Monday, 28 September 2009

CRACKING ART

It can't be possible! Tell me it isn't! Wallace and Gromit are celebrating their 20th birthday?


Well, time marches on and it is an inescapable fact that Wallace and Gromit have been delighting film and television audiences for two decades.

This event is being celebrated with a multi-media exhibition at The Illustration Cupboard (opening tomorrow and running until 24 October) devoted to Wallace and Gromit's creator Nick Park and his original Wallace and Gromit artwork as well as a selection of the original Plasticine props used in the making of their films.

Also on show - and for sale - are several new pieces of colour artwork produced especially for this exhibition...


Pluto's Republic! Great gag! And note the penguin on the book spine.

And a limited edition anniversary full-colour silk screen print, signed and numbered by Nick showing the intrepid duo with their famous motorbike and sidecar...


The gallery is also offering signed first edition copies of the new book published by Egmont entitled The Art of Wallace and Gromit...


And it here that I come - tangentially - into the story.

It only feels like yesterday - certainly not almost twenty years ago - that I read in my morning paper that a young Bristol animator had received Oscar nominations for two films.

At the time I was one of the presenters of the BBC Radio 4 arts programme, Kaleidoscope, and I immediately suggested we ought to interview this British film phenomenon! The idea fell on deaf editorial ears, probably because the films were only animated movies: Creature Comforts and the first Wallace & Gromit adventure, A Grand Day Out.

A couple of months later, however, when Creature Comforts won the Oscar for animated short subject, the Beeb realised it had missed a scoop and I was dispatched, post-haste, to the Bristol studio of Aardman Animation to interview the shy, modest Mr Park...

Within a few months I was working with Nick on the script for what would be the next Wallace & Gromit caper, The Wrong Trousers. Our collaboration was huge fun and I have memories of crazy sessions in which we concocted elements for the storyboard what would never finally be seen on screen.

One such episode was the film's planned finale in which Wallace's house was surrounded by police, following the theft of the gem from the museum, so that they had to make their getaway in the moon rocket from A Grand Day Out - only to crash land on a ice floe in the Antarctic in the midst of vast flock of penguins!

My abiding memory of those scripting sessions is of Nick sitting with a sketchbook, filling it from margin to margin with wonderfully inventive doodlings.

Our partnership, unfortunately, didn't result in a filmable screenplay (though some scenes in the eventual film - such as the train chase ending with the Penguin in the milk bottle - were well on the way to their final form) and so we amicably parted company and the project was, if you'll pardon the pun, temporarily parked.

Nick later returned to the story with former Dr Who scriptwriter, Bob Baker, who has continued as his collaborator on the subsequent Wallace & Gromit films from The Wrong Trousers (1993), via A Close Shave (1995) and the feature length Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) to last year's A Matter of Loaf and Death.

I remained on great personal terms with Nick and Aardman and produced two books based on the storyboard for The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave, as well as collaborating with Aardman's founder Peter Lord (creator of their first Plasticine superstar, Morph), on Cracking Animation, a book about the art and craft of stop-frame model animation.

I also got to tell the behind-the-scenes story of the making of Aardman's first feature-length film in Chicken Run: Hatching the Movie.

Then, a few months back, I was invited to write an introduction to the aforementioned new book celebrating the 20 years of the Wallace & Gromit double-act.

Now available from all good literary emporia (and signed from The Illustration Cupboard), The Art of Wallace and Gromit is stuffed with amazing drawings from Nick's sketchbooks...


Along with inspirational and storyboard art and pictures from film's storyboards...


There's also an opportunity to get a closer peep at the various cracking contraptions devised by Wallace and so often employed with disastrous results...


There are several surprises, such as discovering that Wallace started out life with a moustache and that Gromit began as an enormous dog with huge gnashers!


As well as tracing how the characters have developed over the years, the book catalogues all the friends and foes that they have acquired along the way including Penguin (aka Feathers McGraw), Wendolene Ramsbottom, Shaun the Sheep and Preston the Cybodog, Lady Tottington, Piella Bakewell and Fluffles.

Readers get a chance to scrutinise the amazing detail that goes into the creation of any Wallace and Gromit film but which often passes too quickly to be taken in on first viewing - like the paintings hung on the walls of Tottington Hall in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, one of which appears to be a portrait of Lady Campanula painted by Picasso...


It is also a testimony to the huge affection which we feel for these characters. As I note in my introduction:
Of course, we laugh at the heroic (or, perhaps, I should say, 'dogged') dedication, unsinkable optimism and utter seriousness with which Wallace and Gromit approach their various outlandish endeavours and confront the perils that, inevitably, follow.

But we also admire the indestructible nature of their relationship and their knack for co-existing in comparative peace and harmony, tolerating each other's faults and foibles with a loyalty and patience that are, surely, the hallmarks of true affection.

And since they clearly love one another - albeit in their reserved, British way - it's hardly surprising that we love them...



Check out the Official, Wallace & Gromit Website; and visit The Illustration Cupboard blogspot

The Illustration Cupboard is at 22 Bury St, London, SW1Y 6AL.
Gallery Hours:
Monday to Friday: 10am to 6pm; Saturday: 12pm to 5pm
Closed Sunday and Bank Holidays

For map click here

All images © Aardman Animations



15 comments:

scb said...

Wallace and Gromit are truly a delight -- as is this post! Thank you so much for this behind-the-scenes peek! Must wedge in some time to watch some Wallace and Gromit! (So much to watch, so little time... ... ...)

Suzanne said...

A great way to start the day! I LOVE the penguin! Happy birthday to the pair of them.

Matt said...

Wallace and Gromit have been favorites in our family for years - so much so in fact that we went out of our way to have some Wensleydale sent to us here in America. Cracking good cheese I must say

Boll Weavil said...

The joy of W&G seems to be the fun and absurdity that is at the heart of all the plots.A great animator seems to beable to tap into the simplicity of a child's perception and reproduce it in a form that adults can also accept as totally believable.I still regularly drink from a mug that says 'Have you seen this chicken' whilst depicting a penguin with a glove on its head. Are we all so easily convinced by this deception ? Yes, of course we are. That's why we watch...

AFFRUMO : The obvious hairpiece worn by a barber that somehow gives him licence to make all the absurd suggestions he wants about how your hair could look if you only let him style it.

SharonM said...

I was going to say that my favourites were Chicken Run and The Curse of the WereRabbit, but of course the first one isn't W&G. There are so many great gags, particularly in the last film. And Gromit has such an appealing face.

Galen Fott said...

What a great post! I'm afraid Were-Rabbit was regarded as a bit of a "flop" over here in the states, and so there's some feeling that we don't like W&G here. We only got "Loaf and Death" on DVD a couple of weeks ago! But there are many rabid fans in the states, highly covetous of all the great W&G merchandise available overseas!

Andy J. Latham said...

Good lord, 20 years?! Where does the time go?

I'd love to be able to get down to London to see the exhibition, and to get my hands on a signed copy of that lovely book. Sadly a lack of time dictates that I will miss it :(

Ah well, your book "Cracking Animation" still sits proudly on my shelf as one of my very first books on the subject. If I ever meet you in person, I'm going to get you to sign it!! :P

Andy J. Latham said...

Haha actually, I just called up and bought a signed copy of the book. Woohoo! :D

Good Dog said...

Twenty years?! No. Oh boy, that makes me feel old.

Even though A Close Shave has the hilarious Thunderbirds gag and Gromit’s sidecar turning into an aeroplane, The Wrong Trousers remains my favourite. It was a quantum leap on from A Grand Day Out. The sight gags were great. Feathers McGraw was a brilliant creation.

The menace created by his immobility was brilliant, especially at a time when cartoon characters had more than a spring in their step. And using a red rubber glove to disguise himself as a chicken was inspired. Doesn’t Wallace declare with astonishment, “It”s you!” when he pulls the glove off?

As for the chase around the kitchen using the train set... that was just genius beyond belief, as was the use of the milk bottle.

Actually, best of all, is that in those twenty years there have only been the four shorts and one feature. Quality not quantity is what counts, and that’s what has made them such much loved, wonderfully uniquely British, characters.

Still, twenty years...

Brian Sibley said...

SCB - Every viewing, I find, reveals new or forgotten details and nuances.


SUZANNE - The Penguin! Yes, those beady, occasionally blinking, eyes!


MATT - I was eating a cracking good bit of Wensleydale the other evening with Mr Park and, you're right, one can understand Wallace's fondness for it.


BOLL - Part of the joy, of course, is sharing with Gromit knowledge that seems - inexplicably - to have eluded Wallace.


SHARON M - I think you can almost count Chicken Run, since I have no doubt that Tweedy's Farm is a fairly short bike-and-side-car ride from West Wallaby Street.


GLEN - The W&G merchandise almost doesn't feel like merchandise! Must say something...


ANDY - Who's a happy bunny, then! Glad you have Cracking Animation and, yes, whenever we finally meet, I'll happily sign it - though the unsigned ones are probably worth more! ;-)


GOOD DOG - Great observations. A Grand Day Out has a naive charm, but - as you say - The Wrong Trousers was such a giant leap, not just in the mastery of stop-frame animation technique, but also in the art of animated characterisation.

Yes, "It's YOU!" is one of the great comic moments in a film that manages to convey so many moods: the pathos of Gromit sitting in his kennel in the rain while, through the window, we see silhouettes of his master and the Penguin making merry, is heart-rending.

And how right you are about quality over quantity. I feel the same, for example about Fawlty Towers. More would have been welcome, but - secretly - we know, probably not as good...

Dragonladych said...

Hmmmm, Wensleydale!

But now look what you've done: http://dragonladych.livejournal.com/152601.html
^^

Ken said...

20 years?! it doesn't feel like it at all...

Glad to hear about the new "Art Of" book, thanks for sharing!

Also, I would like to show my appreciation for "Cracking Animation" - I bought this book as a teenager and it was a huge inspiration on my journey in the world of animation - so thank you! Tis a cracking book :D

Brian Sibley said...

DRAGONLADYCH - Sorry for causing you to dream about sheep! You really shouldn't read my blog late at night!

KEN - I am honoured to have had a hand (however small) in your own animated career - especially having seen the terrific art on your blogsite.

Hemulen said...

About 20 years ago when I was around 10 myself and some friends made this little newspaper for kids called "The Bristol Times" (we even had circulation! Of about 8.) that the local newsagent kindly let us sell. Well, someone (a parent no doubt) thought they would contact Blue Peter and lo and behold we ended up on the show.

However, we didn't go to London, meet the dogs etc, much better than that we were filmed interviewing Nick Park at the original Aardman studios in Bristol, just after he'd won his first Oscar.

I'll never forget it, getting to hold a real Oscar was one thing, but getting to hold Morph was the icing on the cake! I remember seeing the animators there in the process of creating the first Wallace & Gromit film right there in front of me, which was a real treat. One of my old schoolmates (albeit quite a few years above me) is now one of their principle animators. They really deserve the success they've had since.

Brian Sibley said...

What a wonderful reminiscence! Thanks for sharing it. Hope you still have your Blue Peter badges... :-)

There's something special about holding an Oscar, isn't there? I had breakfast at the Dorchester with Richard Taylor on his way back from LA after LOTR Film 1 picked up a few AAs. We ate our sausage and bacon with TWO Oscars on the breakfast table!