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Feature: Wallace and Gromit - Christmas 2008

A Christmas
'Who-doughnut' mystery

Nick Park with Gromit and Wallace with his voice Peter SallisThe BBC started unveiling its Christmas treats with a screening of the latest adventures for Wallace and Gromit. In attendance were creator Nick Park, the actor behind the unmistakable voice of Wallace, Peter Sallis and members of the Aardman Animation team behind the duo's films.

Bakers Wallace and Gromit

Monday 17 November 2008
As we entered the viewing room to see the new adventure, A Matter of Loaf and Death, the slightly frail 87-year-old Peter Sallis greeted us with, "I expect you're wondering why I've sent for you" and "My name is Walt Disney, by the way", and continued to charm the audience as everyone took their seats.

Controller of BBC1 Jay Hunt introduced the film as "witty, charming and life-affirming" and that it plays an important part of the Christmas schedule, along with the return of Jonathan Creek and Rupert Penry-Jones starring in a new version of The 39 Steps. Wallace and Gromit will also feature in the Christmas channel idents, so watch the screens…

Nick Park with new characters Fluffles and Piella Bakewell

The film itself returns to the 30-minute format, somewhat of a relief for Nick Park after the gruelling 4-5 year schedules of Chicken Run and Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and it is everything we'd expect from the Aardman creative team. It's a story of bread, but with little loafing around and Gromit rising to the occasion, and, of course, those on-screen puns that require multiple viewing. It's a Christmas treat of superlatives and a long overdue return for the duo to our small screens – well, perhaps not so small these days! And let's not forget the excellent music from Julian Nott.

Wallace finds love with Piella

Without giving the story away – you should wait until Christmas to unwrap this present – a new woman enters Wallace's life, Piella Bakewell, the former star of the Bake-O-Lite bread commercial. And those with a 'nimble memory' might find her slightly familiar! There are quite a few film and tv references, including Hitchcock, Bagpuss (a tribute to Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's work), penguins, Ghost and, yes, even Aliens! Surprisingly, though, cheese keeps a low profile this time…

The story involves more than one of the almost trademark chase sequences we expect, including one down a very steep hill that the production team christened 'Hovis Hill', after one of the bread company's most successful adverts. For the crew, chase sequences have grown easier over the years, as Nick Park told us, "The chases are always very difficult; so many short shots, so many different angles. They take time. But we're getting used to them now."

Another character to join is Piella's pet poodle Fluffles, who knows too much but also catches the attention of Gromit. At last the pet pooch has his own love interest. But while romance blooms there is a cereal killer on the loose as, one by one, bakers are being murdered, 12 to date. Who will make up the baker's dozen…?

The Idea Forms…
Nick Park recalled the genesis of the story. " I sat down about two years ago with Bob Baker, who co-wrote The Wrong Trousers and Curse of the Were-Rabbit. We had a number of ideas on the table - we knew we wanted to do a romance of some sort for Wallace. We thought it would be great to have a dual romance with Gromit as well. It wasn't a murder mystery to start with."

And Peter Sallis recalled how he created the voice of Wallace: "When Nick phoned me up in 1983 – was it? – and introduced himself over the phone and asked if I would do it [the voice], I said, 'I don't know, send me the script'. So he did and I recorded chunks of it, and I said, 'I don't know if this will do,' meaning the voice, of course.

"I had a bit of a problem, in the sense that for some years I'd been a Yorkshire man in Last of the Summer Wine, or trying to be a Yorkshire man. And I knew that Nick was from Preston, which is not in Yorkshire. So I thought maybe I should do a Lancashire accent, and I did a Lancashire accent. And it sounded exactly like Yorkshire! So that's how we got the voice of Wallace, more by luck than judgement."

Nick Park also noted how Peter's voice shaped the Wallace model: "When I first started doing the animation Wallace had to say 'Cheese'. And the way Peter said 'Cheese' in that voice Wallace's mouth had to be very wide. So the voice very much influenced the way I animated Wallace".

The shooting of the story took 13-14 animators working full-time over seven months, producing up to three seconds each per day. The whole process involved one year of planning, seven months' shooting and one month post production.

Bread delivery Gromit style

by Jan Vincent-Rudzki

Photos © BBCtv, unless stated otherwise
Feature © Visual Imagination 2008. Not for reproduction

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