Secretarial: A job to get animated about

I Work For... ALISON COOK IS PA TO NICK PARK AND PETER LORD, MAKERS OF WALLACE AND GROMIT

Animation can be fascinating and it can also be unnerving, but it always provides a new look on things. Take Morph, the little plasticine man I loved as a kid because he was able to transform himself into the most amazing things. Years later my Dad introduced me to Wallace and Gromit and explained that they came from the same animators.

Three and a half years ago I was happily working in the BBC's Resources Department. The only thing I lacked was a sense of being involved in something creative within an environment allowing substantial personal freedom. My friend spotted this job and encouraged me to apply for it. As soon as I arrived I was hooked - team happiness was obviously very important, and I was promised there would be lots of parties.

I had my second interview with Nick, and I don't think he knew what to ask me. I had already seen him on TV accepting his Oscar for A Close Shave, and had been struck by how sweet and boyish he was. He really is rather like one of his creations, although he would probably deny it. Like Gromit, he doesn't say much yet he's always watching and knows what he wants. Just as I was leaving he said, "But you do like Wallace and Gromit, don't you?" It was my first inkling that they were alive to him.

I think that part of the fun of animation is being able to put yourself into the characters and then take them further than you could go yourself. Actually, everyone here believes that Wallace and Gromit exist, as do many others. People love seeing the figures, and are always surprised that they look the same in the flesh.

When Nick lost them in a New York taxi there was wide-scale panic and he was distraught. Fortunately, after putting up "missing" posters, he was reunited with them. It was almost as if Wallace and Gromit had deliberately got lost in order to enjoy a ride around the city.

When I joined the company it occupied a small studio in a old banana warehouse and I worked in the creative room with the animators and their storyboards. Then part of the company moved to a huge place in order to make our feature film, an animated adventure comedy called Chicken Run, about a group of chickens making a bid for freedom. The film is very pressured for Nick and Peter, and it is frustrating that we can only meet for just an hour each week. Yet it was with this period in mind that I was brought in early to learn how to deal with things on their behalf before they became absorbed in the filming.

There are over 150 people working on the feature film, with almost 30 separate film units each headed by an animator and curtained off within a massive studio. You have to be a certain kind of person to be an animator, not exactly obsessive but able to concentrate on one thing for hours at a time. On a good day you will shoot two and a half seconds. It would soon drive me mad, but animators have enormous patience.

When I started, I was rather perturbed to find Peter, arms outstretched, repeatedly running up and down behind me. No one had explained that it's usual to mime the actions of characters before shooting. I first met him the day of a royal visit to the studio and was introduced as "your new PA" minutes before the Queen came up to shake his hand.

Neither of them had ever had a PA before, so I took him and Nick out to lunch separately to get an idea of how we'd like to work together. Nick told me he needed someone to field his calls and remind him of what he needed to do, whereas Peter's needs, as the owner of the company, were slightly different. I don't think he quite knew what my role was so I spelt it out, saying "I am here to support you and to make things easier."

He nodded and confirmed his belief in the importance of looking after people within a company. It's a consideration which suits me fine because I'm quite maternal by nature, and nurturing is a PA's role. I spent the first couple of weeks wading through fan mail and getting to know the company. Then I took over organising the travel arrangements, and from then on we made it up as we went along.

I have been to events where everyone has made a big fuss of Nick as a three-times Oscar-winning star, but he doesn't seem to realise it, describing himself as "just an animator". I was very touched when, knowing how keen I was on Mel Gibson, he brought back a napkin he'd asked the star to sign for me during a dinner. On returning from the Lord Mayor's dinner last week he came back talking about his excitement at having met Patrick Moore.

Pete is very much the grown-up of the two, charming and a family man. Yet neither man takes himself particularly seriously - when animating they are like two schoolboys working on a project together, looking serious at one moment and giggling the next. Every year we have several fancy- dress parties, and their outfits are always fantastic - Pete's Elvis was particularly good, as was Nick's devil.

They may be my bosses, but they treat me like an equal and never lose their tempers. They are also constantly grateful. When I told Pete I was doing this interview he said, "But it should be called `I Work With'."

Arriving at Aardman Animations felt like coming home, and, having waited so long for it to happen, I wouldn't dream of leaving.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones