Nick Park (Director - 'Wallace & Gromit')
'More Animated Tails!'
Gentle genius Nick Park won the hearts of the nation with his 'Wallace & Gromit' characters. Their first outing was in the short film, "A Grand Day Out," after which they returned in "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave," both of which won Oscars.
Park swapped his northern heroes for fowl in his first feature-length movie, 'Chicken Run,' but has now been reunited with the pair for their first full-length adventure, 'Wallace & Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit.'
We recently sat down with Nick and first wondered if perhaps this was his very own animated version of a children's horror film? 'Yeah, in a Wallace and Gromit absurd way!"
How did the idea originate? "It all came from this idea where Wallace and Gromit's vegetable patch is attacked by rabbits and they have to do things to keep them off. It was an idea for BBC Books that they rejected, and it was called Wallace And Gromit And The Veggieburglars."
Aardman started out as a small company. What have you gained and what have you lost by jumping into bed with a big American studio like DreamWorks? "I think it's just been gain really, so far. We are a small company but we really treasure what we have so I don't feel we've given anything up. We treated Wallace and Gromit as our crown jewels. Any Hollywood studio, if they're doing a deal with somebody else, wants to own characters, but we have managed to keep hold of them. I feel we've got a good deal because Jeffrey [Katzenberg] signed the cheques to make the movie but he stayed fairly distant. He did come over to England. He saw the movie and made comments. But we've been quite cautious to not just play to the Hollywood tune, you know? We're very aware of not losing the spirit of the early Wallace and Gromit films."
DreamWorks's CGI movie 'Shark Tale' featured characters based on the actors voicing them. Was that ever something that was discussed for your film? "Wallace and Gromit are the stars of our film and we don't want to detract from that. Jeffrey was reasonably happy with that, I think."
How do you expect Americans to respond to the characters' Britishness? "Well, when we first sold the Wallace and Gromit shorts to America, there were people who suggested that we get rid of the strange British accents and put clear American voices on them, and we held out. I think Jeffrey would agree that anybody who did that would be shooting themselves in the foot. Since then we've had so much response from Americans that like the voices. It shows that if you respect the audience enough, they can take onboard things that are not, um, native."
Going back to the beginning, how did you come up with the character of Wallace? "Well, the way his wide mouth evolved, the way he says "Cheese", was actually the way the actor Peter Sallis says cheese in his very northern English way. I actually animated some of Grand Day Out with a smaller mouth and then it came to the point where he had to say cheese and suddenly his mouth had to go, "No cheeeeese, Gromit"."
Is he based on anyone?! "Since I made 'Grand Day Out,' I've thought how similar he is to my father because my father used to make things a lot. He wasn't an inventor but he was always in the shed making things. In 'Grand Day Out,' Wallace builds a rocket and it's got wallpaper inside and furniture, and it just reminded me after making the film of my dad. There were seven of us in the family and he made this caravan with a trailer and he put furniture inside and wallpaper and stuff, just like Wallace would."
Is it true that Gromit was originally a cat?! "I don't know if I've got any pictures to prove it but when I went back to old sketch books from art school, yeah, Gromit was the name of a cat. I didn't think back then that it would be a clay animated film so I hadn't designed it properly. When I started modelling the cat I just didn't feel it was quite right so I made it into a dog because he could have a bigger nose and bigger, longer legs."
The world of Wallace and Gromit has a kind of retro, rather uncool, feel. Did you have to fight to keep that for the film? "You have to guard it, definitely. But it's not big and overt. Jeffrey's not coming in saying, "Make your characters into teenagers", anything like that. He knows the shorts and he seems to respect them and stuff. But it's more subtle things, really. There was a discussion about why don't you get some younger, trendy actors in to play Victor and Lady Tottington. But we said we didn't want to and it was fine. So it's not a big pressure."
It's a culture clash! "It is a bit but we kind of live with it, you know? I just felt kind of privileged that someone was willing to do this film."
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