The cheese-loving Wallace (Peter Sallis) and his ever faithful dog Gromit--the much-loved duo from Aardman's Oscar®-winning clay-animated "Wallace & Gromit" shorts--star in an all new comedy adventure, marking their first full-length feature film.
Nick Park ("Chicken Run"), the original creator of Wallace & Gromit, and Steve Box are directing "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" from a screenplay by Steve Box & Nick Park and Bob Baker and Mark Burton. Peter Sallis, who has voiced the role of Wallace in all of the shorts, reprises his role in the feature film.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION - THE LONG AND SHORT OF IT
Just over 16 years ago, movie audiences were introduced to an eccentric, cheese-loving inventor named Wallace and his loyal canine companion, Gromit, in a clay-animated short titled "A Grand Day Out." The short film comedy--which takes Wallace and Gromit to the moon and back in the quest for an unlimited supply of cheese--was the brainchild of a young stop-motion animator named Nick Park.
Six years in the making, "A Grand Day Out" had started as Park's graduate project when he was a student at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield, England. Midway in the production, he connected with Peter Lord and David Sproxton, who had already made a name for themselves in the field of stop-motion animation, under the Aardman Animations banner. Impressed with the work Park was doing, Lord and Sproxton invited him to bring his film to Aardman, where they could collaborate on multiple projects.
In 1990, "A Grand Day Out" was nominated for an Academy Award® for Best Animated Short, competing with another Park creation, "Creature Comforts." The latter took the Oscar® that year, but Wallace & Gromit would soon get their due. In 1994, Park's second Wallace & Gromit film, "The Wrong Trousers," won the Academy Award® for Best Animated Short. Two years later, the Wallace & Gromit short "A Close Shave" brought Park back to the Oscar® podium to accept his third Academy Award® in the same category. All three Wallace & Gromit shorts also won BAFTA Awards.
With each new adventure, Wallace & Gromit built on their devoted fan following, which began in England and gradually spread around the globe. Now, for the first time ever, the inventive entrepreneur and his faithful, four-legged friend are headlining their first feature-length movie, "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit."
"It's really a dream come true," director, writer, producer Nick Park states. "Wallace & Gromit were my college creations, and it is quite something to think that they are starring in their first full-length feature film."
"Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" marks the second collaboration between DreamWorks Animation and Aardman. The two companies had previously teamed on Aardman's first feature-length film, "Chicken Run," which was an unqualified success. An unabashed fan of Aardman's work, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg notes, "I saw my first Wallace & Gromit short about 15 years ago and, like everyone else in the world, I was captivated by the characters. There is something wonderfully absurd and appealing about them. I think the charm of Wallace & Gromit comes from Aardman's unique style of animation. It's such a visual medium--it doesn't matter what language it's translated into; it's funny and delightful and witty."
Producer Claire Jennings observes, "It seems, over a long period of time now, wherever Wallace & Gromit have gone, people have taken them into their hearts. People around the world love them. It will be interesting to see how a new generation takes to Wallace & Gromit."
Producers David Sproxton and Peter Lord acknowledge that having a known commodity actually added to the pressure of expanding Wallace & Gromit's world. "In a way, 'Chicken Run' was easier because it had entirely new characters," says Sproxton. "Nobody knew anything about them, so we were free to show them in whatever light we saw them."
Lord continues, "So many people know and love Wallace & Gromit…and, of course, there are also people out there in the world who have never seen them before. We knew we needed to tell a story for those people as well as for our loyal fans."
To stay true to the history and traditions of Wallace & Gromit, Park, Lord and Sproxton assembled a creative team that has spent many hours in and around the animated duo's 62 West Wallaby Street address. Helping to lead that team was Park's fellow director, Steve Box, who had served as an animator on both "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave." "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" marks Box's feature film directorial debut.
"Making a 30-minute Wallace & Gromit movie is time-consuming and requires a lot of patience and care. Making an 85-minute feature is like making the Great Wall of China with matchsticks," Box laughs. "It's a monumental feat, actually. It was five years of solid work, because every tiny, little thing matters so much. But I think the biggest challenge of taking these characters from 30 minutes to 85 minutes was finding the story."
Mark Burton, who had worked on "Chicken Run" and more recently co-wrote "Madagascar," and Bob Baker, a co-writer on both "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave," collaborated with Park and Box to craft the story and screenplay for the movie.
"It took a while to come up with an idea we felt was expansive enough to suggest a full-length movie," Park recalls. "Steve and I sat for hours on end with the other writers, and we suddenly hit on this idea about a Were-Rabbit. You know, the Wallace & Gromit movies have always referenced other film genres, and we thought a great genre to borrow from would be the classic Universal horror movies. But, in our movie, instead of a werewolf, we have a Were-Rabbit…and instead of devouring flesh and blood--in Wallace & Gromit's world, it's got to be something more absurd--we made it vegetables. It's a vegetable-eating monster so, in effect, "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" became the world's first vegetarian horror movie."
Without question, the least challenging aspect of the making of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" was the casting of the title roles: Gromit, for the obvious reason that he never speaks; and Wallace because that casting decision had been made more than 20 years ago. Peter Sallis has been the voice of Wallace since the character's inception so, for the feature film, Lord states, "There was never any discussion about it. It had to be Peter."
Park affirms, "I couldn't imagine Wallace without Peter now. Peter is Wallace and vice versa. Back when I was in college creating these characters, Peter seemed like a natural for Wallace. I knew him from his series, 'Last of the Summer Wine,' and his voice just stood out to me. I was a shy student with not a lot of money to make the film, but I wrote to him and he very happily obliged me."
Sallis relates, "Nick Park liked the sound of my character on 'Last of the Summer Wine,' and that was really what started it all. I went to the Beaconsfield Film School, where Nick was a student--this was back in 1983--and we literally sat side-by-side and recorded 'A Grand Day Out' with a microphone on the desk in front of us, no fancy glass booth or anything like that. I would say the lines and Nick would interrupt and say things like, 'I think it would be better this way…' At first, I'll admit, I was just a little bit skeptical. I thought, 'This guy is a student here, and I've been in the theatre for, how many years?' But it dawned on me, after a very short time, that he was absolutely right…and he's been absolutely right ever since.
"Of course, in 1983, I hadn't any idea what would become of it," Sallis continues. "For one thing, Nick couldn't even show me the character models; all he had was a storyboard. But six years later the phone rang and it was Nick saying, 'I've finished it.' I thought, 'Oh, it's only taken him six years, goodness me.'"
Park offers that Sallis' vocal performance contributed to more than just how the character of Wallace sounds. "Wallace had a very different looking face, at first. It was really the way Peter formed his vowels and said words like 'cheese and crackers' that suddenly made me picture him differently. I let Peter's voice dictate to me how Wallace looked, and it evolved from there."
Now, all these years later, Park says, "Peter sounds as young and as bright as ever. He brings so much energy to the part, and we just enjoy working together so much; he just makes us laugh all the time."
Through all of his adventures, Wallace has had a silent partner at his side: his dog, Gromit. Sallis says, "Wallace & Gromit live and work together and they are quite chummy. People who are familiar with the characters will tell you that Gromit is the brains of the outfit, but," he counters, "that does not alter the fact that Wallace is a rather clever inventor. I mean, he got them to the moon and back much quicker than the Americans did," Sallis smiles, referring to the duo's first adventure in "A Grand Day Out." "You have a man who, on one level, is so brilliant that he can put his hand to making almost anything, but, on another level, is really a bit 'thick.' And then you have a non-speaking character with the most expressive eyes and ears that have ever been created. Together, they have great chemistry, which is entirely due to Nick Park."
"Obviously Gromit can't say anything, but that's an important part of Wallace & Gromit's relationship," Park notes. "They don't have to talk; they have a bond that goes much deeper. Wallace is the daffy inventor who acts first and thinks later. Gromit is the opposite; he is very cautious. Wallace is a doer, but Gromit is a thinker; he is definitely more intelligent--the long-suffering partner who has to get Wallace out of his own self-made scrapes. So much of the comedy relies on Gromit's reactions to Wallace."
Although Gromit doesn't talk, Steve Box agrees that his expressions speak volumes. "I think Gromit is the character the animators most fear because his expressions are so important. In fact, when we wrote the script, we wrote actual dialogue for Gromit--'What the heck was that?' or 'If only I could keep him under control'--so his performance is crucial to the film. And because he needs no words, he can communicate in any language."
In "The Curse of the Were-Rabbit," Wallace's latest inventions are being put to good use. The townspeople have been anxiously awaiting the Giant Vegetable Competition, where they can finally parade their prized produce. Meanwhile, the town's prolific rabbit population is threatening to turn the sacred vegetable gardens into an all-you-can-eat buffet. Riding to the rescue is Anti-Pesto, Wallace & Gromit's humane pest control company, which promises total plot protection, complete with an "eye-popping" early warning system.
Things really start hopping when the competition's official hostess, Lady Tottington, employs the services of Anti-Pesto. Lady Tottington is voiced by Helena Bonham Carter, who says, "Lady Campanula Tottington is an upper-class lady, although she is somewhat batty…a bit eccentric perhaps. Her passion is growing vegetables; however, she has a bunny problem--her lawn is infested with hungry rabbits--so she phones up Wallace & Gromit, who run a humane pest control company--humane being most important to her. I think she's lovely. She doesn't look anything like me--unless I have really bad self-perception," Bonham Carter laughs, "but she has a very sympathetic heart and I love her."
Bonham Carter is not the only one who loves Lady Tottington. Peter Sallis notes that Wallace immediately has eyes for her. "Wallace can't believe that he's actually going to meet her, and when he does, he can hardly speak. And so, she becomes the centerpiece of the whole event, as far as Wallace is concerned. He is determined to rescue her by ridding her beloved vegetable garden of all those pesky pests."
Wallace's infatuation with Lady Tottington draws the ire of her pompous suitor, Victor Quartermaine. Victor has been courting the wealthy lady of Tottington Manor and begins to see Wallace as a possible threat to his fiancée or, more truthfully, his finances. Ralph Fiennes, who gives voice to Victor, observes, "I suppose you could say he is posh, but he is more what we would call a cad. He's outrageous; he thinks he is the most important person in the world, not to mention the most attractive and the bravest, but I think he is a bully. He despises Wallace--to him Wallace is a non-entity, just a little man getting in his way with Lady Tottington. Victor is trying to woo Lady Tottington by helping her dispose of her rabbit problem. The trouble is Victor wants to shoot the rabbits--blast them with his shotgun--but Lady Tottington loves the rabbits and doesn't believe Victor's methods are appropriate. She hires Wallace and Gromit's company, Anti-Pesto, to humanely solve the rabbit problem, which infuriates Victor."
Directors Nick Park and Steve Box were thrilled with the casting of Fiennes and Bonham Carter, and say that the two Oscar® nominees, who are better known for their more dramatic roles, had tremendous fun with the broad comedy of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit." "Helena had so much energy and brought such a bubbly eccentricity to her character," Box comments. "I also loved Ralph's characterization of Victor, which I think is absolutely hilarious."
Park recalls, "We showed the model of Lady Tottington to Helena, and she was immediately inspired and starting talking in a rather posh, yet goofy way. She is a great classical actress, so I was in complete admiration of the way she was able to have fun with the character. Like Helena, Ralph was so willing to have fun with the part and play Victor in such an arch way. I just loved the quality of his voice and what he brought to the part."
Hailing from England, Fiennes and Bonham Carter had been longtime fans of Aardman and Wallace & Gromit, so both actors jumped at the chance to be a part of their world. "There was never any question of whether or not I wanted to do the movie," Bonham Carter states. "I love everything Aardman does. Their films have such great heart and such a keen observance of human nature. They are very good at picking up on those little idiosyncrasies that make people tick, and with Wallace & Gromit, they hit upon two adorable characters who are a terrific double act. They are like a great comedy team who have a different way of communicating."
Fiennes notes, "One of the reasons I wanted to do this film was I particularly like this form of animation. Clay animation doesn't have the graphic slickness of other kinds of animation; the very fact that the animators have to animate each figure gives it a hands-on quality. There is something about it that is akin to a child playing with toys…a feeling that you could possibly reach out and play with these characters. Then there is the sheer imagination and inventiveness of the Wallace & Gromit films. I was a huge admirer of the films even before this. I find the sublime silliness of the comedy to be very funny."
Also lending their voices to the main cast of "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit" are Britain's award-winning comedy favorite Peter Kay, playing the town's skeptical policeman, PC Mac; veteran actor Nicholas Smith as the town's Vicar, Reverend Hedges, who is terrorized by the Were-Rabbit; and veteran actress Liz Smith as Mrs. Mulch, who will do whatever it takes to protect her treasured harvest.
3D IN 3D
Computer animation and clay animation could both be termed 3D animation, although they are worlds apart in terms of execution. "Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were Rabbit" represents the most extensive use of computer animation of any Aardman film to date, long or short.
Nick Park remarks, "There are limits to Plasticine. You can't do fog or smoke or water--I mean, you could, but it would take forever. So we went to The Moving Picture Company (MPC) to create our visual effects."
"We're not biased towards any one technique," Steve Box states. "One is as important as another; it's just a different tool that we use. We'll use the right technique for the right job. We used CGI for things like water and smoke and dust and dirt, and it added so much to the film. The way the vicar walks down the path towards the church and the fog swirls behind him--gone are the days of cotton wool on strings. MPC did the most amazing work, and it really gives a new dimension to the film."
The most extensive use of computer animation in the film is seen in two of Wallace's latest inventions: the Mind-O-Matic, where visual effects were employed to add a light show of thought waves; and the Bun-Vac 6000 where, once the rabbits are sucked into the chamber, they float around in mid-air until they are released without harm to hide nor "hare."
Getting the rabbits to fly around in the Bun-Vac 6000 without colliding was relatively simple. However, Jason Wen, MPC's lead animator for the computer-generated rabbits, offers, "We didn't want static bunnies to just swirl around; we needed to add a little of that 'Aardman touch' to each shot. I had to go in and hand animate all 30 rabbits--I added some cute bunny motions, like waving or grabbing at something or making their ears twirl around--to help sell the shot and make it more humorous."
Interestingly, the biggest challenge to the computer animators was to make the computer-generated bunnies look like the more rough-hewn Plasticine models. Wen attests, "We had to study the texture closely. When the clay animators have to bend an arm or move an ear, there is no way it will look as smooth and precise as a computer generated model. We had to add those slight, random movements that happen when the animators get in there with their hands and manipulate the clay, and to simulate the subtle fingerprint impressions you can see on the clay models. It took quite a bit of research and experimenting, but I think we pulled it off."
"It was very important to us that they gave the rabbits a Plasticine finish, and I think they replicated the rabbits really well," Park affirms. "Even I have a hard time telling the difference."
DESIGNING THE SETS
ABOUT THE FILMMAKERS
NICK PARK (Director/Screenwriter/Producer)
STEVE BOX (Director/Screenwriter)
MARK BURTON (Screenwriter)
BOB BAKER (Screenwriter)