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'Wallace And Gromit' Creator Nick Park Goes Prehistoric For 'Early Man'

Academy Award-wining director, writer and animator Nick Park‘s new film “Early Man” pits cavemen versus Bronze Age-men in an epic soccer match.

“Being a non-soccer fan, I was really trying to make just an entertaining family comedy that happens to have soccer as a kind of a — you know, it’s an underdog prehistoric sports movie,” Park says.

Interview Highlights

On where the idea for “Early Man” came from

“Well I think it was all — a lot of these ideas, they start with just a drawing and a sketch pad, a sketchbook doodle. And with this, I remember I was just drawing, you know, your typical caveman with a club hitting a rock. And I just started to think about sports, and particularly soccer came to mind — that’s kind of the religion in Europe, and just how tribal it is, really. And it just seemed to suit the whole idea of, you know, primitive people.”


On his soccer fandom, or lack thereof

“I didn’t really grow up in a soccer fan family. My hometown is Preston, of which the local team is Preston North End. And I had a Preston North End school bag, but I never ever went to see a game.”

On a film where the majority of characters are humans, as opposed to animals like in other Aardman films he’s done

“I’ve never thought about it like that because the animal characters tend to be human, really. You know, they’ve got, kind of, animal costumes on. Gromit, for example, even though he’s a dog he’d be very insulted if you treated him like a dog. And I guess there’s Hognob, he’s Dug’s pet pig, who’s, you know, I had great fun with. But I’d never thought of it, actually, ’cause in ‘Chicken Run,’ I guess, I tend to think of them as human beings, but, yeah, they are chickens. You’ve reminded me.”

On getting into plasticine stop motion animation

“I always loved drawing cartoons. I loved to make people laugh with my cartoons. And also, by the way, I was — which is kind of pertinent to this film — I was a big Ray Harryhausen fan. I was obsessed with dinosaurs. And ‘One Million Years B.C.’ was one of my favorite films when I was 11 or 12 years old. And actually that is the film that made me pick up my mother’s Bell & Howell home movie camera and it had a single frame button on it so I could do stop motion. And so I made plasticine dinosaurs and characters and started animating them. I tried different techniques, as well, I wasn’t really convinced I was going to be a a clay animator until later. But I tried. I was influenced by Terry Gilliam’s paper cut-out animation and various kinds, really. And by the time I went to art school and then film school, I started making Wallace and Gromit, actually.”

On the mechanics of stop motion

“It’s a traditional technique, the same that Ray Harryhausen used, in fact, for his dinosaurs and creatures, where we build a figure — these days we put a metal armature or a skeleton inside, which helps you to move the character. And the animator’s job, basically, is to, you know, you have your character in front of the camera and you move each limb of the character, or the eyes, or the face, in small increments and take a picture, move it again, take a picture, and so forth. And when you’ve done 24 of those you’ve got one second of film in the can. Two or three seconds one animator will accomplish [in a day]. That means on our movie we’re lucky if we did a minute a week with our 35, 40 animators. That was a good week.”

On advances in digital animation, and whether he feels the pull to it

“Aardman does actually indulge in [computer-generated imagery] from time to time. In this film, we had to go digital with, you know, stadium full of thousands of people, or volcanoes and lava and stuff that’s quite difficult to do with clay. But I am, at heart, a clay man, and I actually wanted to encourage the animators to kind of embrace the earthiness of it all, because of the cavemen, and the thumbprints … I like that quality that the early ‘King Kong’ film has where the fur twitches a little bit all the time because of the animators handling it for every frame of the film.”

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Goona (Maisie Willimas) in "Early Man." (Courtesy of Aardman)
Goona (Maisie Willimas) in "Early Man." (Courtesy of Aardman)
Goona, Dug and friends in "Early Man." (Courtesy of Aardman)
Goona, Dug and friends in "Early Man." (Courtesy of Aardman)