Nick Park Discusses His Early Experiences With Animation!

Ever wondered how Wallace & Gromit creator, Nick Park,  first got into the world animation and how he dreamt up the characters of Wallace & Gromit?

Nick was recently interviewed by Ashley Coates as part of a series called “How Did They Do It?” looking at how the contributors have achieved success in their fields.

You can read an excerpt from Ashley’s interview below, which reveals some interesting insights into Nick’s early experiences with animation!

You first picked up a camera at the age of 13, what were your first films about and how did you approach putting them together?

I was about 13 and my parents had this home movie camera that could do single frames. Art was the only thing that I was good at really and I could draw cartoons. I didn’t know much about how to make animated cartoons and I found it quite hard to find out but my dad was a photographer and he told me some of the basic principles of how animation works and I turned some of my early cartoons into animations. I didn’t have the technology to do cel animation like they do at Disney, so I went very low-tech. My first film used something called Fuzzy Felt. My mother is a dressmaker and she always had scraps of felt so I made my characters into felt cutouts and moved them on a board which was the background. I made up a story for a character called Walter the Rat and created The Rat and the Beanstalk. It took me a day to shoot. Which reminds me, I was quite obsessed with this Walter the Rat and I tried to do a drawn animation version which never came back from Kodak.

I know the storylines weren’t particularly deep at this stage but is there any noticeable continuity between the themes that we now see in the Aardman films, such as the humour, or the setting?

There probably is, I don’t know in what way but the beginnings of what I did with plasticine did exist and I remember my dad picking up on the humour. That’s what gave me a lot of confidence in the storytelling and the characters, that I could make people feel sad or make them laugh. I didn’t realise this at the time but a lot of the characters I created were duos, like Wallace and Gromit. It comes from watching things like Laurel & Hardy and Tom & Jerry. I always felt they had to be in pairs so Walter the Rat had a pet worm which was the victim really when it came to fishing. I had another set of characters which no one has ever really seen called Murphy and Bongo, which was a caveman and a dinosaur character.

It’s interesting how that has carried through. After school you studied Communication Arts at Sheffield Polytechnic before going to the NFTS, a very elite film school, and then to Aardman Animations in Bristol who were mostly working on commercials. How did your career develop during those years to the point where you got involved with Aardman?

That’s quite a long patch really but I’ll try to sum it up. I always thought this would be a hobby really, forever, because coming from Preston in Lancashire, I had never heard of anyone going into the film business or TV so it wasn’t on my radar as something I could do. I did a foundation art course at A-Level standard in Preston and there it was suggested by my dad that I should do a degree course in filmmaking. I went to Sheffield and made a couple of short films and with that applied to the National Film and Television School It was while I was there that I created Wallace & Gromit, which was my final year project. As it turned out it wasn’t my final year project as it took me seven years in total to complete! I met Peter Lord and David Sproxton from Aardman during the course. They came and did a NFTS lecture one day and saw what I was doing and said, “why don’t you come and help us onMorph over the summer?”  Then they asked me to stay full-time but I kept telling them that I had this film to finish so they eventually said, “why don’t you bring the film and we will negotiate with the film school and Aardman will help you finish it?”

Where did the characters of Wallace and Gromit, particularly Wallace, come from? It must be connected with the duos you were working on in your early films?

Yes there were many inspirations. One of the reasons why I have gone for model animation, because I tried all sorts of techniques at college, was I just liked the way it was like a real film in that you use a camera, lighting and there’s a physical set. I also loved comedy and cartoons so you get the best of both worlds. I tend to refer to my childhood a lot and things I remember from my parents’ house or my granny’s house. I often refer to things I saw, like the tea tray or the wallpaper, or the gnomes in my granny’s garden and the shapes I remember as a kid which were attractive and interesting. The shape of the rocket in A Grand Day Out is influenced by cartoons like Tintin and films like H.G. Wells’ First Men in the Moon. Wallace is said to be based on my dad but I discovered that in retrospect. I didn’t consciously do it, it was after I made A Grand Day Out that I remembered how my parents had made a caravan from scratch one year. My dad built it and seven of us went on holiday in it and my mum did the interior, with a cooker, a sink and wallpaper. So it was only after I made A Grand Day Out that I thought, “oh gosh I have made a film about my dad!”

Read the full interview on Ashley’s “How Did They Do It?” blog, and look out for a coffee table book of the project, which is due for release soon to help raise funds for the Prince’s Trust.