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Monday, 14 October, 2002, 21:59 GMT 22:59 UK
Nick Park: Plasticine man
For many of us plasticine is a toy from our childhood which helped shape our growing imaginations.
Most of us got no further than creating a featureless blob with disproportionate limbs and probably ended up mashing the creature in frustration.
But for animator Nick Park plasticine is a sort of remouldable DNA which he uses to bring creations to life, replete with nuances of expression, mannerism and personality.
"It's the beauty of plasticine animation that you can make them very human by manipulating them frame by frame," says Nick Park.
"Plasticine gives you a very organic, subtle human feel which is really important for the audience to empathise with."
And the audience certainly has empathised with the ever-optimistic inventor and his faithful dog.
Park's comic creations have earned the animator two of his three Oscar statuettes and a feature film starring the pair is currently in production, scheduled for release in 2004.
"Wallace and Gromit are part of the family - they are like friends, well, plasticine friends.
"I have a great affinity with the characters so it is really good to be back with old friends again."
While the plot of the new film remains a secret - "I'm not sure how much I can say. Well, I don't think I can give the plot away" - Park promises the dynamic duo will get up to their usual adventures.
The one thing he can reveal is that Wallace will have a new love interest - and one suspects the course of true love will not run smoothly.
The leap from sketchbook doodle to movie has taken 20 years so far and brought the quiet-spoken Lancashire animator great success and plaudits.
Wallace and Gromit were originally ideas for a student film in 1982 but it took 10 years before the figures were first moulded from plasticine.
But the success has not changed Park - he still speaks about Wallace and Gromit with an almost timid sense of awe and hesitancy.
The three Oscars to his name - his third was for the Creature Comforts short film - are kept in the canteen at Aardman.
The feature film is the second release under a deal with America studio Dreamworks, following Chicken Run.
Park says his first experience at making a feature film was beset by "incredible logistical nightmares" but the team at Aardman Animation in Bristol has learned many lessons since then.
He is adamant that the film, despite the US backing, will remain British to its core.
"It will have a very British feel - there will be lots of action and adventure but at heart it will star good old Wallace and Gromit and be very British in its feel, subtlety and underplaying gags."
He admits to feeling very protective about his greatest creations.
"I don't want this film to be made in any way other than the way we have always done it.
"It's been a bit of a daunting prospect because Wallace and Gromit have always worked well as half-hour shorts and some people were doubtful it would work as a film."
It can take a whole day to produce just two seconds of finished footage, despite the fact there are about 30 cameras rolling every day, with 30 animators working on 30 different sets.
"A lot can happen in two seconds. You learn to appreciate a second of time much more. You can say seven words in a second."
But fans with less patience who cannot wait for the film can whet their appetites with a series of 10 short films, Cracking Contraptions.
"The short films were partly to train people up for doing the feature film and we wanted to get Wallace and Gromit out there again because we missed them really."
For the first time Park has relinquished control of his plasticine friends and let others breathe life into the pair.
"I was nervous at first because no-one has animated them for a long time. I am really nervous about giving away characters.
"But it's worked a treat. I've been very impressed."
The 10 short films are based around 10 different inventions cooked up by Wallace and the often surreal events they cause.
With such an impressive Oscar track record, one could be forgiven for thinking Park has his eye once more on the Academy.
"Certainly it has turned up the heat a bit to now give out an Oscar to a full-length animated feature - I think everyone was more relaxed before.
"I tend to think it's best to not have your eyes on those prizes."
He describes his experiences at the Oscars as "absolutely nerve-wracking".
"You watch it on TV for years and think it is a quite cheesy thing, it's so glitzy, but when you're there your heart is in your mouth and you take it really seriously, because it starts to matter."
Who would bet against Park having his heart in his mouth once more in 2005?
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