Like putty in the palm of his hands
On a good day, director Nick Park might capture three seconds of film footage. With Job-like patience, Park and his Claymation team from Bristol, England, spent the past five years bringing inventor Wallace and his trusty dog Gromit to life in their first full-length feature, "Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." The horror spoof, about a bunny who terrorizes vegetable gardens by moonlight, opens in theaters Friday.
During an interview with the British filmmaker, his two tiny clay stars sit motionless nearby. But on the big screen, Wallace and Gromit have become larger than life. Popular worldwide from their three BBC-produced shorts - "A Grand Day Out" (1989), "The Wrong Trousers" (1993), and "A Close Shave" (1995) - they sold 5 million videos and DVDs in the United States during the 1990s.
But making the leap to the big screen was a long time coming. While searching for the inspiration for a new Wallace and Gromit movie, Park codirected 2000's Oscar-winning "Chicken Run," and created Aardman Animation, the same group that did "Were-Rabbit." "I was waiting for an idea that wanted to be made," Park explains.
Once he came up with the idea of a giant vegetable-growing competition, he got to work.
Was it difficult to take Wallace and Gromit to full-length animation?
The biggest challenge was to make an 80-minute film with a story that was sustained for the whole 80 minutes. There has to be a fundamental idea that drives me.
It's hard to stay confident in something you thought of five years ago.... When people in the theater started laughing at parts, I thought, "Oh yeah. I meant that to be funny." It's great to hear people laughing at something you thought of five years ago.
What inspired the idea?
It was exciting to draw from old horror movies, but it wasn't real horror. It was absurd. It's the world's first vegetarian horror movie.
How many people worked on the film?
We shot in Bristol on 30 sets at once. There were 30 animators filming, 30 cameras rolling - each animator [shot] three seconds every day.
What do you think about the emergence of computer animation? Is the story more important than the medium?
I'm a big admirer of the "Madagascar"s and "Incredibles" of this world. Those films lend themselves to CG [Computer Graphics] animation. For me, I was making clay animations when I was 12.... Clay is right for the humor [of Wallace and Gromit]. It's not like one is better than the other, it's just what's best for the story.
I've heard that you think it's important to see thumbmarks in the clay. Why is that?
It's part of the medium; fingerprints come with clay.... I didn't want to let it go too slick and sophisticated.
Which is your favorite Wallace and Gromit episode?
I'll always have a place in my heart for "The Wrong Trousers." It shows how to do a lot with very little. For me, that's the beauty of animation. Less is more.
Do you have a secret desire to become an inventor?
As a kid, I remember wanting to be an inventor. I don't have much scientific knowledge, but animation lets you have it there on screen. I love storytelling. Animation has been perfect for me.
What's next? Will there be a Wallace and Gromit II?
Since this one took so long, my brain cells need to recoup. But I can't help thinking of Wallace and Gromit ideas.