Director Nick Park has an unassuming demeanor, but he’s one of the giants of the stop-motion animation world. His Wallace & Gromit shorts are some of the best works of the genre, and he’s continually found ways to push this style of animation forward while still retaining a signature sense of humor that’s both irreverent and charming.
Earlier this year, I went to Aardman Studios with a small group of journalists to see the making of his new film, Early Man, which follows a prehistoric tribe that must go up against the citizens of the Bronze Age in a game of football in order to maintain their independence. At the end of our visit, we got to talk with Park. During our conversation, he talked about the inspiration for the movie, applying digital ideas to analog times, why he chose to tackle directing this project solo, if he might ever return to Wallace & Gromit, and more.
Check out the full interview below, and click here for my report on visiting the set. Early Man opens February 16, 2018.
So did you work out all the animation of prehistoric times from inspirational research?
NICK PARK: Yeah, well I’ve always been, well from a kid being crazy about dinosaurs and prehistoric life. I knew all the … way before Jurassic Park. I was obsessed with Ray Harryhausen movies. Particularly, we found quite inspiring what’s the trailer? Well, I know one of the greatest movies in my childhood was 1,000,000 Years BC, so there is obvious reference to that in the opening.
Yeah, I knew my Harryhausen a little bit. We’ve even got two of the dinosaurs fighting at the beginning, called Ray and Harry, as a tribute.
Can you talk a little bit about the genesis of this project? Was it something that you wanted obsessively in prehistoric times, or was it the sports comedy aspect? What was it about this project the really leaped out at you?
PARK: Yeah, that’s a good question, because I was looking for something. I didn’t just want to make a prehistoric movie. It had to have something a bit quirky about it, and a little bit original. It was, it was just two things came together, and that’s a way for ideas to arrest me, and make me, “Oh boy, this could be something.” I think it’s because I’ve never seen a prehistoric football match.
I think it came from the idea, and also the clay technique. I’m very much a clay man, myself. I thought it really lends itself to something prehistoric, and cavemen, sort of expressive and dim looking. But yeah, I think it was the idea sort of spawned from just kicking around ideas of cavemen and clubs. I started to think, “Now, what if cavemen played a sport?” It was the clubs that did it, really. But, then it came about, “What if cavemen couldn’t swing clubs, but instead had to join one?”
So yeah, what if they had to put down their clubs, and the clubs were useless against a mightier force, and so had to play again, football, instead. That’s how the whole thing started to evolve.