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Last Updated: Sunday, 9 October 2005, 23:15 GMT 00:15 UK
Gromit film 'a force of Britishness'
By Caroline Briggs
BBC News entertainment reporter

Nick Park
Park's movie is out in the US and Australia and is released in the UK on Friday
It has been more than two decades since animator Nick Park first created the cheese-loving Wallace and his clever canine companion Gromit.

What started out as Park's graduate project became A Grand Day Out and catapulted Wallace and Gromit into the nation's psyche.

Their further adventures in The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave earned Park two of his three Oscars.

So it was inevitable that they would one day make it onto the big screen.

Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit has been a huge undertaking for Park and the team at Aardman Animations.

Park and his co-director Steve Box started on the script five years ago and the painstaking process of animating the plasticine characters began in 2003.

Wallace and Gromit
We had to make a film with all the qualities and spirit of the short films that have a certain naivety to them and a handmade quality them - just a Britishness that wasn't apologetic
Nick Park
The result is what Park calls "a dream come true".

But there were no guarantees that a feature-length Wallace and Gromit film would match their earlier success - which is why Chicken Run was hatched first in 2000.

"With the success of the three Wallace and Gromit half-hours, a film always seemed like a natural step," explained Park.

"But part of the reason why we did Chicken Run first was because I was naturally a bit cautious. What happens in a short-film format often works because it is short.

"We were really waiting for the right idea to come along... which happened to be vegetables."

Wallace and Gromit's earlier adventures may have taken them to the moon and back, but The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit is the duo's biggest adventure to date.

As the townspeople prepare to show off their prized produce at the annual Giant Vegetable Competition, Wallace and Gromit's latest business venture Anti-Pesto is in high demand to help protect the vegetables from rabbits.

Lady Tottington

When dotty Lady Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter) calls on Anti-Pesto to remove the rabbits from her lawn, Wallace is immediately smitten.

But his rival for Lady Tottington's love, Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), displays his bunny removal intentions with a safari suit and shotgun.

Park said there was very little pressure from their backer, Dreamworks, to make the film Hollywood-slick.

"We were very certain from the start that we had to make a film with all the qualities and spirit of the short films that have a certain naivety to them and a handmade quality them - just a Britishness that wasn't apologetic.

"They did want at least two of our actors to be known in America. But we didn't go for young, current actors, we just went for ones that we really liked ourselves."

Box added: "We've got reams of notes about what 'give it some more welly' and 'steady on Gromit or you'll buckle me trunions' meant, but to be honest, English people don't particularly understand what it means either.

Wallace and Gromit
It was our duty to keep it looking like we're a couple of blokes working out of a shed in Bristol
Nick Park
"It doesn't always matter. We have been fed a dialogue of American colloquialism for the last 40, 50 years so we are just sending a few over that way now."

However, there was one concession Aardman made for its transatlantic audience.

"The US audience didn't understand what a 'marrow' was, but we had already animated the word on the lips so 'squash' wouldn't fit," added Box.

"Instead, we got Helena in for the day just to say the word 'melon'."

Unlike the smooth finish of the Chicken Run characters, Park said he was keen to keep the hand-made charm of Wallace & Gromit, often telling the animators he wanted to "see the thumbprints".

"We didn't want to get away from what Wallace & Gromit is," he said.

"It was our duty to keep it looking like we're a couple of blokes working out of a shed in Bristol. That's where the charm is."

As a result, CGI has been kept to a minimum, only being used to create fog, fire or water - and floating bunnies.

Every colour of every sock is approved
Nick Park
"We make model-animated film because that is our craft, but I knew immediately when Nick did a sketch of Wallace's Bun-Vac with the bunnies floating around that it was a job for CGI," said Box.

"There was a little bit of resistance in Aardman to doing that, and one of the claymation animators actually tried it as a test with about 10 rabbits on rigs. It nearly killed him."

Despite not animating on the film themselves, Park said he felt he and Box were just as "hands-on" as ever.

"While we were writing the story we were modelling all the different characters because it helps in the writing.

"And every colour of every sock is approved. Plus we spend a lot of time on set lining up every shot and we'll act out a scene on video to convey what we want.

"We might not do the animation but the pay-off is that we get to control a much bigger picture.

I'm just as much of a control freak."

Watch clips from The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

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