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PARK, NICK – WALLACE & GROMIT THE CURSE OF THE WERE RABBIT


NOW WALLACE CAN SAY ‘CHEESE’ WITH EASE
Animator Nick Park admits to Andrew L. Urban that world famous cheese lover, Wallace, has had dental work done for his debut on the feature film, Wallace & Gromit The Curse of the Were Rabbit. But his character and his world remain loveably familiar. (See end of story for The Amazing Facts About W&G)


The first thing when Nick Park sits down for a chat about his feature length film Wallace & Gromit The Curse of the Were Rabbit, is to raise my suspicions that Wallace has had dental work done since he got into The Wrong Trousers, one of three shorts about this clay couple which have won Park an Oscar each. Actually, no, I lie. The first thing is to get Nick Park a nice cup of tea.

"such a decent man"

The tea isn’t quite hot enough to pass muster by English standards, but Nick Park is such a decent man he doesn’t complain. 

After a self conscious little laugh, Park admits that indeed, for this film, Wallace has had several pre-moulded mouths made, and the teeth are therefore more even. Less used-looking. “When we were making The Wrong Trousers, and also with A Close Shave, we had to re-sculpt his mouth for every single frame,” he says, and it was an excruciatingly laborious process, especially as Wallace is noted for extreme mouth movements. A big, wide ‘cheese’ moment is followed by a daft ‘ooooh’. 

“This way,” Park explains, “it’s not only more efficient, it always stays in style through all the different animators.” Economy is still a relative word here; the feature length film (85 minutes all up) still took almost five years to make, each frame of film (there are 24 per second) shot like a still with the animators moving the clay characters a tincy bit. You’d never know, of course. To most people, they’re not even clay but flesh and blood. They always were, from the very start with A Grand Day Out, in 1989.

“They’ve evolved,” says Park. “I wouldn’t employ whoever did A Grand Day Out,” he says with another little laugh, acknowledging that it was, of course, himself. He lists a few of the flaws: “the face is like an hourglass shape, it has no eyebrows and no cheeks…among other things. This movie gave us a chance to complete the evolution and standardize the feature [of the characters].”

Wallace is brilliant at inventing machines that do amazing things, even dressing him, but he is not very worldly. He is naïve and a bit daffy, his Lancashire accent (thanks to his voice creator, Peter Sallis) a down to earth reminder that he is just an ordinary cheese-loving Englishman with a loyal – and highly intelligent - dog, Gromit. 

"I do feel a bit like a magician"

Park was 13 when he started making films in the attic, his imagination fired by the books of Jules Verne and H. G Wells, like The Time Machine. He has been able to realize his dreams of being an inventor himself twofold: he’s the inventive brains behind Wallace’s contraptions, but he also has to invent the world of Wallace & Gromit, a world which requires big solutions to miniature problems. Like how to make tea come pouring out of a miniature teapot in Wallace’s hands. The answer is clingwrap, twisted frame by frame, with sound effects completing the illusion..

“I do feel a bit like a magician,” he admits. For practical story telling reasons, we don’t often see Wallace actually build his inventions, although in A Grand Day out, we do see him constructing the rocket that will take him – and Gromit – to the moon.

Park is a collaborator he says, and his first passion in the process is in generating ideas. “But I also love the execution, from storyboarding to the animation, telling the story through the shots. When we are writing (his writing team includes Mark Burton and Bob Baker), we already know every detail, down to the sound effects.

In this first Wallace & Gromit feature, the two chums have made a modest success out of their new business of humane pest control, Anti Pesto. When a huge vegetable munching beast begins to terrorise the town’s veggie plots ahead of the annual Giant Vegetable Competition, its patron, Lady Tottington (voice of Helena Bonham Carter) calls in Anti Pesto. But their efforts are frustrated by Lady Tottington’s snobbish suitor, Victor (voice of Ralph Fiennes) who prefers to control rabbits by his gun. 

The references to the werewolf genre are joined by other cinematic references, which is standard practice for Aardman Animation, where Park is co-director. In this film, the bigger budget has enabled the filmmakers to include more characters – hence there are crowd scenes (eg the townsfolk gathering for the veggie competition). “Previously this wasn’t possible,” says Park, since every single character adds quite a workload. “But we still try to economise, so for instance we don’t show their legs or feet, cutting down on animation time.”

"digital wizardry"

Continuing to avoid CGI as much as possible, there is only one scene where digital wizardry was called in: the spectacular Wallace invention that humanely collects bunnies from the fields is like a giant, specialized vacuum cleaner. In its glass collection globe, we see the collected bunnies floating in the moving air. This would have been impossible with traditional claymation. “But we were keen to keep the feeling of ‘smallness’ in the feature film, the feeling that characterizes the shorts. And for example that’s why we kept the sound of the North England brass band in the score…” (Composer Julian Nott has worked on all the previous Wallace & Gromit films.)

Nick Park has discreetly left half his tea in the cup as he heads off to another interview. And when he finishes promoting this film, he hopes to take a break. But he’ll probably invent another adventure for his world famous creations.

The Amazing Facts About W&G:

GENERAL PRODUCTION
* The entire feature production crew consisted of 250 people.
* From development to finish, the film took five years to make. Principal photography took about 18 months.
* The studio held 30 filming units and two test areas, which were all filming at any given time.
* At the height of production, 100 seconds of footage was shot and approved each week across all sets. (Film runs at 24 frames per sec with 16 frames per foot of 35mm film. 1.5 ft per second equates to a final film running length of 7,200 feet for an 80-minute film, which then equates to 115,200 frames of finished footage). 
* On average, a single animator usually completes about 5 seconds of film per week.
* The largest unit was measured at 75’ x 40’, the smallest unit at 10’ x 8‘.
* 150 walkie-talkies were used on set. Up to 10,000 calls were made on walkie-talkie handsets to coordinate filming in the studio.
* The crew used 44 pounds of glue every month to assist in sticking down the sets.
* The directors’ daily walk around the studio covers about 5 miles.
* The production crew consumed at least 500 liters of water every week.

CREATING THE STORY AND CHARACTERS:
* Nick Park and Steve Box began development work on the feature in 2000.
* The Victor Quartermaine character was once known as Tristrum, and was originally written into the script as Lady Tottington’s son.
* Lady Campanula Tottington is named after Nick Park’s favorite flowers, campanulas.
* Posters fixed to walls around town advertise movie masterpieces such as Carrot on a Hot Tin Roof and Spartichoke.
* The hairdressers’ shop in the town is called Close Shave, in honor of the Oscar winning Nick Park short which marked Wallace & Gromit’s third adventure.
* When the Were-Rabbit stalks the Vicar in the church, the scene is deliberately reminiscent of a similar one set on the London Underground in John Landis’ 1981 movie, An American Werewolf in London.
* The Latin motto of the Tottington family inscribed on the manor house translates roughly as ‘Manure Liberates Us All’ (it was originally meant to be ‘Free Manure for Everyone’).

MAKING THE MODELS:
* 15 pairs of new plasticine hands were made every week for Wallace.
* There were over 500 rabbits made for the film.
* On average, each character gets a new pair of eyes every 2 months.
* There were 43 differently posed versions of Gromit. 
* There were 35 versions of Wallace in various costumes.
* There were 15 versions of Lady Tottington in four different costumes.
* There were 16 versions of Victor in various costumes.

SET DESIGNS & PROPS:
* All the wallpaper created for the sets are entirely hand-painted.
* All tools used to create props are proper tools made in miniature. 
* Tottington Hall took many months to develop and eight weeks to build. 
* 100 varieties of foliage were researched and recreated for an authentic look to the countryside, gardens and the Tottington Hall landscapes.
* Lady Tottington’s rooftop conservatory features produce not normally grown in England, such as: melons, figs, grapes, vines, peppers and lemons.
* Over 700 molds were made to create the vegetables. 
* Over 880 pounds of plaster were used to fill the molds.
* Various scale models of the Anti-Pesto van were made for the film, each for more than the price of an original Austin A35.
* The Anti-pesto Van has a working suspension with functioning lights, doors and hood.
* Nick Park owns his own Austin A35 van.

THE ANIMATION TEAM:
* A total of 30 animators worked to create the various characters’ performances .
* A reference model of each character was made from hard resin and is called a “fast-cast.” 
* Each week the crew of animators would consume as many as 1,000 baby wipes to clean both the clay models and their hands. 
* Animators used a variety of tools to model the characters, some more unusual than others, such as: cocktail sticks, water, eye tools, wire scoop tools, clay shapers, and also some personal handmade tools. However, the ultimate tools are the hands themselves.
* The longest time spent preparing a model for a shot was a whole day. This particular shot featured Victor getting dragged underground by the Gromit and the Anti-Pesto Van. 
* The hardest parts to animate on a model are the teeth, hands, eyelids and mouths. 

CAMERA & LIGHTING:
* The camera department holds 33 cameras for which there are 96 camera lenses varying in range from the widest at 7.2mm and longest at 30mm. The cameras have been modified specifically for Aardman. In addition, the cameras have a unique mechanism that ensures that every new frame of film is in exactly the same place as the last frame. Due to the nature of the filmmaking process, film can be kept in a camera for up to a month. The motors that drive the cameras are called ‘Animotors’, these are unique to Aardman and were designed in-house. 
* The ‘canning up’ process, whereby film is removed in a dark environment, involves unloading a magazine using a tent that is fondly referred to as nun’s knickers.
* To assist any troubleshooting later on the film cans are religiously marked with vital information about the camera, lens, magazine, etc. 
* When film is first loaded into a camera a ‘scratch test’ is conducted to ensure there is no grit, pressure marks or scratches. 
* As with Aardman’s first feature “Chicken Run,” the new feature will also be digitized. This new and evolving process allows a perfect composite to be created during the editing process. 
* PVR (Perception Video Recorder) Towers have been created to assist animators during the filming process. These PVR’s are essentially computers that record a video image one frame at a time using a software programme. A frame of video is always taken before it is committed to film. 

CG EFFECTS:
* Special software had to be created in order to photo-realistically recreate the texture of genuine Aardman plasticine in the computer.
* The software had to create the possibility for slight imperfections, e.g., fingerprints to appear on the fake plasticine bunnies and ripple effects of the characters moving their plasticine arms and legs.
* CG elements include not only the floating bunny rabbits, but also, growing fur, mind waves, smoke trails, fireworks, a water splash, smashed glass, flying mud, assorted flying debris and a were-rabbit shaped hole punched through dense fog.


Published September 15, 2005

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