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.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

music
Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury

music

Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas

film

Arts and Entertainment

music

Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7

film

Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary

TV

Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige

TV

Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions