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Last Updated: Monday, 6 March 2006, 09:49 GMT
Wallace and Gromit's cracking careers
By Ian Youngs
BBC News entertainment reporter

British animated heroes Wallace and Gromit have picked up their third Academy Award, winning best animated feature for their first full movie, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.

Animators Steve Box (left) and Nick Park holding their Oscars

They are the unlikely heroes of the UK film industry - an eccentric northern inventor with a penchant for Wensleydale cheese and his smart, silent dog. And they are both made of clay.

They are the creations of animator Nick Park, 47, who has been fiddling with Plasticine since he realised it was a cheap alternative to making animated cartoons as a child in Preston, Lancashire.

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

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 and Gromit
Wallace and Gromit got their first Oscar nomination 15 years ago
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.

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

Established in 1976 by Dave Sproxton and schoolfriend Peter Lord, Aardman was already a thriving animation studio.

Before Wallace and Gromit arrived, Aardman's most famous creation was Morph, a Plasticine character made for children's TV programme Take Hart who went on to have his own spin-off series.

Aardman and Nick Park achieved global acclaim in 1991 when Creature Comforts - for which Park married real people's voices with zoo animal animations - won the Oscar for best animated short film.

Favourite expressions: "Cracking", "That's grand"
Hobbies: Building contraptions, eating cheese
Favourite reading material: Cheese Holidays
It beat A Grand Day Out with Wallace and Gromit - which saw the crackpot duo build a rocket to find cheese on the moon.

Park 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 - an unusually high figure for the network - when it was given its premiere that Christmas.

Favourite expressions:
Arched eyebrow
Knitting, catching criminals
Favourite reading material: Electronics for Dogs, The Daily Lamp-Post
This time, the couple 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.

Featuring the voices of Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham-Carter, the Curse of the Were-Rabbit took four years and a reported $30m (17m) to make.

The eccentric English storytelling has proved a hit around the world and Park recently told the BBC News website he set out to make sure the film had "a Britishness that wasn't apologetic".

"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 to them," he said.


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