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Last Updated: Monday, 10 October 2005, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Animation archive up in smoke
A fire at Aardman's Bristol warehouse has destroyed artwork, sets and archives relating to some of British animation's most iconic characters.

Aardman's Plasticine hero Morph first appeared on Take Hart in 1977
Aardman, best-known for Wallace and Gromit, Creature Comforts and Morph, has a distinguished track record stretching back almost 30 years.

But in several hours on Monday morning, most original drawings, wooden sets, paperwork, awards and other memorabilia went up in smoke.

"It's very sad that a lot of historic material has gone up in flames," says Aardman co-founder Dave Sproxton.

The firm stored most of its past works in the warehouse and the biggest loss was the original Wallace and Gromit storyboards by creator Nick Park, Mr Sproxton says.

"They're lovely things and they came from the master himself."

But all is not lost.

"I'm pleased to say Nick Park's original A Grand Day out rocket, that he built by hand, is safe and sound," Mr Sproxton says. "It's very close to him."

Wallace and Gromit sets
Wallace and Gromit storyboards
Animation cells from the original Aardman character
Artwork, sets (above) and archive material from all Aardman creations
Park's three Oscars for Wallace and Gromit and Creature Comforts were also elsewhere.

The clay characters themselves are not kept after filming because they disintegrate, and the Aardman film studio is in a different part of the city and so is unscathed.

The original film and negatives are stored in a humidity-controlled vault at a different location and the sets from the current Wallace and Gromit feature film, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, were also elsewhere.

Aardman Animations was established in 1976 by Mr Sproxton and school friend Peter Lord.

Almost everything that was worth keeping and that could have been kept was kept - in the warehouse.

The original animation cells for the character that gave the company its name - the superhero Aardman, devised for the BBC TV programme Vision On - have been destroyed.

Nick Park with his Oscar
Nick Park's Oscars (above)
Original film negatives
Rocket from Wallace and Gromit's first film, A Grand Day Out
Sets from current Wallace and Gromit feature film
When the company moved from cells to clay, Aardman created a Plasticine character for children's programme Take Hart.

The legendary Morph went on to have two highly successful series, The Amazing Adventures of Morph and The Morph Files.

The company received international recognition when Nick Park's Creature Comforts won the Oscar for best animated short at the 1990 Academy Awards.

But Aardman had already experimented with the talking heads format on a series of films based on real-life conversations.

The Conversation Pieces series included 1981's On Probation, about a young ex-offender, and 1983's Early Bird, which depicted an average morning at a big-city radio station.

Chicken Run
Chicken Run (2000) was Aardman's first feature-length cartoon
This led to the Lip Synch series, five short films commissioned by Channel 4 that again used "vox pop" recordings.

These included War Story, about one man's experiences during the Blitz, and Creature Comforts.

But Aardman was also establishing itself in TV commercials and pop videos - notably for Peter Gabriel's hit single Sledgehammer.

Having spent a couple of summers working with Lord and Sproxton while studying at the National Film and Television School, Park joined the studio full-time in 1985.

This allowed him to finish his graduation film A Grand Day Out - and saw the debut of Wallace and Gromit.

It was followed by The Wrong Trousers in 1993 and A Close Shave in 1995, both of which won Oscars.

Subversive humour

But Park was not the only Aardman employee to court Oscar glory. Lord's 1996 film Wat's Pig also landed an Academy Award nomination, as did Peter Peake's 1998 Humdrum.

Rex the Runt, devised by Richard Goleszowski, was launched on BBC Two in 1998, its satirical and subversive humour marking the company's first venture into adult cartoons.

Angry Kid
Angry Kid began his life on the net before transferring to television
By this time, however, the company had begun its first feature-length project, Chicken Run - the first film to be produced under a five-movie deal with US studio Dreamworks.

More recent characters include Angry Kid, a red-haired, bicycle-riding adolescent who made his debut on the internet before landing his own BBC Three series.

"The stuff that's gone, it's gone," Mr Sproxton says. "It's very upsetting but you have find a way through."

He will now try to work out how to "rebuild and rethink" an exhibition that has been planned for Japan.

And it is "extraordinarily ironic" that so much material has been destroyed as the first Wallace and Gromit feature film is doing so well at the US box office.

Although the company's history may have gone up in smoke, its future is still looking rosy.

"The fire doesn't really affect future productions because even the Wallace and Gromit sets tend to be built almost from scratch for each film that we do," Mr Sproxton says.

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