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Tuesday, 15 October, 2002, 12:04 GMT 13:04 UK
A Cracking time with Aardman
Wallace and Gromit
Wallace(s) and Gromit relax after a hard day's filming

Cheese-loving Lancastrian Wallace and his long-suffering mongrel Gromit endeared themselves to the nation in 1989 with the Bafta-winning A Grand Day Out.

The new short films started life as a magazine shoot
The Wrong Trousers in 1993 and A Close Shave in 1995 both won Oscars and cemented Wallace and Gromit's status as plasticine heroes.

But the pair have been on an extended holiday for six years as Aardman Animations concentrated on other projects.

This included teaming up with Steven Spielberg's Dreamworks studio to make feature film Chicken Run, with the voices of Mel Gibson and Julia Sawalha, in 2000.

However, you can't keep a good dog - or his master - down.

Wallace designs
The making of a Wallace goes through several stages
They are back in the spotlight with 10 new short films before embarking on the next project with Dreamworks, the first Wallace and Gromit feature film.

Nick Park, the man who created Wallace and Gromit and a key face at Aardman, insisted that the new films capture the exact spirit of his creations.

"There are very few people who have worked with Wallace and Gromit," says key animator Richard "Beeky" Beek.

"All the current key animators are from Chicken Run. It's a very difficult way to work.

You need hands - and plenty of em
"Chicken Run had a very clean look - Nick's idea with Wallace and Gromit was to get it back to a rougher look - moulded and sculpted, a human environment. Its a 1950s, shambling sort of look."

The Cracking Contraptions series of shorts was conceived as a way to train the animators in the Way of the Wallace for the upcoming feature film.

The contraptions themselves are based on a set of machines "invented" by Wallace built for a magazine shoot.

Wallace has a different mouth for each expression
The Soccamatic, the Bullyproof Vest, the Telly-Scope, the Autochef, the Card-o-Matic, Shopper 13 and others all made the step from page to film over a few short months in 2002.

The storyboard for each film is built up over months, with animators, modelmakers, storyboard artists and the producers contributing ideas and all overseen by Park.

Launch player : How the film is made

See Wallace and Gromit develop.

This footage uses Apple Quicktime and might take up to a minute to load. For help using Quicktime, visit Apple's Quicktime site

When the storyboards are in place, the modelmakers start work. Wallace is a complicated figure to build.

"It takes three months to make a Wallace from scratch - but if the armature (metal "skeleton") is ready already then it takes three days to a week," says modelmaker Jonny Parsons.

"There is wear and tear on the plasticine hands - we make loads of hands."

Gromit is made from plasticine over a metal frame
The secret of how Wallace and Gromit became Oscar-winning actors is also revealed - there is a big production line of mouths and eyes, all shaped to convey everything from surprise to annoyance just by sticking a new one on.

The set-builders and dressers make the miniature sets and props while the models are being put together.

"Everything's done by hand," says Beeky by a set containing Wallace and Gromit shackled to chairs in front of a big roast dinner.

"The carpets in Wallace's living room were handpainted from pictures of the original ones. Some things are never even seen - but the details have to be there."

Beeky and co work to a complicated storyboard
The animators work from a large storyboard littered with multi-coloured notes, which must be adhered to exactly.

Animator Merlin Crossingham, responsible for Mel Gibson's chicken Rocky in Chicken Run, has a salutary patience behind the camera. "Two seconds a day is a good day's work."

But there is still plenty of fun to be had as an Aardman animator, from shooting sequences to special effects.

"We've just done a Kung Fu sequence for Bullyproof Vest. We didn't rehearse, but just kept shooting," says Beeky.

Animation is achieved in a number of ways
"Last week we filmed an explosion. We used a scaffolding tube filled with dust from a hoover and put air compressor up one end and stood well back."

Chris Sadler and Loyd Price are the two directors on Cracking Contraptions and know the films inside out.

"The humour in Wallace and Gromit is on many levels. Even the paintings on the wall have a significance - some things will take about 10 or 15 viewings to see them," says Sadler.

"A little green van in Wrong Trousers appears in all the episodes now - Nick's really fond of these vans so we need to write them in.

"And the machines have to have their own personality - its almost like casting."

Yet another invention goes wrong for Wallace
Price, one of the few Aardman animators to have worked on Wallace and Gromit before, agrees. "We've had discussions over whether a robot has its own intelligence."

The last word belongs to Sadler - or is it Park?

"The sense of humour on this shoot has been fantastic. You are always aware of shooting Wallace and Gromit with Nick - you are always thinking about what Nick would say."

Wallace and Gromit's Cracking Contraptions

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