. This project became "Creature Comforts", which later went on to win an Oscar for best short film, ironically beating out the film which took him longer to make, Wallace and Gromit's A Grand Day Out.
  • At the Oscar ceremony, Park had written two lists of thank-yous, one for each film, and was afraid he was going to end up thanking the wrong set of people.
  • The BBC wanted a half-hour Christmas special featuring Wallace and Gromit, which led to the short, The Wrong Trousers. It took about six months to storyboard, and 13 months to shoot. Bob Baker shared writing credits on the film; Baker was also a script editor for Doctor Who.
  • The name for Gromit apparently came from the term for a bit of insulation that his electrician brother used.
  • Park has never had a dog, so Gromit is not based on any real life dog. Instead, Gromit is sort of the dog Park has always wanted but never had.
  • Shortly after finishing A Grand Day Out, Park realized that Wallace was a lot like his father, who was forever building things in the shed. He once built a caravan from the wheels up, and even wallpapered the inside, just like Wallace did with his rocket. Park's father was a photographer by trade, but loved to make things.
  • Park likes using plasticene because it can give such subtle movements and expressions, and there is an immediacy to it.
  • They put animators through Wallace and Gromit classes to ensure they know how to move both characters; for instance, when Gromit moves his head, his nose should go down like a human, not up like a dog.
  • Steve Box, who Park has worked with on a number of projects, really understands the psyche of the characters, which is why Park wanted him on the latest film. That film has about 250 crew, with 30 animators. There are also 30 sets.
  • They idea for The Curse of the Were-Rabbit came just before or during the filming of Chicken Run. It was about 5 years in the making, and took 2 years to film.
  • Aardman has a five-picture deal with Dreamworks. Another film will be released next year, and is actually done with CGI, but they are still planning on doing more clay movies. The movie is about rats in the London sewers.
  • Park has heard that model animators make good CG animators since they are already used to thinking in three dimensions.
  • One scene in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was done partially with CGI because what is shown would have been impossible in clay.
  • Amongst CGI animation, Park admires Madagascar and Pixar movies, especially The Incredibles, but he doesn't like when CG goes its own way, to complete naturalism with no design decisions being made.
  • Park misses animating a lot; he didn't do any on the latest film.
  • About a 1/4 to a 1/3 of the animators on the latest film are women.
  • They can't really have key frames in stop-motion animation, but they do do rehersals, blocking through scenes especially since the cameras are computer-controlled. The animators often act out the scene on video to use as a guide.


My experiences at the Toronto International Film Festival. Note this blog is not affiliated with the Toronto International Film Festival Group or the festival itself.
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