‘Wallace & Gromit’s’ Hare-Raising Adventure
LOS ANGELES (Zap2it.com) – Back in the early 1980s, director Nick Park discovered he was more of a dog person than a cat person when making his first stop-frame animation short “A Grand Day Out.” At the time, the Beaconsfield Film School student had already developed a story about a British inventor named Wallace with a cheese craving who travels to the moon with his pet to remedy his lack of Limburger.
“I was planning for [Gromit] to be a cat at first,” says Park. “And then I just found, when I made him out of clay, it was easier to make a dog. The shapes are bigger and rounder.”
Necessity also dictated Gromit’s signature speechlessness when Park began shooting the short, which required he move the clay puppets and props in tiny increments, 24 times for every second of film.
“I actually had Gromit with a Scooby-Doo kind of voice, [but] when I came to do the first shot in ‘A Grand Day Out,’ it was a scene where Gromit’s underneath a door and Wallace is sawing through the door building a rocket,” says Park. “I couldn’t access Gromit’s legs to animate them or his mouth. There and then, that’s where Gromit was born. Because he’s clay, I could just manipulate his brow and by doing so little, all the expression came. He certainly became an introvert dog and a very intelligent dog in that moment.”
Thus Gromit became Wallace’s silent partner: the Beaker to his Dr. Honeydew, the Teller to his Penn Jillette. In their latest adventure, “Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit,” the inventor tries to save his village’s prize gardens by brainwashing the local bunnies to give up eating vegetables. When the experiment goes awry, a giant “were-rabbit” with an even larger appetite begins to run amok. Once again, it’s up to Gromit to save the day.
“There’s a kind of tension with Gromit wanting the quiet life and order and Wallace constantly going off on tangents and causing chaos and getting mad ideas,” explains Park. “It’s almost like an elderly husband and wife relationship. The long-suffering wife and the stupid guy, in the traditional sense — the way [Gromit] rolls his eyes all the time. Some people say he’s more human than Wallace.”
When DreamWorks Animation approached Park and Aardman Studios to create his first feature-length project, they decided to make “Were-Rabbit” as cinematic as possible.
“We looked to Universal horror flicks, particularly werewolf movies but all sorts actually for all the secondary characters: the skeptical policeman, the priest who seems to know a lot about the supernatural and the occult,” he says. “There is something from this Ray Harryhausen movie where people are chasing monsters with spears.”
Another set of films provided the inspiration for the two upper crust British characters, daffy plant-lover Lady Tottington and hunter Victor Quartermaine, who is wooing her for her fortune.
“We watched a lot of films like ‘Barry Lyndon’ and saw the aristocracy in Europe,” says Park, referring to the Stanley Kubrick film about a rogue who schemes and seduces on his way to becoming a nobleman. “With Victor the hunter, we watched ‘King Kong’ and ‘King Solomon’s Mines.’ But also for his pomposity and stuff, Charles Laughton in ‘Mutiny on the Bounty,’ Orson Welles in ‘Wuthering Heights.'”
Even though creating an 85-minute film was a daunting task — which eventually took five years to make — Park never considered switching to a more time-efficient medium.
“I just find it such an expressive and immediate medium. You can imbue the characters with soul because you’re slowly nudging and teasing out the characters in a small way,” he says, beginning to play with the plasticine Gromit puppet during the interview. “You can make Gromit’s brow change his expression and create anger or sympathy.”
That’s not to say that Park wasn’t open to using computer graphics to create the necessary smoke and fog effects or to bring a particularly tricky scene to life. Before Wallace brainwashes the rabbits, he captures them en masse using the Bun-Vac 6000, a giant vacuum that holds the rabbits in a large glass tank.
“They’re all spinning around in a glass case, and we just couldn’t access the bunnies,” Park says with a laugh. “So we thought, ‘Well, why not just create them digitally?’ We gave [The Moving Picture Company] a clay rabbit, and they scanned it into the computer and animated them.”
With “Were-Rabbit” opening nationwide Friday, Oct. 7, Park isn’t too concerned about competition from “Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride,” another stop-motion film that opened a few weeks before.
Says Park: “It’s funny because with all the movement towards CGI, there’s been more people employed in stop motion than ever before actually.”
‘Wallace & Gromit’s’ Hare-Raising Adventure