When it comes to stop-motion animation, there are few names more immediately synonymous than Nick Park. From the start of the Wallace & Gromit series with A Grand Day Out in 1989 (after years of hard work), he marked himself out as a master of claymation, turning plasticine into real, affecting characters who told quintessentially British stories. His latest film, Early Man, embodies that to a tee, seeing a tribe of Stone Age cavemen threated by the Bronze Age and finding themselves in a football match (soccer) for their survival.
Screen Rant recently sat down with Park to discuss his latest animation, specifically his decision to focus on a notoriously difficult to film sport, as well as the future of the man and owner duo who started it all.
Screen Rant: What really surprised me about this film is that, yes, it's a prehistoric story but it's so much about football. How did you reach the point where you wanted to do this prehistoric comedy but all about football.
Nick Park: Yeah, no, that was the key to it really because it's like, at Aardman we're always trying to find what makes the idea of it a bit different and a bit quirky and a bit off the wall, you know? I see you're wearing the Jurassic Park t-shirt...
SR: Billy And The Cloneasaurus actually...
NP: Oh right.
SR: The Simpsons.
NP: Oh yeah, right. Well, I've always loved dinosaurs, One Million Years B.C. was one of my favorite films. I think for this I remember I was drawing cavemen and thinking what would make it different to just a caveman adventure - prehistoric times and with creatures and everything - and it was this element: what if they invented football and if it was about an underdog sports movie in prehistoric times? I guess that was what gave it this special element.
SR: And football movies are hard because it's not a sport that really lends itself being filmed. But with animation you've got such a dynamic element, how did you go about shooting the main football match scenes, because those were fascinating.
NP: Yeah, thanks. It was a worry to me, especially doing football in stop frame thinking this could look awful. But I was inspired really by... and there's a lot of movies, sports movies where they've got actors to play football and it doesn't look convincing or the other way round and they get real footballers and they can't act. And I wanted to really pull off... Gladiator was very inspiring. I wanted to do a football match aiming for that sort of excitement and euphoria. And so that was the challenge, and how to execute that in a cinematic way, because most football is from the TV cameras above, watching on end [to other]. I guess that's to keep the geography really, so you know where you are; which goal and which end, really. So we had to do it in a more cinematic way, also make the animation work. It helped obviously to have digital animation involved as well, because just on the football pitch, if the characters are this big, the football was like 30 feet long and you couldn't even reach characters six feet into the pitch. So we employed digital animation mostly for the background characters when they're out of focus or big wide shots of the stadium.
SR: There's a line near the end of the film that reminded me of Chicken Run: "is it as good as you thought it was?" "No, better." Which is a direct line from that movie. Was that conscious decision to bring that back?
NP: It was kind of not, really, but I was aware of it when did it. Oh, it does sound a bit like it - it actually is.
SR: I just wondered, because that jumped out to me.
NP: It was fitting for the moment, and then [I] thought, "It is actually the same line. Does it matter? Oh, let's go with it." It's more of that.
SR: It doesn't matter really. It works really well.
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SR: I have to ask in terms of what's next for you. Because the big question would be is there going to be any more Wallace and Gromit. We obviously lost Peter Sallis last year which was very sad.
SR: Do you see any future to those characters, or does it have to wrap up?
NP: I think Peter would want me to carry on. He was such a great sport and had such a unique [voice]. It would obviously be hard to fill his shoes. He was such a fine... to have him as Wallace for so long, and he is Wallace for to everybody... But I can't help but think of more Wallace and Gromit ideas. I love working with those characters. I'd to think that they could carry on.
- Early Man (2018) release date: Feb 16, 2018