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Aardman Animations

Production Company

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Over the last twenty years Nick Park and Aardman Animations have become synonymous with 3-D stop-motion animation in the UK, successfully straddling advertising, music videos, TV series, Internet animations, Academy Award winning shorts and big budget feature films.

Nicholas Wulstan Park was born in Preston, Lancashire on 6 December 1958 and started making amateur films in his teens, going on to gain a degree in Communications Arts at Sheffield City Polytechnic before being accepted at the National Film and Television School (NFTS). While studying at the School, Park asked Peter Lord and Dave Sproxton of Aardman to speak there and after graduating was invited to join the studio.

Aardman was set-up in Bristol by Sproxton and Lord in 1972, while they were both students. Its name came from the eponymous Peter Lord creation, the nerdish superhero of a 2-D cel animation that was the first of their work to be bought by the BBC for its children's programme Vision On. Over the next few years they continued to work part-time for the series, only going full-time in 1976 when they were asked to come up with a regular character for Tony Hart's follow-up series, Take Hart. The result was 'Morph', a happy-go-lucky Plasticine creation that proved to be hugely popular, effectively putting Aardman Animations on the map. In 1981 this led to the character starring in The Adventures of Morph, a series of twenty-six five minute adventures which when shown weekdays at 5.35 in the afternoon proved to be an unprecedented scheduling success for the BBC.

Having already made a couple of unsuccessful attempts at animation aimed at an older audience in the 1970s, Aardman found a new outlet with the arrival of Channel Four in 1982. This led to Conversation Pieces (1983) and Lip Sync (1989), series which featured animated characters mouthing words recorded during interviews with members of the public. The standout edition turned out to be Nick Park's Creature Comforts, with its memorable range of animals musing about their captivity in a zoo, most notably a Brazilian student's voice used for a jaguar complaining about his accommodation. The short went on to win many awards, including Aardman's first Oscar, and inspired the celebrated advertising campaign for Heat Electric (often misremembered as being for British Gas). Aardman has subsequently worked on a number of advertisements, the most distinctive of which are probably the Lurpak spots featuring a character made of butter named Douglas.

After arriving at Aardman in the mid-'80s, Park first worked on David Hopkins' anti-war short Babylon (1986) and also contributed the dancing chicken sequence to the groundbreaking video that Aardman made to accompany Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer (d. Stephen Johnson, 1986). Their later music videos include Nina Simone's My Baby Just Cares for Me (d. Peter Lord, 1987) and the Spice Girls' Viva Forever (d. Steve Box, 1996). When Park moved to Bristol he made a deal with the NFTS that they would continue to finance his still unfinished student film, while Aardman would provide the facilities. Thus he was able to complete A Grand Day Out (1991), the first Wallace and Gromit adventure and Park's first film to be shot on 35mm. In it Wallace, the enthusiastic Lancastrian inventor (based on Park's father), and Gromit, his faithful and forbearing canine sidekick, travel to the moon to replenish their stock of cheese. Later episodes toned down the whimsy and fantasy elements, but the love of improbable Heath-Robinson type machines, gentle wit, unforced jollity and charm which would later come to be seen as Park trademarks, are already in evidence here. The film was a great success when shown on the BBC and the corporation went on to commission two further adventures, The Wrong Trousers (1993) and A Close Shave (1995), both going on to win Oscars. These increasingly elaborate productions have become glossier and more assured with each new edition, while Park's love of film lore is very much in evidence. The train climax in The Wrong Trousers may very well be Park's finest single sequence to date, although the extended Thunderbirds homage which opens A Close Shave, as well as its bungee-jumping window cleaning gags and aeroplane climax come very close.

Following their Oscar-winning successes, Aardman decided to move into features, making a multi-picture deal with Hollywood studio DreamWorks. Chicken Run (UK/US, co-dir. Peter Lord, 2000) is set in Park's usual 1950s-style Britain, but takes as its template John Sturges' The Great Escape (1963), substituting a battery farm for the German POW camp. Voices for the romantic leads were capably provided by Julie Sawalha and Mel Gibson, though they are upstaged by a pair of cheerful rodents voiced by Timothy Spall and Phil Daniels. The finished film was a resounding critical and commercial success and Aardman soon announced that its next DreamWorks project would be Tortoise vs. Hare, a version of the celebrated fable to be directed by Aardman mainstay Richard Goleszowski. In the summer of 2001, after eighteen months in pre-production, the decision was made to postpone it, citing script problems and an over-accelerated pre-production schedule. Instead, Park and Aardman decided to bring their most famous characters to the big screen in Wallace and Gromit and the Curse of the Were-Rabbit, a horror pastiche that Park is co-directing with Steve Box. Park was awarded a CBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List in 1997.

Lyons, Mike, 'Aardman Animations', Cinefantastique, Feb. 1999, pp. 50-55
Macdonald, Kevin, 'A Lot Can Happen in a Second', Projections 5 (London: Faber and Faber, 1996), pp. 60-93
Oliver, James (compiler), Insideaard (Suffolk: ScreenPress Books, 2000)
Quigley, Marian, 'Globalisation versus globalization: the work of Nick Park and Peter Lord', Animation Journal v. 10, 2002, pp. 85-94
Sibley, Brian, Cracking Animation: The Aardman Book of 3-D Animation (London, Thames and Hudson, 1998)

Sergio Angelini, Reference Guide to British and Irish Film Directors

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Creature Comforts (1989)Creature Comforts (1989)

Much-loved Nick Park animation in which zoo animals talk about their lives

Thumbnail image of Next (1989)Next (1989)

Shakespeare performs all his plays in a single audition piece

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