My apologies to those of you outside the UK that can't watch this on iplayer. It would be good if the BBC looked into including a pay option for overseas viewers.
Anyhow, for the benefit of overseas viewers I've drafted a short summary of what was discussed in the interview. Look away now if you intend watching this before it disappears on Sunday the 29th of November.
Mark Kermode: "Do you look back at your childhood as a ‘lost golden age’?"
Nick Park: "It makes a good reference seeing the world slightly naively through the eyes I had then."
Mark Kermode hands Nick Park his Beano Annual from 1970. Park says he would have been 11 years old. “I used to get one every Christmas and I would sit and read it from cover to cover, many times.” He likes how characters live in small terraced houses like in Preston where he grew up, but great surreal things can happen, fantastical things. He would sit and copy a whole page because he imagined one day he’d be a Beano artist and draw his own cartoon strips. He points out how in ‘The Wrong Trousers’ you can see shots similar to the Beano style, with pavements curving over the horizon.
Kermode: “And moving now to the vast expanse of Europe, from Belgium the adventures of Tintin” - points to the cover of Explorers On the Moon
- “that does very much look like a Wallace & Gromity-type rocket”. Park points to the spacesuit and says he'd paid hommage, or ripped off, the suit for the Techno Trousers in ‘The Wrong Trousers’. Park says he loves Tintin because Hergé is very observational, and he obviously has a love of the design of the time; rockets, cars and boats.
Moving on to non-animation/cartoon influences they talk about Ealing comedies. Park liked the thriller aspect of the Ealing comedies, how it was usually a comfortable setting yet sinister, and it was very easy to tell who the criminals were. Park speaks about the clip in ‘The Lady Killers’ where the Alec Guinness turns up at the door of Mrs Wilberforce. He also talks about “The Lavender Hill Mob” being a very British style of comedy "where you’ve got some guy on the tube trying to attract burglars to break into his house".
Kermode: "Is there ever a sense that you were tending towards black and white?"
Park says he loves Film Noir. One of his favourite films is Hitchcock’s version of 'Rebecca', particularly because of the lighting and photography. Park feels that Hitchcock was always doing animation. He remembers once seeing his storyboards which made him want to storyboard his own movies. Park says Mrs Danvers (from 'Rebecca') is one of the best movie characters ever – the way Hitchcock decided not to show her legs so that she drifts around in a long dress. He admits that he, perhaps unconsciously, based Feathers McGraw on Mrs Danvers. They talk about Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ – the scene where Stewart sends Grace Kelly to the flat opposite to find something and the villain comes back to the flat, which Park calls "a very scary moment". She tries to show them that she’s found the ring and that’s where the villain clocks that they’re being watched. Park loves that kind of a moment in films and is always trying to capture that kind of scene in his own work. He admits that he used the scene in ‘A Matter Of Loaf And Death’, where Gromit tries to show Wallace Paella’s photo album and ties to tell Wallace she’s a murderer and that he’s going to be her next victim.
Kermode says it always seemed to him that the visual expressions of Gromit were inspired by silent movie comedians, "because it’s all eyes, there’s no mouth". Park says Gromit was going to have a mouth originally and that they even attempted to record a voice for him, a dog-like growly voice, but when they came to do the first shot it was too difficult to get in there and animate his mouth, so he discovered that he could instead move his eyebrows up and down, and that seemed to speak volumes. He speaks about a scene in ‘A Grand Day Out’ where Wallace says "we’re going to look for cheese" and he didn’t quite know how to get Wallace to react. But then he saw the film ‘Trading Places’ where one of the millionaire characters says something very patronising to Eddie Murphy and he just looks at the camera towards the audience for a couple of seconds. It was that which inspired Gromit’s knowing looks toward the camera.
View some screenshots from the show here!