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Interview with ‘Early Man’ Director Nick Park

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Nick Park is a bonafide animation legend. The creator of Wallace & Gromit is not only the winner of 4 Academy Awards but has also directed 8 films & shorts and is the director of the recent Aardman film, Early Man. Recently he gave us some of us his time to talk about the film and his process for creating his delightful animation:

Rotoscopers: It’s such an honor to get to talk with you

Nick Park: Oh you too. Thank you

Thank you. The readers from Rotoscopers.com were so excited when they heard, and wanted me to tell you how much they love what you guys are doing there at Aardman.

That’s very kind. Thank you

My first question – how did you get the idea for Early Man?

Well, I tend to get all my ideas from keeping sketchbooks and doodling a lot. For Early Man I was thinking about cave man, and I was really interested in cave man and prehistoric people. But I didn’t want to just make another adventure that has been done before. I was looking for a quirky angle. I happened upon this drawing where a caveman was holding a club and hitting a rock like baseball and that suddenly made me start thinking about caveman and sport. And how I’ve never really seen a prehistoric underdog sports movie before and that just got me going really. I didn’t end up with baseball because I started to think about soccer and how teamwork and how soccer or football brought people together and helped form society. It just seemed to have legs for an idea.

Did you originally have the different character designs? Because they feel a little bit different than some of the other character designs you have done.

Well, right. Ok. Because they were in a different world and being they were ancient Britons, I wanted them to look kind of scruffy. Partly the clay kind of fits that primitive nature of the subject matter and also for the fabrics I wanted real hair. I don’t mean real hair but fur and fabric so it is tactile so it had real texture.

By the way, I don’t mind… I don’t mind if the clay or the hair sort of flickers or moves like it does if the animators touches it. It reminds me of those old films like King Kong, old special effects movies.

But they were designed I guess so they didn’t look the same as Wallace and Gromit. They had the same eyes touching in the middle and big goofy mouths

The noses are a little different. That’s probably the biggest difference.

Right. Some of them are. You mean the cave man? Yeah they were and they had funny nostrils showing. Not all did but some did.

What do you think differentiates Dug from your other lead characters like Wallace and Shaun?

He’s younger. Well I guess Shaun is young. He’s quite different. It’s just a different way. Wallace is Wallace and I was thinking what would be the best character for a caveman movie. In the end, I decided Dug was about 15 years old, and he’s a kind of can-do guy. He has similarities to Wallace. The temptation was to make him an inventor but it seems like all caveman are inventing things, and I didn’t want to just make the ancestors of Wallace. It’s tempting to do that, but I wanted someone different and someone who stands alone. And Hognob reminds me of Gromit a bit. That wasn’t intentional. I feel that Hognob is more of a dog actually than even Gromit is. Gromit would be insulted if you told him he was a dog or treated him like a dog where Hognob is more of an enthusiastic puppy, a loyal puppy.

That makes sense. How long does it take you guys to animate a sequence?

Yeah one animator on their own would do on average about 3 seconds a day. You know moving the puppet and taking it down and so forth, but we had a crew of around 35 or 40 animators on the film. Each filming on many different sets on different stages every day, so between us all, we would get through around a minute a week … Which was fairly fast actually … Oh yeah. It’s really rolling.

That’s amazing.

I’m in a different time warp. It’s fast for animation. Even CG isn’t that fast.


What do you think is special about stop motion animation that the other animation can’t provide?

It’s always a bit of a difficult one to define actually. I have many friends who do CG and admire it very much and the people who are good at in the world. Plus Aardman has done CG too. We do commercials and stuff.

Well, Arthur Christmas, as well.

Yeah Arthur Christmas and Flushed Away. I’m a clay man myself. There’s a certain charm that comes with clay and it’s limiting how you can make your clay figures move. It’s very labor intensive, but for me there’s a kind of a humor that comes with it. There’s something that comes from it that is very human, strangely enough, as well.

I’m not saying you can’t achieve great things with CG. You can obviously. Just have a look at Pixar. I just think there’s something a lot more scaled down. Look at the way Gromit was born out of clay. I’m not sure it would have been the same if he was on a computer screen. The fact that I had to, at the beginning, try and animated him, and just move his brow and tweak it each frame, 12 times per second. The closer you are handling a character every frame, you kind of endue a certain soul really into the character and its very good at little human nuances and changing expressions. That’s what I discovered.

Do you think that is why Wallace and Gromit has stood the test of time is that intimate connection you guys have?

Yeah it’s great for getting those subtle human things. Also I like to think big and slapstick with it. You can do the subtle things like in Early Man the little Hognob reactions. They are very important to comedy. Just like Gromit’s reactions to everything Wallace says are important. Hognob had his reactions and the next minute Dug would be doing Buster Keaton and fall down some stairs. It varies from very small subtle things to quite big broad comedy all the time.

Is that what you think makes Early Man special? For the films that you’ve done is some of the comedy?

Yeah. I like whenever things get dramatic to undercut it with comedy. That’s what we try to do all the time. I like to take a scene and see what kind of comedy I can get out of it. Inventiveness in using props and situations and just seeing how funny we can make it and ridiculous.

How did you decide on your voice cast for Early Man?

It was automatic for me. It was a dream team really of people I wanted. Eddie Redmayne was fantastic. We would make a short list, approach the agents obviously and so thrilled that most people these days I approach will look at the film and say yes. It’s great to be in that position. And to have my dream team like Eddie Redmayne, Miriam (Margolyes), Tom (Hiddleston), Masie (Williams). Timothy Spaull I’ve worked with before in Chicken Run. He was one of the rats in Chicken Run… He’s great. He’s one of these great old British actors. Well, he’s not that old. A lot of the actors were comedy actors or comedians I’ve always wanted to work with like Richard Ayoade, Johnny Vegas…

Do you show them their model when they do the voicework?

Yes because when they start all they have is a script and maybe I’ve done some sketches and then after we do some voice testing that helps us adjust the model and change the animation. After we do the animation and get more of their voice recorded we then show them more footage as the film progresses and get more of an idea for it. And they are more confident of who they are. We use little mannerisms that they do. Like Eddie, I was amazed to seem him transformed into a kind of 15 year old into the microphone. Very energetic and he puts his mouth to the side to show a kind of energetic feeling. We put that into Dug and it helped the voice feel natural coming out of that character. Choosing the actors Is very important

You get the voice work pretty early on in the process?

Yeah you start recording before doing any animation and then as we work through the story and the animation there are script changes, and you have to go back to the actors and do small recordings or a rerecording. It’s a constant process of back and forth and then they get to see footage. But we do like to show them the puppets.

Early Man

What’s that like when you see the final product? That must be amazing.

Oh it is. The film animation itself takes 18 months. The story is already in, lighting, building and designing, all together probably 4 or 5 years from beginning to end. One of my most fulfilling aspects that I love is making people laugh. Telling a story and to see a joke you thought of 5 years ago finally make people laugh, through that laborious process and you see it on screen with an audience and they react in the right way is a very touching thing.

Well can we get any idea of what’s coming up for Aardman? What you’re excited about?

N- Sure yeah. I’m actually taking a break right now because it is so exhausting. But the whole crew is working on Shaun the Sheep 2 so that’s well under way. And I think you may have seen there’s been something out about Chicken Run 2, which is also in the pipeline.

We are so excited about both of those.

Oh great. Thank you. I’ve also got more Wallace and Gromit ideas so we will have to come back to them at some point.

Wow. That would be great. It has been a huge honor. Thank you so much for letting me talk with you.

My pleasure. Thank you

Thank you for all you guys do. We really appreciate it.

That’s very encouraging. Thank you very much!


Early Man is currently available on digital HD and will be available on 4K, Blu-ray and DVD on May 22

Edited by: Kajsa Rain Forden

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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic and podcaster. She loves all things animation and does a monthly podcast on classic Disney films and on obscure animation at Rachel's Reviews. She also is the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast. She grew up with mainstream classics like The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons but also loves indie and anime fare like Song of the Sea and Your Name. Most important to her is discussing all kinds of film and TV shows with her friends and all of you. Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachel_reviews and on her blog rachelsreviews.net