The Strange Time Aardman Won an Academy Award… Against Itself?
The Academy Awards are considered by many to be one of, if not the, biggest movie-related events of the year. So imagine how exciting it was for the little British-based claymation animation studio Aardman when it was nominated for Best Animated Short Film at the 63rd Academy Awards in 1991. While Wallace and Gromit are household names now, back then, only one of their famous shorts had been released, A Grand Day Out. Clearly, the members of the Academy were enamored with the quirky little space adventure starring a regular middle-aged man with an unhealthy love for cheese and his pet dog, so the short nabbed a nomination.
This was director Nick Park’s first time at the prestigious awards ceremony, and it was certainly an exciting time for all those involved in the creation of Wallace and Gromit. No one could predict the success Wallace and Gromit would have in the future, and it was all going to begin on this special night. Unfortunately, A Grand Day Out lost the award for Best Animated Short Film to Creature Comforts, an animated short film also by Aardman Animations and also directed by Nick Park. Here’s the strange story of how Aardman and Park competed and won the Oscar… against themselves.
A Grand Day Out did not start life as a project by Aardman Animations. Instead, Park began working on the short film in 1982, when he was still studying at the National Film and Television School. It was envisioned as a graduation project to be released when he finished his degree. However, as it was a stop-motion project, production understandably took a very long time.
By 1985, Park was hired by Aardman Animations. When he started working at the company, he had only made it as far as the first scene on the moon. Aardman allowed Park to work on A Grand Day Out on a part-time basis, with the project still getting funding from the National Film and Television School. Indeed, were it not for Park’s new co-workers at Aardman, the film would have taken even longer to complete. It was thanks to their suggestions that Park decided to trim down and streamline the second half of the script.
While Park was working on A Grand Day Out part-time, he did have a full-time job at Aardman – creating and directing new projects for the company. One of these new projects was Creature Comforts, a mockumentary short film where Park would take audio recordings and interviews with members of the British public and animate them to various animals in the zoo. Since Creature Comforts was only five minutes and made as part of Park’s main job with Aardman, its production was much shorter than the six years it took to create the 23-minute long A Grand Day Out. Indeed, when Park called Peter Sallis (the voice of Wallace) after all those years to tell him production was complete, he swore at him in response.
It was sheer coincidence that Creature Comforts and A Grand Day Out wrapped production and were released within months of each other. It was an even bigger coincidence that both were eligible for the same category in the same year of the Academy Awards. And it was a downright miracle that both got nominated. Although, given how excellent both A Grand Day Out and Creature Comforts are, perhaps it shouldn’t have been that surprising. But it does result in the fascinating circumstance where Nick Park and Aardman Animations were viciously competing against themselves for a lauded Academy Award.