Clay animation stands out against CGI: Nick

The legendary animator and four-time Oscar winner, with his signature modesty, looks back at his legacy

Nick Park, animator

If Nick Park was the sort of person who boasted about his achievements, he would probably tell you that he has won an Oscar every year that he has been nominated; only one of his nominated films lost -- because he won that year for another film.

But Park isn’t one to boast. A fervent declaration of admiration for his work would probably earn you the response: “That’s so kind of you.”

Talking to Metrolife ahead of the Indian television premiere of his film Early Man on Sony PIX, Park looked back at his achievements with his signature modesty.

He turned to clay animation films right when he was in film school. It was there that he made his first Wallace and Gromit short film, A grand day out.

Made in 1989 and an Oscar nominee, it remains a great favourite to this day.

“There is something about the ridiculous and the absurd that appeals to me. I always admired Hannah Barbara and Chuck Jones (which is) an old-fashioned sort of humour. I think people will always laugh at somebody falling over,”
he said.

But a closer looks reveals that Park had a lot more to show that somebody falling over even then. Even with its rough edges, A grand day out has a scene where there’s a snowboard in a godown that reads “Rose bud” -- an obvious reference to Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

But this is not a token homage: the Welles connection becomes clearer when you realise the robot Wallace and Gromit meet on the moon has dreams of coming back home to ski.

But Park’s work has changed a lot since then. He has moved on to feature films and become one of the most successful artists to employ parody in animation.

His The curse of the were-rabbit is perhaps the most intelligent subversion of the ‘Werewolf’ genre ever made.

Today, he has four Oscars to his credit in the Best
Animated Short Film Category: a formidable achievement dimmed only by the fact that the category holds the record for most Oscars won by a single person: something like half a century before Park, Walt Disney picked up, by the doze, more Oscars than anybody had any use for them.

Still, Park holds as many Oscars in this category as John Ford has in the Best Director category, and Ingmar Bergman and Federico Fellini have in the Best Foreign Language Film Category.

Park, however, seemed averse to the idea that he makes films for a particular category or an audience.

Talking about his process, he says, “There is a certain naivety, innocence (in the films) that reflects my world view. It’s just how I look at things, what I find funny,” he said.

He also said this has troubled him when it comes to marketing. Wallace and Gromit have a particularly British appeal, and this was hard to digest for American corporations, who wanted to pitch his films their audiences. Park said he and his team “don’t direct it towards any particular age group in a marketing sort of way.” There have been some things that have stayed throughout in his work, the most obvious being animals. Gromit is one of the great animals in all of animations, far more endearing that even the Disney creations.

“We can relate to animals more sometimes,” he says, “because sometimes you can be more human with animals than you can be with fellow humans”.

Although clay animation has never been a genre that dominated the industry, with computer graphics coming up with newer possibilities every year, the future looks dim. There are one-off attempts like Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs that become hits, but such ventures are few and far apart.

But Park does not seem very concerned. He thinks computer graphics has come in handy even for him, especially in his latest work Early Man, where they are plenty of volcanoes scenes and explosions.

“But the charm that comes through clay is unique though hard to define... What’s nice is that we stand out against all the computer graphics films,” he says with a cool that must come from a legacy that’s hard to beat.

Aamir Khan fan
Park said although he is not well-acquainted with Indian cinema, he had taken a liking to the Aamir Khan-starrer ‘Lagaan’.

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