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Nick Park on his love for clay animation

British animator Nick Park on why he prefers the old-fashioned way to animate even in the digital age

Wallace and Gromit is arguably one of the most celebrated-exports from the British animation landscape. The 1995 animation series, that birthed a number of other animated spin-offs including the millennial-favourite Shaun the Sheep, continues to lend itself to the character designs of its master creator, Nick Park, who’s latest outing was the 2018 prehistoric football drama, Early Man. “People do tell me that my work has a certain signature, I guess its come from Wallace particularly,” says the award winning animator-writer. Ahead of the television première of Early Man, Park tells us why prefers working with clay stop motion in the age of digital animation, subtle real-life political references in his work and the future of the segment.

Old school

Park, who began his career in 1985 at the British animation studio Aardman Animations, has so far worked on close to 50 short films, animated series, feature films and music videos — the most prominent ones being the Wallace and Gromit franchise and Chicken Run. Decades down the line, the animator prefers sticking to the clay form of stop motion animation. “At heart, I’m a clay person,” he says, “I like keeping it handmade. It keeps it authentic and helps me relate better to my characters at a human level.”

Nick Park on his love for clay animation

Working with clay lends a great amount of flexibility and spontaneity to Park. “We also have to storyboard the whole film and there’s a lot of effort going into getting the story right. This is the edge animated films have over feature films,” he explains. For Park, his preference to work on clay spills over to the writing bit of film-making as well. “When I write my stories or work with writers, I keep it around what works for me in clay,” says the BAFTA winning animator who also makes use of digital technology to achieve nuanced effects of producing fire or landing on explosion on screen.

Signature motifs

Nick Park on his love for clay animation

With Early Man, critics and fans were quick to spot standard stamps of Park’s storytelling — from the humour and pointed real-time references, to the character designs of the cavemen. “I always aim at getting a unique look, one that I haven’t seen around me,” says the multiple Oscar-winner. “Most of my characters have their eyes close together and a wide mouth. Even with Early Man, most of them have the overbite that Wallace has. I wanted to make them look goofy and friendly.” In the prehistoric drama, placed roughly between the stone and bronze ages, Park explores the claim that soccer or football was in fact a British offing. Faced by the threat of the arriving Europeans, the British cavemen need to defend their modest settlements in the valley by winning a game of football. Was this telling hint at modern day British-European relations aka Brexit, intended? “That was completely incidental!” clarifies Park. “We became conscious of it while filming it and tried to play it down. It just so happens that the baddie in the film is French,” he says. According to Park, a self-confessedly non-supporter of Brexit, much like his co-writer in the film Mark Burton, the film is far from an anti-European statement. “We just played around the certain pride. I don’t know how accurate it is, that the British invented soccer; the joke being that we’ve never managed to win a match of soccer nonetheless!” laughs Park.

Future focus

Nick Park on his love for clay animation

Aardman Animations, the studio Park is associated with, recently announced their decision to go the ‘employee ownership’ way and sold a majority of its shares to employees. This was seen by many as an effective pitch to ensure the studios integrity by blocking prospective takeovers by big shot industry studios. “It’s sad how everybody is being bought out by the big companies. It’s a great way of safeguarding the uniqueness of what we do,” says Park. For him, the animation world is in a great place at the moment and has ended up being a crowded market. “I’m veering towards short films now — it’s quicker to get your ideas out, as opposed to feature films which are like putting all your eggs in one basket.” The coming year will see the release of Farmageddon: A Shaun the Sheep Movie, a sequel to the 2015 series. “I haven’t had a lot to do with the movie though,” affirms Park who is now working on the Chicken Run sequel.

Early Man will première on April 28 on Sony Pix at 1 pm.

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 2:18:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/nick-park-on-why-he-loves-clay-animation/article26952294.ece

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