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Wallace & Gromit - Nick Park interview



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q. It’s been a long journey to a Wallace and Gromit feature – how come it’s taken this long to get these characters to the screen?
A:
Well, with the success of three half hours now, it all seemed a natural step to go to a feature film. Part of the reason we did Chicken Run first was because I was naturally cautious – what works as a short film format often works because it’s short. There were certain things that worked because it was a short. We were really waiting for the right idea to come along, that had the size and scope for character development as well. Which turned out to be vegetables. Naturally.

Q. The models you’ve brought with you – are these from the film itself?
A
: Yes. They’ve got metal skeletons inside with ball and socket armatures so they can be positioned and hold that position while each picture is taken. And they’re covered mainly in old, traditional Plasticine. It smells the same.
It’s just a technicality, really, but Wallace’s tanktop – they were originally Plasticine but then we took a mould. For the ease of the animators. And his trousers are now made of latex rubber, and the tanktop is made of resin. It gives the animators somewhere to get hold of that doesn’t smudge the detail.

Q. The level of detail is amazing. I noticed things like the tax disc on Wallace’s car – presumably the writing is perfectly legible when you guys were animating. I wondered why that level of detail was so important?
A:
I think from the beginning I think it just comes from the medium – the fact that you’re working with models. Steve and I both started out separately as teenagers making our own movies just with 16 or 8 millimetre cameras. It’s that kind of level of making the models and actually having them there physically. You have to put in all these jokes wherever you can. And now it’s gone to a wider format, bigger screens. And the model makers sometimes come up with jokes. They all have to go through an approval process.

Q. I read somewhere that Gromit was going to be a cat but was too difficult to recreate. And I wondered what else was left out of the film that was just too difficult to put in?
A:
There were many ideas that never made it to the final film. I remember when we first pitched the idea to Jeffrey Katzenberg at Dreamworks. It was probably about four hours long that pitch. I remember Jeffrey’s eyelids were drooping. He did have jetlag at the time. I remember we had Victor as Lady Tottington’s son for quite along time, didn’t we?
Steve Box: For the first couple of years, probably. We have no shortage of ideas which sometimes makes it difficult to get down and make things.
Nick: it’s hard to think of specifics.

Q. There’s nothing in particular it hurt to leave out?
Steve:
We had to leave lots of jokes out. We once had Wallace going to buy his new tanktop at Tanktop Man.
Nick: We had lots of different solutions as to what to do with all the rabbits. We had them driving to a drystone wall at night and tipping all the rabbits over it and as they were driving away you see that they’re on the Lancashire/Yorkshire border.
Steve: We had to lose more jokes than we kept in.

Q. These things are lost at the script editing stage, obviously?
Nick:
Yeah. The script editing stage is throughout the making of the movie, really. We spent a couple of years writing and, at the same time, designing characters and sets. While you’re filming you’re constantly revising every scene – re-storyboarding, rewriting, rewriting dialogue, going back to the actors.
We have to have the dialogue from the actors before we shoot the animation. Quite often we’d be re-recording dialogue the day before we shot the animation. It was just mad.

Q. Was there ever any pressure from Dreamworks to have an American in the cast, especially after Mel Gibson in Chicken Run?
A:
Jeffrey at Dreamworks knew that it was a very home grown thing, that we were playing on our home turf with Wallace and Gromit. It was an appropriate character, Rocky [in Chicken Run]. Because he came from the outside.
I think they were very happy for us to choose two of our new characters to be known in America. We didn’t go for really young, current actors – we went for ones we really liked ourselves and they were more than happy with Ralph and Helena.

Q. Did you find it as funny at the end as you did five years ago?
A:
Personally, I’m still getting used to seeing it. Obviously we’ve both seen it a million times but we’re still watching it and thinking about the dub or maybe a certain edit. I think you have to start believing that people are really enjoying it, that they’re not mucking about or kidding you. I can enjoy the sequences that Nick’s done because I can relax.
Nick: And vice versa. I can tell that it’s nutty and whimsical, and that’s fine. Even though we want you to care about the characters and be moved, all the time we’re undermining that by being ridiculous and that’s fine.

Q. You’ve been working on Wallace and Gromit for 20 years now – I wondered to what extent they’d taken over your life. Do you have the models at home and do you wake up to the alarm clock?
A:
Yes, and I have a whole mechanism that slides me down to my car and takes me to work.
No, it hasn’t got that involved. I have a lot of the merchandise around the house. It has been called the Wallace Collection. I’m trying not to collect it any more. It was a thrill for the first five years to have your own stuff on the shelves in the shops. But now the novelty’s worn off quite a bit.
I don’t wear tanktops. It’s taken over in the sense that they were characters that were created as a silly idea at college and now seeing it at the shops. Even in the cheap basket at Sainsbury’s along with the Best of Sooty.
I can’t help but think of new ideas for Wallace and Gromit. Steve and I are always thinking of things. They’re like our own children. You know, they have their own life now. Whatever idea you have, you can put Wallace and Gromt in that idea and they’ll bring their own absurdity and their own logic to it.
It’s like something I do in my spare time now, think of Wallace and Gromit ideas.

Q. Will we see them in another film sometime in the future?
A:
I don’t see why not.

Q. Why Ralph Fiennes when he’s not known for comedic performances?
A:
We searched forever for the voices. When we’re writing and sketching and making the prototype puppets, we’re always imagining the kind of voices. And then we start thinking about who might be appropriate. Ralph was on the list quite early, actually because of he played Steed in The Avengers.

Q. That wasn’t meant to be a comedy...
A:
Well, we tried the puppet with a line from that film and it just fitted brilliantly. He’s got such an unusual quality to his voice. He’s fantastically hilarious. We forced him to do performances that he seemed to enjoy so much. And with Helena as well.
I remember I had to ask Ralph to do an evil laugh – I think it actually got cut in the end – but he was so funny. I remember saying to him, “I bet you didn’t have to do that in Schindler’s List.” They were so complying, the whole cast.
Steve: It was great getting in classical British A-list actors and getting them to ham it up. And they did, they just played along and had fun.

Q. Do you find it easy to push actors, to give them direction like that?
A:
They were like putty in our hands.

[BIG GROAN]

Nick: Sorry.
Steve: I remember you got Ralph to shout “potty poo” when Victor was in a rage. It got lost in the mix.

Q. Did you choose Hans Zimmer for the music?
A:
Julian Knox wrote the music – I was at college with him. Hans Zimmer came over to offer and overview.

Q. Did you have to change the word ‘marrow’ to ‘melon’ in America?
A:
that’s right. To be fair on Dreamworks. One paper in America had said that they’d put in the slightly cheeky jokes and it was actually us. They were saying to take them out, that it might not go down too well in Middle America. The one change we made in the end was because they didn’t understand what a marrow was. We’d already animated the word ‘marrow’ and ‘squash’ wouldn’t fit so we changed it to ‘melon’. We got Helena Bonham Carter in for a day just to say the word ‘melon’, just for the American version.

Q. Was Gerry Anderson an influence?
A:
Yes, I grew up with Gerry Anderson. I loved Thunderbirds.

Q. Would you consider doing a movie with Gromit on his own?
A:
No.
Steve: How could you say such a thing?
Nick: it’s always been a problem if there’s any romance involved. You can’t really split Wallace and Gromit up. It’s always been a dilemma – how do we end the story? In a way they’re like an elderly married couple – can’t live with each other, can’t live without each other. They always look out for each other. Gromit can’t really go off on his own.

Q. Do you find it hard to delegate – do you get nervous when other people are looking after your children, so to speak?
A:
Yeah, I do really. It’s got its own personal kind of look. It’s something that both Steve and I have worked on since The Wrong Trousers. I kind of feel that, although Steve and I aren’t doing animation any more, that we’re still very hands on. While we’re writing the story we’re modelling all the different characters because it helps inform the writing. Every single colour of every single sock is approved.

Q. Is there a style guide about the angle of Gromit’s ears and things?
A:
Yeah. We spend a lot of time down there on the set, lining up every single shot, going though every bit of action, even though we may not do the animation, the pay off is that you get to control a much bigger picture. We’re just control freaks.

Related stories: Read our review

Read our special feature

Read the full Steve Box interview

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