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Park, Nick

PARK, Nick


Animator, Writer, and Director. Nationality: British. Born: Nicholas W. Park in Preston, Lancashire, 1958. Education: Took communication arts course at Sheffield Art School; studied animation at National


Film and Television School, Beaconsfield, 1980–83. Career: Drew cartoons as a child, began experimenting with animation at age 13; 1975—early film, Archie's Concrete Nightmare, shown on BBC TV; started work on A Grand Day Out as graduation piece; 1983—joined Aardman Animation Studios, Bristol; 1989—completed A Grand Day Out (nominated for an Oscar). Awards: British Academy Award, for A Grand Day Out, 1989; Academy Award, for Creature Comforts, 1989, The Wrong Trousers, 1991, and A Close Shave, 1995; Honorary Doctor of Arts degree from Bath University, England, 1996; Commander of the Order of the British Empire, 1997. Address: Aardman Animation, Gas Ferry Road, Bristol BS1 6UN, England.


Films as Animator and Director:

1975

Archie's Concrete Nightmare

1978

Jack and the Beanstalk

1986

Sledgehammer (pop promo, animation only)

1989

A Grand Day Out (+ co-sc); Creature Comforts; War Story (animation only)

1991

The Wrong Trousers (+ sc)

1995

A Close Shave (+ sc)

1996

Wallace & Gromit: The Best of Aardman Animation; Wallace & Gromit: The Aardman Collection 2

2000

Chicken Run (+ sc)



Publications

By PARK: articles—

"A Lot Can Happen in a Second," interview with Kevin Macdonald, in Projections 5: Film-makers on Film-making, edited by John Boorman and Walter Donohue, London, 1996.

"Deux secondes par jour!," interview with Christine Haas, in Première (Paris), May 1996.

"By Gum, It's the Man behind Wallace and Gromit," an interview with Alison Graham, in Radio Times (London), 16 December 1995.


On PARK: articles—

Clarke, Jeremy, "Gagged by Accident," in What's on in London, 19 December 1990.

Buss, Robin, "Creatures Great and Small," in Independent on Sunday (London), 7 November 1993.

Franks, Alan, "Fame in Slow Motion," in Times (London), 2 April 1994.

Gibson, Janine, "A Close Shave," in Televisual (London), August 1995.

Graham, Alison, "By Gum, It's the Man behind Wallace and Gromit," in Radio Times (London), 16 December 1995.

Westbrook, Caroline, "Park and Pride," in Empire (London), January 1996.

Sight & Sound (London), May 1996.

Biodrowski, S., "Wallace & Gromit: 'A Close Shave'," in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), vol. 28, no. 1, 1996.

Klein, A., "Park: Oscar's Shorts King," in Variety (New York), 24/30 June 1996.

Major, W., "English Extra: Animator Nick Park," in Box Office (Chicago), July 1996.


* * *

If Academy Awards are any indication, Nick Park is the greatest animator in the history of the cinema. With just four films (apart from juvenilia) under his belt he has scored three Best Animated Film Awards and a nomination; the one that failed to win the Oscar picked up a BAFTA Award. Not even Disney ever had such a record. But perhaps yet more impressive than the Oscar bandwagon is the universality of his films' appeal. His ultra-English, even ultra-provincial characters, Wallace the eccentric inventor and his quick-thinking dog Gromit, have convulsed audiences in every country where they have been seen—which includes most of the world. It is a triumph for flat-voiced, faux-naïf Lancashire humor unparalleled since the heyday of George Formby.

Animated films, of course, have always crossed frontiers with an ease that live-action movies, since the advent of sound, can rarely rival, and cartoon icons from Mickey Mouse to the Simpsons have found international acceptance. What is unusual about Park's characters is the unanimous affection they inspire—an affection that clearly reflects the warmth he himself puts into his creations. Wallace's quirky inventiveness draws on memories of Park's own father, and though the increasing complexity of his films has obliged him to hand over elements of the animation to his colleagues, he admits to finding it "very, very difficult to trust anybody with Wallace and Gromit," whom he thinks of as real people.

This emotional involvement with his films also comes out in Park's scrupulous attention to detail, another key element in his success. His chosen medium, stop-frame plasticine animation, is by its nature a painstaking and labor-intensive process, where computers can be of only marginal assistance, and in Park's films no corners are cut: Wallace and Gromit are always framed and lit like live actors, and indeed perform like them. Park selects his fellow-animators as though auditioning actors: "You have to give a performance through the plasticine." Every frame of his films—especially of the two most recent Wallace and Gromit vehicles, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave—is packed with incidental details and jokes that repay multiple viewing. Among the reading matter favored by Gromit, a canine intellectual, are Pluto's Republic and—during his wrongful imprisonment—Crime and Punishment by Doystoyevsky.

This love of intricacy—several of Wallace's inventions show the strong influence of another celebrator of English eccentricity, the illustrator William Heath Robinson—is often combined with remarkable economy of means when it comes to characterization. Gromit has no mouth and an inexpressive blob of a nose: his emotions are vividly conveyed via his eyes, eyebrows, and ears. The villain of The Wrong Trousers, a sinister penguin, has no facial features at all save an immobile beak and boot-button eyes, yet he radiates malignity; by way of disguise he pulls an orange rubber glove on his head, thus (it seems) convincing everyone he is a chicken.

The very idea of choosing a penguin, that lovable buffoon of the animal kingdom, as his villain, typifies the unpredictability of Park's offbeat humor. What he lacks—unusually among animators, notoriously a sadistic lot—is a true sense of malice. Even his darkest character yet, the Terminator-style robot bulldog of A Close Shave, is redeemed in the final reel. It is impossible to imagine Park indulging in the slash-and-burn mayhem of Tom & Jerry or the brutalities of Svankmajer, let alone subjecting Gromit to the indignities visited upon Daffy Duck by Chuck Jones in Duck Amuck. Right from the first work that brought him to fame, the vox pop animals of Creature Comforts, Park's films have conveyed an innate gentleness and good humor. In the long run, this may prove a limitation. But for the time being it is these same qualities that have helped gain his films the approval of Academy Award voters and worldwide audiences alike.

—Philip Kemp

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