Aardman wasn't able to get its latest Wallace & Gromit short qualified last year for the Oscars, but there was no problem this year getting A Matter of Loaf and Death  in the hunt for their fifth Academy Award. Nick Park  tells us all about their adventures as bakers and trying to nab the serial killer that's terrorizing their industry.
Bill Desowitz: Congratulations. You can never take anything for granted, can you?
Nick Park: No, absolutely. It's amazing to be up there, really, and still be able to get that kind of [consideration].
BD: But A Matter of Loaf and Death proved to be extremely successful when it aired as a Christmas special a couple of years ago, attracting 14 million viewers.
NP: Yeah, I think it's because it's now 20 years since Wallace & Gromit have been around and I guess it shows that there's been a built up and it's soaked in.
BD: Talk about the challenge of keeping it fresh and achieving such a high standard of quality.
BD: What inspired this idea of them becoming bakers?
NP: Well, it was nice after two features back-to-back to do something more homegrown, effectively with the BBC, and I sat down with my old writing colleague, Bob Baker, who, by the way, appears in the beginning as Baker Bob. But we sat down with a few ideas in the back of my head and the main ones were this romance for Gromit, which has never happened before, and then a joke of Wallace going to a dating agency, which didn't appear in the film, eventually. We needed something sinister going on for Gromit to unravel as the detective, and we had this idea where the lady behind the agency, who took down all of his details, turns up on the date. But we couldn't think of a single thing as her motivation of what Wallace had to offer. And we didn't have anything new for them to do as their business. So we thought what if he talks about bread and dough and she thinks he's got money. And then we suddenly thought it would be great to be making bread, and that sparked us off in that direction. And we found there's a whole world out there.
BD: So it was great to get back to basics?
BD: So what was the production experience like on this one?
NP: I think one of the biggest problems of this is that the story was so difficult to get down to 30 minutes, and the BBC were insisting on that so they could sell it on to other TV stations. And so I wanted to do something that was a bit more pacier than before. And I had some big set pieces in mind that were pacey. But I was scared at the same time: I didn't want the whole thing to be just one mad rollercoaster.
BD: Wallace & Gromit is so character-based.
NP: Yeah, and partly what people like about Wallace & Gromit is it has its own sense of pace: quite mild and gentle in some ways. So it was a matter of balancing that out, really.
BD: Did you do anything new technically with stop-motion?
NP: Yeah, it was the first film I made where we didn't shoot on 35mm film. And we were already using high-def cameras on other things, and we went into this cautiously and did a lot of testing. I was impressed the look that Corpse Bride  had: cinematic yet digital. So we decided to bite the bullet and go with digital cameras for the first time. And made with the BBC money you just can't justify film anymore. So we shot basically on Canon SLR stills cameras and I really fell in love with it, actually, in a way that I didn't think I would. We were scared that you might get funny kind of strobing and things because quite often digital media are so much sharper. And if you've got edges of an object moving, often a hard edge will strobe, or if there's a camera move, there are lots of vertical lines. But actually you get a lot of that in film, anyway, so we found there were lots of teething problems with lighting but Dave Riddett, our DP, re-educated himself on it, really. Things like having the corner of a room be nice and cozy, you take some light off it. The digital camera seems to have its own mind and will compensate, and will bring out all the garish pinks when you really want to knock them back, so we found working between the DP and the art department that we would dampen the sets down with a gray wash more than we would normally. And it was a great safety net, where you could go back and recreate frames; if a picture falls off the wall; or the leaves on a tree move. And you get so much detail that it shows off the hand-made quality even more in some ways because you can see the fingerprints more.
BD: It must be nice to have a crew comprised of veterans and some newcomers.
NP: Yeah, we're all on the same page already and they know what Wallace & Gromit look like. And very few were totally new. Some had worked on commercials and know how chunky to make things.
NP: Yeah, I loved his film. He was one of my favorite animators. It's funny how he was like a CG guy and came to do clay again. And he was probably one of the best Gromit animators I've had. And so it's great to see what he's doing now. I've been in touch with him and wish him all the best.
BD: I understand things are going well so far with Sony.
NP: Yeah, we're about to start our first two feature films, Arthur Christmas  and Pirates!  And Pete Lord is about to start shooting in March on Pirates !-- and that's our stop-frame feature film. Plus we've got Arthur Christmas as a CG feature film. And we're very busy.
BD: They tell me the idea is to "let Aardman be Aardman," so you must be pleased about that.
NP: When we met them, they just wanted us to be ourselves, and that was music to our eyes. So it's all looking good.
Bill Desowitz is Senior Editor of AWN & VFXWorld.