Academy Award-winning animator Nick Park turned his childhood avocation into a career as one of the most recognized innovators in animation, in the process, making stars of the cheese-loving inventor Wallace and his faithful dog Gromit. Park's genius was first put on display via the Claymation work for British pop star Peter Gabriel's ground-breaking music video "Sledgehammer" (1986). Working with the U.K. studio Aardman Animations, he contributed to the immensely popular short films "Creature Comforts" (1990) and "A Grand Day Out" (1990). While the former earned Park his first Oscar statuette, it was the latter that introduced the world to his greatest creations - Wallace and Gromit. Using hand-crafted clay models and the painstaking animation process of stop-motion photography, the filmmaker went on to win two more Oscars for the short films "The Wrong Trousers" (1993) and "A Close Shave" (1995), both of which continued the adventures of Wallace and Gromit. Working on a broader palette, Park co-directed the animated feature "Chicken Run" (2000), oversaw a children's series version of "Creature Comforts" (CBS, 2003-06), and gave the Plasticine pair their feature film debut in "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" (2005), which won Park another Academy Award. More whimsical adventures were had in such shorts as "Wallace & Gromit in 'A Matter of Loaf and Death'" (2008). Though his work was created, quite literally, on a comparatively small scale, Park's extensive contributions to the world of animation could not be overstated.
Born in 1958 in Preston, Lancashire, this filmmaker began his career creating animated featurettes while in his early teens. One of his early efforts, "Archie's Concrete Nightmare," aired on the BBC in 1975. Park went on to study at the Sheffield Art School before attending the National Film and Television School. While still attending the latter, he began work on "A Grand Day Out" (1990), a stop-motion clay animation short featuring his signature characters, Wallace and Gromit. When Park joined Aardman, he simultaneously worked on completing this first Wallace and Gromit adventure as well as on other projects. The world first saw his work in Peter Gabriel's award-winning music video "Sledgehammer" (1986). Along with the Brothers Quay and Aardman co-founder Peter Lord, Park created the dazzling visuals using a combination of Claymation and traditional animation. Over the next few years, he contributed to Aardman's series "Lip Synch," which matched pre-recordings to animation, including Lord's "War Story" (1990), which illustrated the remembrances of a WWII veteran, and the Oscar-winning "Creature Comforts" (also 1990), which depicted unhappy zoo residents commenting on and complaining about their climate, diet and accommodations. Its success led to a popular advertising campaign for electricity on British television.
When "Creature Comforts" earned a 1990 Oscar nomination, Park was in the unusual position of competing with himself as "A Grand Day Out" was also nominated. That short, written and directed by Park, told a fairly simplistic tale: Wallace discovers to his horror that he is out of cheese and builds a spaceship to travel to the moon because "everybody knows it's made of cheese." Paying passing homage to George Melies' "Le voyage dans la lune/A Trip to the Moon" (1902), "A Grand Day Out" was six years in the making. Like his work on the "Lip Synch" series, it featured tiny Plasticine figures with narrow eyes, wide mouths, bulbous noses and oversized extremities, what have become the trademarks of Park's animations. Wallace's personality owed much to the exaggerated synchronization to the vocal work of actor Paul Sallis while the mute Gromit was made expressive through body language and facial expressions. The work succeeds despite its sketchy tale because of the animator's attention to detail (i.e., Gromit reading the newspaper and absent-mindedly tapping his foot, the interior design of the spacecraft).
Tapping into the resources of Aardman Animations, Park was able to successfully build on his initial creation. Working with co-writer Bob Baker, he fashioned "The Wrong Trousers" (1993), a quirky tale that invoked Ealing comedies, Hitchcock's thrillers and heist films (particularly 1954's "Rififi"). Park adopted a more cinematic approach in the lighting (including a nod to 1949's "The Third Man"), score (Julian Nott's homage to Bernard Herrmann), art direction, sound and other technical matters. Adding a mysterious lodger, an expressionless penguin, to the mix, the resultant parody of mystery-thrillers features two brilliant set pieces: the actual heist (featuring the penguin controlling Wallace's invention of robotic trousers) that calls to mind nearly every genre film; and a chase sequence atop a model train, that conjures memories of everything from "The Great Train Robbery" (1903) to "The Seven Per-Cent Solution" (1976). Produced over a two-year period, "The Wrong Trousers" earned Park his second Oscar.
Expectations ran high as to what Aardman and Park would do for an encore. Since the first shorts had aired on British TV, audiences embraced the characters and wanted more. Park agreed to create a third entry in the series. In April 1994, the head of the BBC animation unit set an air date of Christmas 1995, leaving barely 18 months to produce the film. Again working with Bob Baker, Park devised the story for "A Close Shave" (1995). For the first time, the director ceded some control and worked with a staff of over 25 camerapersons, animators and model-makers. Park was unable to personally animate key sequences (as he had in the past) and (in his own words) functioned more as a director than on any other project to date. With references to such movies as "Frankenstein" (1931), "Brief Encounter" (1945), "Alien" (1979), "Raiders of the Lost Ark" (1981) and "The Terminator" (1984), the short was a mix of romance, sci-fi and mystery. The helmer employed stylish camerawork and the overall piece was enhanced by Julian Nott's atmospheric score. Using conventions of slapstick (fleshed out with Wallace's Rube Goldberg-inspired inventions) and subtle humor, Park told a tale of sheep rustling which included a framed Gromit being incarcerated. A daring jailbreak and amazing chase sequence follow, ending with a wonderful set piece that also alluded to "Metropolis" (1926) and "Modern Times" (1936). The subplot romance between Wallace and Wendolene, a distaff doppelganger, was both touching and appropriately noirish. Again Park was cited by the Academy, earning a third Oscar.
As the popularity of the characters has evolved (there are now merchandising tie-ins like alarm clocks and the requisite clothing, as well as boxed video sets), Wallace and Gromit have become a cottage industry. Nevertheless, Park has temporarily abandoned them (as perhaps subconsciously demonstrated when he accidentally left them in the trunk of a NYC taxi cab during a press junket). He subsequently served as executive producer on "Stagefright" (1996), an 11-minute short by animator Steve Box (who contributed to both "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave") and developed a feature length Claymation film, "Chicken Run" (2000), about two chickens in love who plot an escape from a poultry farm in Yorkshire, which Park co-directed with Peter Lord.
Park had promised to eventually revisit Wallace and Gromit, and in 2005 the lovable duo made their feature film debut in "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," (co-directed with Box, and co-written with Box, Baker and Mark Burton) in which the enterprising chums have been cashing in with their pest control outfit, "Anti-Pesto," which humanely dispatches the rabbits that try to invade the town's annual Giant Vegetable Competition, when a huge, mysterious, veggie-ravaging "beast" begins attacking the town's sacred vegetable plots at night, and the competition hostess Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) commissions Wallace and Gromit to catch the marauder and save the day, pitted against Lady Tottington's snobby and dangerous suitor (Ralph Fiennes). With everything from allusions to classic Hollywood horror films, unexpected plot twists, manic chases, the film widened the singular world of Wallace and Gromit while maintaining the charm and fun of the shorts. Five years in the making for only 85 minutes of film, the result was worth every second of the painstaking effort behind it, especially when it took home the Oscar for Best Animated Feature at the 78th Annual Academy Awards.
Despite Park's success with "Curse of the Were-Rabbit," troubled waters lay ahead for Aardman Animation and their most notable creator. In the fall of 2005, a fire broke out in Aardman's U.K. storage warehouse where more than 30 years' worth of drawings, sets and awards were kept by the studio. Most of the items were lost in the tragedy, including original storyboards hand-drawn by Park for "Wallace & Gromit." A year later, Aardman and DreamWorks Animation announced they were parting ways. The split was outwardly characterized as amicable, although insiders reported the cause rested with Aardman's chaffing under the amount of creative control exerted by the U.S. company during the production of "Were-Rabbit." After three seasons on the air, the stateside run of Park's "Creature Comforts" (CBS, 2003-06) came to a close in 2006.
Much to the joy of animation fans everywhere, Park returned to the director's chair for the Academy Award-nominated short "Wallace & Gromit in 'A Matter of Loaf and Death'" (2008), in which an oblivious Wallace becomes the target of a baker-hating serial killer intent on making him her latest victim. Soon thereafter, the pair ventured out into new territory with their own video game series based on Park's most famous creation - "Wallace and Gromit's Grand Adventures" (Telltale Games, 2009). Enjoying the creative freedom granted him in his home country, Park oversaw production of a slew of series for British television, among them "Shaun the Sheep" (CBBC, 2007-2010), "Wallace and Gromit's World of Invention" (BBC One, 2010) and "Timmy Time" (CBBC, 2009-2011). As an animator, Park received the ultimate American pop-culture honor when he was asked to voice himself in an episode of "The Simpsons" (Fox, 1989- ) in 2011.
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Directed first animated film at age 13
Professional debut, the animated short, "Archie's Concrete Nightmare"
Joined Aardman Animation in Bristol, England
Directed the Peter Gabriel video, "Sledgehammer"
Produced a series of short films for Channel Four TV, "Lip Synch"; included his short, "Creature Comforts"
Completed and released first Wallace and Gromit short, "A Grand Day Out"
Aired second Wallace and Gromit short, "The Wrong Trousers" on BBC2
Released the third Wallace and Gromit short, "A Close Shave"
Executive produced, Steve Box's 11-minute short "Stagefright" (Channel 4)
Co-directed (with Peter Lord) the animated feature, "Chicken Run"
Directed the short, "Wallace's Workshop" for the Web; also released on Video for those without Web access
Co-directed (with Steve Box) the feature, "Wallace & Gromit in the The Curse of the Were-Rabbit"
Created the British animated children's series, "Shaun the Sheep"
Directed fourth animated short, "Wallace & Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death"