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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 10:52 GMT 11:52 UK
Wallace and Gromit's cracking careers
By Ian Youngs
BBC News entertainment reporter

A fire at the Aardman Animations warehouse has destroyed Wallace and Gromit models and props - just as they are enjoying their greatest success with their first feature film.

Wallace and Gromit
Wallace and Gromit have won two Oscars and three Baftas
They are unlikely heroes of the British film industry - an eccentric northern inventor with a penchant for Wensleydale cheese and his smart, silent dog. And they are both made of clay.

In the past 15 years, they have picked up two Oscars, three Baftas and become some of the best-known and best-loved stars to come out of the UK.

Park, 46, has been fiddling with Plasticine since childhood and, setting himself up in an attic studio as a child in Preston, Lancashire, found it a cheap alternative to making animated cartoons.

"All you needed was a camera, an Angle poise lamp and a table," he has said.

Park also watched his father knock out a wooden caravan and other contraptions in their garden shed.

So when Park dreamt up his most enduring characters at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) in 1982, his father was the inspiration for Wallace.

WALLACE'S WORLD
Wallace
Favourite expressions: "Cracking", "That's grand"
Hobbies: Building contraptions, eating cheese
Favourite reading material: Cheese Holidays
As for Wallace's trusty sidekick, Park originally intended Gromit to be a cat - but changed his mind because he preferred the "cartoon dog shape".

When Park's electrician brother told him about grommets - rings used to reinforce holes - and an old lady took a dog called Wallace on the bus in Preston, the names also fell into place.

Park made Wallace the man instead of the dog, and made his new characters the stars of his graduation project.

He made the first 10 minutes of Wallace and Gromit's first film, A Grand Day Out, at the NFTS but finished it after getting a job with Aardman.

And he persuaded veteran sitcom star Peter Sallis to lend his voice to Wallace after sending a begging letter and the promise of 50 to the charity of his choice.

A Grand Day Out introduced the loveable crackpot and his companion. After running out of cheese, the pair build a rocket - based on Park's father's caravan - to go to the moon.

GRAND GROMIT
Gromit
Favourite expressions:
Arched eyebrow
Hobbies:
Knitting, catching criminals
Favourite reading material: Electronics for Dogs, The Daily Lamp-Post
It did not make them household names, but did prove their appeal by winning a Bafta for best animated film and getting an Oscar nomination for best animated short.

Wallace and Gromit lost out on the Oscar to another Park creation - Creature Comforts, for which Park used real peoples' voices with zoo animal animations.

But he soon set to work on Wallace and Gromit's next adventure, The Wrong Trousers - this time pitting them against an evil penguin who is foiled by the wily dog.

Completed in 1993, it was not only a new adventure but also had a bigger budget and a more professional style, which catapulted them to the big time.

The Wrong Trousers earned Wallace and Gromit their first Oscar and its success paved the way for the third instalment, A Close Shave, which was hotly anticipated when it came out in 1995.

The budget doubled to 1.3m, the team who worked on it increased and it attracted 10.6 million viewers to BBC Two when it was premiered that Christmas.

Nick Park with Gromit
Creator Nick Park struck a deal with Steven Spielberg's film studio
This time, the couple had set up a window-cleaning business and found themselves cracking a mysterious sheep-rustling operation.

It won them their second Oscar and another Bafta, among a string of awards.

It also established them as firm fan favourites, Park was made a CBE and a range of Wallace and Gromit merchandise - from boxer shorts to knitting kits - hit the shops.

Hollywood was at their feet and Aardman struck a deal with Steven Spielberg's film studio DreamWorks.

But Wallace and Gromit were nowhere to be seen in Chicken Run, the first full-length feature resulting from the deal, which was released in 2000.

Between projects, Park created 10 one-minute adventures for Wallace and Gromit, which were put on the internet, and he soon set to work on their big screen debut.

The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has taken four years and a reported $30m (17m) to make.

Now rubbing shoulders with big names like Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham-Carter - who both provide voices for their new film - Wallace and Gromit have come a long way since Park's student days.


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