'Wallace & Gromit,' Nick Park's Feat of Clay Animator Nick Park is the creative genius behind the new film Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. It's the feature-film debut for characters beloved in previous short features... a brainy inventor and his flop-eared best friend.

'Wallace & Gromit,' Nick Park's Feat of Clay

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Nick Park plays with clay. He creates little characters and then uses them as actors in animated films. His most famous creations are Wallace, a middle-aged absent-minded inventor, and his trusty but silent canine companion, Gromit.

(Soundbite of unidentified movie)

Mr. PETER SALLIS: (As Wallace) Gromit, that's it. Cheese. We'll go somewhere where there's cheese.

(Soundbite of music)

HANSEN: Nick Park made three short films with Wallace and Gromit: "The Wrong Trousers," which won the 1993 Oscar for best animated short; "A Grand Day Out;" and the Academy award-winning "A Close Shave." The plasticine pair are making their feature film debut in "Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit."

(Soundbite of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit")

Mr. SALLIS: (As Wallace) Ah. Lo, Gromit, that's the biggest trap of all, the tender trap they call it, and that's what we'll use to catch this thing.

(Soundbite of sawing)

Mr. SALLIS: (As Wallace) Yes, lad, a lovely lady rabbit. Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: Director Nick Park is in our studio.

Welcome. It's such a pleasure to meet you.

Mr. NICK PARK (Co-director, "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit"): Oh, nice to be here. Thank you.

HANSEN: What did you have to change about your figures to accommodate now the big screen?

Mr. PARK: It's the same technique as ever. In fact, we were really keen to keep the kind of--the original, like, charm.

(Soundbite of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit")

Mr. SALLIS: (As Wallace) Ho-ho! Ho. Very cheeky.

Mr. PARK: Being a feature, we didn't get too slick and too big for our boots, and so it still have that kind of funny, handmade feel to it.

(Soundbite of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit"; music)

Mr. SALLIS: (As Wallace) Ha-ha! That's more like it, lad. How could we possible fail now?

HANSEN: In writing the story, many people will be introduced to Wallace and Gromit in this movie, although they have legions of fans from the short films. What was the balance for you between things that you had to put in that are Wallace and Gromit...

(Soundbite of unidentified movie)

Mr. SALLIS: (As Wallace) No cheese, Gromit.

HANSEN: ...and things to put in that would surprise people who think they know the characters so well?

Mr. PARK: In all the movies, I've tried to move things on and be different, and yet firmly rooted, you know. So you do get a lot--there's a lot there that for people who love what it's always been, but also to introduce to a new audience.

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. PARK: You know, there's the contraptions of Wallace. There's the kind of get-you-up machine and, you know, the whole sequence of, you know, sliding down the bed, you know. So it's like another day in Wallace and Gromit's life, but at the same time a new, exciting adventure. So, you know, it starts in the cozy living room and breakfast room, but like the other films can go off tangentially in any direction. And this one kind of really does, you know.

HANSEN: Are Wallace and Gromit pretty much, in many respects, actually, in the great tradition of the buddy movie? I mean, it's part "Odd Couple," part Laurel and Hardy. And since Gromit doesn't speak, he's the perfect straight man.

Mr. PARK: Yeah, yeah, I guess so. I mean, he's the sympathetic character, you know, that we all--we see through the eyes of Gromit the whole time in the movie. It's--I mean, it's Gromit's movie, really.


Mr. PARK: Steve and I, who--Steve Box, who co-directed the movie with me, you know, we sometimes thought of them as Laurel and Hardy.

HANSEN: Really?

Mr. PARK: Yeah. Yeah. And sometimes in concert and comic situations. And just how Gromit reacts in the way Oliver Hardy sometimes--after a comic, you know, situation has gone badly wrong and he's had a brick fall on his head or--he'll then kind of look at the camera and, you know, just...

HANSEN: With big eyes.

Mr. PARK: Yeah. You know, so...

HANSEN: Is that how Gromit communicates? It's his eyes, isn't it?

Mr. PARK: It's his eyes, yeah. Yeah. And it was funny for us. You know, most animated films today have fast-talking, often really clever and funny dialogue for the main characters, and our main character's a silent, plasticine dog. That was quite a challenge, really, and he's got to carry the whole movie, which is why he's good as plasticine, I think, because, you know, you can get such--a lot of feeling out of the face. And...

HANSEN: Yeah. The movement of his brow, for example, you know, you can do quizzical, you can do surprised, you can do, you know, `Uh-oh' and that kind of thing.

Mr. PARK: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. And we even had it--Gromit does actually have lines in the script, but--that were written in the script of, like, `Oh, my goodness,' and, you know, `Am I supposed to go along with this?' you know, and things like--reactions to Wallace's madcap ideas. And it was kind of the challenge of the animator to capture that line, but without words.

(Soundbite of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit")

Mr. PETER SALLIS: (As Wallace) Why didn't we think of it before, lad?

(Soundbite of door closing)

Mr. SALLIS: (As Wallace) The solution to all our storage problems. Simply by connecting the bund rack(ph)...

(Soundbite of booming noise)

Mr. SALLIS: (As Wallace): ...to the Mind-Manipulation-O-Matic, we can brainwash the bunnies. Ha, ha. Rabbit rehabilitation.

HANSEN: The story itself sort of follows the same kind of formula of the previous three, where there is a threat of some kind and Wallace and Gromit are called upon to save the village.

(Soundbite of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit"; telephone ringing)

Mr. SALLIS: (As Wallace) Anti-Pesto humane pest control. How we might be of assistance?

Ms. HELENA BONHAM CARTER: (As Lady Tottington) Yeah, I have the most terrible rabbit problem.

Mr. SALLIS: (As Wallace) Just stay right where you are, Your Ladyship.

HANSEN: In this case, it's a huge rabbit that's eating all the vegetables and, of course, the town is about to have their big vegetable contest. You also invent--or give, actually, Wallace another love interest.

Mr. PARK: Yeah. Yes.

HANSEN: He had one in a previous one, but this is a whole new love interest...

Mr. PARK: Yes. Yes. Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: ...with lips.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PARK: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

HANSEN: Explain the lips.

Mr. PARK: The lips. Yes. Yes, they're new to the world of Wallace and Gromit, a new edition. And it's really because with Lady Tottington and Victor, as well, her evil suitor, I thought we'd give them part lips. And in the case of Victor, or some of the other references for characters, we thought he's kind of a Charles Laughton from "Mutiny on the Bounty," you know, that sort of a very snobbish sort of a pompous look...

HANSEN: Mm-hmm.

Mr. PARK: ...and with those big fat lips.

(Soundbite of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit")

Mr. RALPH FIENNES: (As Lord Victor Quartermaine) Heard you had a spot of rabbit bother. And, Tootles, straight out, I would have sought the little blighters out.

Ms. CARTER: (As Lady Tottington) Gosh, that's awfully sweet of you, but you really needn't bother.

Mr. FIENNES: (As Lord Quartermaine) It's no bother, little boo-boo. Why it's the least a chap can do for his filly.

HANSEN: Ralph Fiennes is the voice of him.

Mr. PARK: That's right, yes.

HANSEN: And Helena Bonham Carter is Lady Tottington...

Mr. PARK: Mm-hmm.

HANSEN: ...and she has lips. How did the lips work? I mean, did you actually, you know, somehow get a picture of the actors' lips moving and then transfer that to, like, Play-Doh?

Mr. PARK: No. No--I mean, they're not really based on reality.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. PARK: Like Wallace's mouth has got nothing to do with reality. But you know, when Wallace--Wallace had no cheeks at all until he first said the word `cheese,' and suddenly his mouth expanded.

What happened when choosing the voices, we'd do a test with Ralph Fiennes or Helena and then get one of the animators to animate Lady Tottington's head just with the words coming out.

(Soundbite of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit")

Ms. CARTER: (As Lady Tottington) Hadn't we agreed? No more thoughtless killing.

Mr. FIENNES: (As Lord Quartermaine) Quite right, my dear. So I thought this one through very carefully. It's off to bunny heaven for you, big ears!

(Soundbite of screaming)

Ms. CARTER: (As Lady Tottington) Victor, no!

(Soundbite of music; smashing noise)

Mr. FIENNES: (As Lord Quartermaine) What the...

Mr. PARK: If the voice seemed to really come from the character, then, you know, that was a hit, you know. That was it.

HANSEN: What's riding on this film for you? I mean, this is a big deal for you, a big feature film, characters you've lived with and loved for so long.

Mr. PARK: Well, I think, you know, having done the three shorts and "Chicken Run" and--I mean, in a way, this has been my biggest ambition so far, to, you know, get Wallace and Gromit on the screen. It's a big moment because they're the characters I've had the longest since being at college. So it's having thought of them as a college student as some stupid idea and now to see them up there, you know.

(Soundbite of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit")

Mr. SALLIS: (As Wallace) I feel we're on the cusp of a real breakthrough, lad.

Mr. PARK: And it's been no kind of overnight success; it's been a long time coming. And they are--they've lived with them, they're my children, you know. So to see them up there, is like--you know, I feel so proud of them like they're my kids are doing really well.

And, you know, 'cause it's a feature film, you kind of--but on the shorts, you could have an idea and if it didn't work, you could move on. And, you know, you're putting a lot of eggs in one basket with a feature, and so I've been incredibly nervous. And it's such a relief to see it now with an audience, and they laugh and then you kind of, `Phew!' or, `Oh, yeah. Of course, I intended that to be funny.'

HANSEN: Nick Park is the director of the new animated feature film "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit."

Thanks a lot for coming in.

Mr. PARK: Oh, my pleasure. I really enjoyed it. Thanks.

HANSEN: Find out more about how stop-motion movies are made at our Web site, npr.org.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Liane Hansen.

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