'Wallace and Gromit' creator's clay archive is destroyed by fire

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The Independent Online

Thirty years of toil, including the creation of the premier couple of " claymation", Wallace and Gromit, were destroyed in the blaze at the archives of Aardman Animations, Britain's largest and most successful animation studio.

News that the archive building had been destroyed came 30 minutes after the company heard that its latest film featuring Wallace and Gromit, Curse of the Were-Rabbit, had topped the US box office, taking $16.1m (£9m) during its opening two days.

Executives said the "entire history" of the studio, which started in 1976 with Morph, created for the BBC's Take Hart programme, had been lost, including sets, figures and props for feature films, shorts and adverts.

Arthur Sheriff, a spokesman for the company, said: "This should have been a day for celebration and instead everything we have done until now has been destroyed.It was very important to us. It really is a bit of a tragedy."

The fire in a Victorian warehouse close to Temple Meads station in Bristol broke out just before 5.30am yesterday, causing all three floors to collapse in the heat.

At the height of the blaze, the, attended by 50 firefighters, flames were 100ft high. Avon Fire Service said that an investigation was under way to establish if arsonists had caused the fire.

Hundreds of figures, including surviving Morph figures and many of the 40-plus Gromits and 30-plus Wallaces needed to make each animation, were in metal cases. A spokesman said nearly all had melted and only a small number of items on loan to an exhibition had survived.

Aardman, founded by Peter Lord and David Sproxton, has become famous for the figures painstakingly crafted from a specially made form of Plasticine called Aardmix. The company, which has made adverts for brands including Nike and Tennents, employs 300 people.

At the heart of its success is Nick Park, 46, who created Wallace and Gromit, a cheese-loving inventor and his faithful hound. The first three Wallace & Gromit shorts ­ A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave ­ all achieved critical and commercial success. Around £60m is made annually from merchandise based on the duo.

The first of the films is the only one not to win an Oscar, and only because it was beaten by another Park production, Creature Comforts.

Chicken Run, the company's first feature film, was the result of a £130m, five-film deal signed with DreamWorks, the production company founded by Steven Spielberg.

Mr Park was philosophical about the loss of his creations. Drawing a comparison with the earthquake in Pakistan and India, he said: "Even though it is a precious and nostalgic collection and valuable to the company, in light of other tragedies, today isn't a big deal."

The creation of the animations is hugely labour-intensive. Curse of the Were-Rabbit required the building of 30 miniature sets and dozens of figures, each built around a wire "skeleton". The team of animators used 2.8 tons of Plasticine.

The company said the sets and figures from the film had not yet been transferred to the archive.

Meltdown

* The Chicken Pie Machine from Chicken Run, built at a cost of £8,000 over six months.

* Figures of Shorn the Sheep, from A Close Shave, and the Evil Penguin from The Wrong Trousers, as well as storyboards, scripts and props.

* Characters from the British Gas Creature Comforts adverts.

* The "butter man" character made for the Lurpak adverts.

* An MTV award for Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" video.

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