A man whose creative brilliance is superceded only by the eccentricities on display in his work, writer/director/producer/animator Nick Park has been revolutionizing the art of claymation since 1989, when he made the Oscar-winning short Creature Comforts. Working in concert with Aardman Animations, Park has created a bizarre, inextricably British universe where mute dogs solve riddles that elude their dim owners, penguins plot dastardly deeds, chickens act out their own version of The Great Escape, and cheese is granted a standing of disquieting importance.
Born in Preston, Lancashire, on December 6, 1958, Park was exposed to both chickens and animation at an early age. He made his first animated film at the age of 13 and made his professional debut four years later, on BBC television, with the animated short Archie's Concrete Nightmare (1975). After attending the Sheffield Art School, where he studied communication arts, Park went on to earn a degree in animation from the National Film and Television School, where he began working on A Grand Day Out. The stop-motion clay animation feature, which starred the signature characters of Wallace, a dim inventor, and Gromit, his brilliant but put-upon dog, would take years to finish; in the interim, Park joined Aardman Animations in 1986, where he first worked on the Peter Gabriel music video "Sledgehammer."
Collaborating with Aardman co-founder Peter Lord and the Brothers Quay, Park spent the next few years contributing to Aardman's Lip Synch, a series of short films for Channel Four television, and wrote, animated, and directed Creature Comforts (1990), a five-minute short about unhappy zoo animals complaining about their living conditions. The short proved to be a critical and popular success, leading to both a celebrated advertising campaign for electricity on British TV and Park's first Oscar nomination. Park's nomination was accompanied that same year by a second, in the same category of Best Animated Short, for the now-complete A Grand Day Out. The former film ended up winning the award, while the latter launched a craze for Wallace & Gromit. In Great Britain the Wallace & Gromit characters became a fairly substantial industry, with the beady-eyed, toothy likenesses of the inventor and his dog gracing products ranging from coffee mugs to pens.
Another Wallace & Gromit outing, The Wrong Trousers, followed in 1993. Like its predecessor, the animated film combined a clever plot with lovably eccentric heroes and a breathtaking manipulation of clay, and its creator was rewarded for his efforts with a second Oscar. The film's success added to the Wallace & Gromit cult, as did the third installment, 1995's A Close Shave. The winner of another Best Animated Short Oscar for Park, the film led many fans to anticipate a feature-length outing; instead, Park and fellow director Peter Lord decided to focus their creative attention on making, in their words, "The Great Escape with chickens."
Undoubtedly their most ambitious project to date, the film, Chicken Run, took over five years to complete, and combined CGI effects with thousands of hours of painstaking manual animation. The result, which incorporated the vocal talents of such noted actors as Julia Swahala, Mel Gibson, Jane Horrocks, and Miranda Richardson, more than vindicated the hard work of its creators. Equal parts adventure, love story, comedy, and sly commentary on labor politics, Chicken Run was a huge commercial and critical triumph on both sides of the Atlantic, delighting both die-hard Park fans and inspiring thousands of enthusiastic new converts.
In 2003 he revisited an idea that had garnered him attention 13 years before, with a half-hour long Creature Comforts TV series. Based on the same premise of claymation animals in various settings matter-of-factly discussing their lives as if being interviewed for a documentary, the series was a hit. It wouldn't be the last time Park elaborated on an older idea to make something new: in 2005 he directed a full-length feature film about the beloved inventor and his dog with Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of The Were-Rabbit. He found mainstream success with the effort, even picking up an Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. ~ Rebecca Flint Marx, Rovi