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Early Man's Nick Park shares 4 rare pieces of Aardman art

Phil de Semlyen

Nick Park CBE is a bona fide hero of British animation. From Wallace and Gromit to his latest pair, prehistoric double act Dug and Hognob in ‘Early Man’, via Ginger in ‘Chicken Run’, his stop-motion creations are national treasures. Here, he takes Time Out back to the drawing boards to talk us through some rarely seen first drafts.

1. Dug and Hognob (‘Early Man’)
‘I’ve always wanted to do a caveman story and, like all our ideas, it started with doodles and sketches. In this one, Dug’s quite thick-set, with a thick neck and fatter arms. It took ages to arrive at who the character is: how much of a lunk is he? Is he the weedy one or the ideas guy? Hognob is a keen puppy, full of joy and very loyal. People liken him to Gromit, which is accidental but inevitable, I guess. Gromit is more sophisticated, whereas Hognob is a pet, although he does have that slightly intelligent nature. He’s a heck of a lot harder to animate than Gromit. He has a mouth, for one thing.’

2. Wallace and Gromit
‘I was at film school in Sheffield when I drew this. Originally Wallace had a thin face – it was only when Peter Sallis started voicing him and emphasising these heavy syllables in words, like “cheeeese”, that I developed his mouth. I used to think he was 50, so it was strange when I turned 50, because I always thought of him as being much older than me. Back then Gromit had a mouth. His face was like a long banana with a nose on the end. I’d had an idea in Sheffield for a guy called Mr Norris who had a magical flying bike and a cat that sat in it. Mr Norris became Wallace and the cat became Gromit. It’s that Jeeves and Wooster relationship in a way: the servant who’s more in control.’

3. Ginger (‘Chicken Run’)
‘We loved this idea of a “Great Escape” with chickens. Peter [Lord, Aardman’s co-founder] and I visited a couple of chicken farms and asked a lot of questions. For the models, we had to have a break between the neck and the body, so we gave them scarves so you wouldn’t notice where the arms went into the joints. Plus, it would have taken forever to re-sculpt them between frames. Ginger is one of the more on-the-ball chickens and the hat gave her a distinctive look. Julia Sawalha did a great job voicing her.’

4. Shaun the Sheep
‘Shaun existed in “A Close Shave” as a cute, innocent, heroic little sheep, but when we decided to create his own world [Aardman animator] Richard Starzak put him on two legs more often and developed the characters around him. Shaun looked a bit younger in “A Close Shave” but Richard aged him up to be more of a teenager. Gromit was really popular at the time, but suddenly Shaun overtook him as our most popular bit of merchandise. When one of the Spice Girls posed with a Shaun the Sheep rucksacks’ sales rocketed.’ 

‘Early Man’ opens on Fri Jan 26. Read Time Out's review.

For more January recommendations, head to our preview of the month's best releases.

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