Nicholas Park

Nicholas Park

Date of Birth: 06.12.1958
Country: Great Britain

  1. Animation Champion: The Biography of Nick Park
  2. Early Years and Education

Animation Champion: The Biography of Nick Park

Early Years and Education

Nick Park, one of the most famous British animators of our time, can be called the Walt Disney of clay animation. While Disney has won twenty-nine Academy Awards, Nick Park has won three. Among the creators of stop-motion films, Park is as much of a champion as Disney is in the world of traditional animation. At the age of forty, Park still has plenty of opportunities to compete with the famous creator of "Snow White" and "Bambi". However, it is unlikely that Nick Park could have achieved his global victories alone. Fifteen years ago, fate brought him together with the renowned Bristol animation studio, Aardman Animation, and its creator, Peter Lord. Today, the Aardman brand is associated with the highest quality of clay animation, a record number of international festival awards, and enthusiastic recognition from the public. It was during the peak of their stardom that the first feature film by Aardman Studios, "Chicken Run," was born, created by the stars of clay animation, Nick Park and Peter Lord. However, the story of Park's triumph as an animator and the success of Aardman Animation should not begin with this Hollywood-style blockbuster, but rather with his early experiments as a thirteen-year-old animation enthusiast from Preston, Lancashire.
A Passion for Animation

It would be an understatement to say that Park dreamed of pursuing a career in animation from childhood. According to his own admission, he couldn't imagine what he would do in the world if he had been born before the invention of cinema. He drew his first animated film in his school notebooks in the attic of his parents' house. And in 1975, when Park was only seventeen, one of his childhood films, "Archie's Nightmares," was shown on BBC. Later, in 1980, Park graduated from the Sheffield School of Arts and began studying animation at the National Film and Television School in Beaconsfield. Even during his student years, in 1983, he began working on his first professional film about Mr. Wallace and his dog Gromit, titled "A Grand Day Out". He started experimenting with clay animation, unaware that this student project would bring him worldwide fame, his first Oscar nomination, and make his characters as popular as Mickey Mouse. "During my studies, I had to come up with a story with two characters," recalls Nick Park. "I found some sketches in my old school notebooks, and there were two characters in them - a cat named Gromit, who later became a dog, and a Postman, whom I later named Wallace. I thought it would be easy to make them out of clay and come up with interesting stories for them. But working on the first film turned out to be not so simple and took six years..." The talented debutant demonstrated not only remarkable directorial inventiveness but also incredible diligence, as he created everything for his twenty-minute adventure film by himself – from puppets and set models to animation. Perhaps it was this selfless craftsmanship that gave Park's debut film its unique charm and energy.
The Rise of Aardman Animation

Not only did the clay animation film convincingly tell the incredible adventures of the hilarious duo (when they couldn't find traditional holiday cheese in their fridge, the thoughtful Mr. Wallace and his intelligent dog embarked on a quest for it... on the Moon, because it's made of cheese!), but the expressive character designs and plasticity of the clay puppets were also unparalleled. The caricatured portraits of the characters - bulging-eyed balls, potato-like noses, semi-circular ears of Wallace, and soft bumps of intelligent eyebrows on Gromit's constantly thinking forehead - lovingly complemented the realistic household details. Wallace's knitted sweater and tie, the rustling newspaper in Gromit's paws, the wallpaper with delicate children's drawings on the walls, the shiny teapot on the table, or the carpentry tools with which the heroes built a real spaceship in their attic from improvised materials - all contributed to the film's charm. It's no wonder that the British audience immediately fell in love with this comedic clay duo. The enthusiastic reaction prompted the young director to continue the odyssey of Wallace and Gromit.
However, it is unlikely that the aspiring animator Nick Park would have successfully completed his first film alone if he had not met Peter Lord and his studio, where experienced professionals helped bring his talented vision to life. The two series that followed "A Grand Day Out" - "The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave" - were award-winning hits. Peter Lord, the founder, and leader of Aardman Animation, was born in Bristol in 1953. He dreamed of becoming an artist from childhood and, like Nick Park, was passionate about animation from an early age. In high school, together with his school friend David Sproxton, who later became his permanent partner in his professional life, Peter began studying drawn animation. Since David had his own film camera, which, according to Lord, largely determined their destiny, and Peter's father was involved in television, the friends decided to make a film for TV. Their first animated film about a character named Aardman turned out to be funny, caught the attention of BBC, and in honor of this unexpected success, the amateur animators took on the name of their first successful character in 1970. Later, during their university years, studying literature and geography, their animation hobby gradually turned into a career. In 1976, Aardman Animation was founded in Bristol. "At first, there were only two students at the studio: David Sproxton and me," recalls Peter Lord. "Now, those students are well over forty, and there is a staff of three hundred professionals working across three departments. Of course, our studio has long turned into a large company, and as the boss, I have to deal with more than just creative matters. But, like before, everything is held together by our enthusiasm and the friendly relationships we have. Aardman is not just a close-knit team; it is a family of professionals who love animation above all else and care about the reputation of our studio."
Beginning their professional career with drawn films, Aardman Animations realized within a year that it was too difficult and labor-intensive for them, and they started experimenting with various materials for stop-motion animation. Creating puppets and their environments directly on a small worktable seemed more exciting and technically simpler for the young animators. As Peter Lord admits, perhaps that's why they survived and managed to achieve success - they immediately focused on clay animation rather than traditional drawn animation, as they would not have been able to compete seriously with professionally trained artists and animators. And, as the triumphant fate of the studio shows, its creators not only found their original, now iconic, style of puppet animation but also created a new tradition of British animation that has captivated the world.
First and foremost, the Aardman animators taught their clay puppets to speak and play like live actors. During this period, their first character, Morph, was born, and one of the first series of films by Peter Lord and David Sproxton for British television was appropriately titled "Animated Conversations" (1978). The way in which the talking puppets were brought to life from film to film became more refined and expressive. The first animated dialogues were followed by the television series "Conversational Pieces" (1981-1983), which included their internationally renowned film "Creature Comforts." This film hilariously incorporated interviews with residents of real nursing homes, public hospitals, and shelters for the poor, giving their touching and funny monologues to the clay animals in their animated zoo. As a result, audiences around the world sympathetically listened to polar bears, lions, gorillas, turtles, peacocks, and other creatures bitterly complaining to journalists about the lack of space, food, comfort, and freedom in their enclosures and cages.
"Creature Comforts" brought Nick Park and Aardman Animation their first Oscar and ten additional prestigious film awards in different countries around the world. By the early 1990s, the recent film school graduate had become a recognized master of puppet animation, beloved by the audience and television producers. With new projects, Nick Park's Aardman Animation began to receive substantial financial support from influential British television companies. It is worth noting that the long-standing collaboration with British television, which constantly commissions commercial products from Peter Lord's studio (music videos, TV bumpers, commercials), allows the independent company Aardman Animation not only to thrive in the film industry but also to finance the work of highly skilled professionals.
"Unfortunately, even Nick Park's excellent films," admits Peter Lord, "do not allow the studio to survive without commercial orders and connections to television. Commercial work takes up most of our time and energy, but it brings in money, which is why each of our directors usually has the opportunity to make their own twenty-minute film in a year. Of course, Park's position is special at Aardman Animation. He has already won all possible awards in the world, and each new film he creates is even better than the last. His talent demands a different approach. For example, it would be impossible to force Nick to do something commercial for TV against his will. But for me, it is very important to have bright individuals like Park at the studio. The quality of his work and his reputation inspire and motivate everyone else." In 1993, inspired by his early successes and the support of his colleagues, Nick Park created his second, almost full-length (twenty-six minutes) installment of the adventures of his beloved characters, Wallace and Gromit, titled "The Wrong Trousers."
This incredibly humorous, wildly funny, beloved by both children and adults, and successfully marketed clay film brought Aardman Animation its second Oscar, eighteen more international awards, and the undisputed title of the world's leading puppet animation studio. In terms of its form, the film was incredibly spectacular and expressive, captivating in terms of its plot, and brilliant in terms of its technical mastery and animation quality. It truly hit the mark, winning the hearts of a wide audience, strict critics, and even the most skeptical aesthetes. It was a truly global triumph for contemporary animation, combining all the virtues of a popular comedy hit and the highest quality of genuine authorial animation. Moreover, it was three-dimensional, clay animation, which is always more challenging than traditional drawn animation but managed to melt the hearts of the audience.
Not only were the molded, seemingly living characters convincing in their lifelike destinies and incredible adventures, but they also retained all the conventions of puppetry in their appearance and movements.
It is not surprising that after the success of "The Wrong Trousers," the popular characters created by Nick Park came to life off-screen: various toys and souvenirs from Park became serious competition for the aging cartoon creatures and doll doubles of famous movie monsters and beauties in shop windows.
It seemed that "The Wrong Trousers" had exhausted the theme. However, two years later, to the dismay of critics and the delight of all Wallace and Gromit fans, Nick Park created another captivating twenty-six-minute series about the adventures of the famous comedic duo. The film, titled "A Close Shave" (1995), was once again an Oscar-winning success.
Once again, the director-animator's imagination thrust the well-known cartoon characters into the midst of the most incredible tragicomic trials and filled their on-screen lives with a cascade of circus tricks and comedy numbers that were previously unimaginable in puppet animation. The film amazed not only with its virtuosity but also with the boundless imagination of the director-animator, who devised so many funny moves and self-playing details for a thirty-minute film. For the first time, the puppetry dared to continue the tradition of classic Disney cartoons and literally embody all the fantastic tricks and metamorphoses of traditional animation in tangible, three-dimensional, and therefore more convincing plastic forms of almost live-action clay cinema.
Molded from pliable, almost living material, the animated characters made millions of viewers believe in the reality of their life stories and incredible adventures, while preserving the conventions of puppetry in their appearance and movements.
Not surprisingly, after the success of "A Close Shave," the beloved characters created by Nick Park came to life in the real world: a variety of toys and souvenirs from Park became formidable competitors for the aging cartoon creatures in shop windows, as well as the doll doubles of famous movie monsters and beauties.
It seemed that "A Close Shave" had exhausted the theme. However, two years later, to the dismay of critics and the delight of all Wallace and Gromit fans, Nick Park created another captivating twenty-six-minute series about the adventures of the famous comedic duo. The film, titled "A Close Shave" (1995), was once again an Oscar-winning success.