Wallace and Gromit rise again as their history is remodelled

When a fire incinerated the entire archive of Aardman Animations 12 days ago, it seemed that three decades of modelling-clay history - from Morph to the terror-inducing Pie Machine in Chicken Run - had gone for ever in the 1,000C blaze.

But just as Wallace and Gromit, the cheese-loving inventor and his loyal hound who have won Aardman two Oscars, always turn adversity into a Plasticine-based triumph, so plans are afoot to restore many of the lost "claymation" legends.

The Independent has learnt that Aardman, which started life 29 years ago in a back room in Bristol and now employs 300 people in a full-scale studio, intends to recreate a "significant number" of the models .

Fire investigators will enter the collapsing ruins of the Victorian warehouse in central Bristol this weekend to establish if the cause of the blaze was arson.

At the same time animators are drawing up a list of lost items, some of which took up to six months of painstaking work to create.

Kieran Argo, Aardman's head of exhibitions and its chief archivist, said: "Everything that was in the warehouse was completely destroyed. We estimate that up to 6,000 items, from early character models to awards, went up in smoke.

"But we didn't quite lose our entire history - we have the moulds for the models from Chicken Run for example. Our hope is to recreate and rebuild a significant number of the models and sets that were lost.

"The fire and the publicity it generated made us realise the affection with which many people regard the characters."

The company was supposed to be celebrating the US box-office triumph of its latest Wallace and Gromit film, Curse of the Were-Rabbit, on the day the fire broke out. The film made £9.4m on its opening weekend in Britain last week - 13 times that of its nearest rival.

All sets and characters from Were-Rabbit, including 30-odd Wallace figures and around 40 Gromits, had not yet been stored in the warehouse but Aardman's senior executives described the loss of the other materials as "a bit of a tragedy".

The studio had been running exhibitions of its best-known characters and sets around the world since the early 1990s. To continue the exhibitions, there are plans to rebuild sets from Chicken Run, the studio's first feature-length film based on a spoof prisoner-of-war drama, and previous Wallace and Gromit films - A Grand Day Out, A Close Shave, and The Wrong Trousers. Each set is likely to cost £6,000.

Among the models to be resurrected will be the Pie Machine, the infernal contraption designed to transform Chicken Run's latex stars into pastry-based snacks. Moulds that survived the fire will be used to recast characters from Chicken Run, which cost £50,000 each to develop. The stars of Creature Comforts, the tale of talking polar bears, terrapins and a jaguar that won Aardman's animation genius, Nick Park, the first of his three Oscars, will also be recreated.

But Aardman said a number of items were irreplaceable. Spokesman Arthur Sheriff said: "About a tenth of what went up was genuinely historic. If Nick does go on to be what many people think he will be - one of the world's greatest animators - then we have lost things like the original script for A Grand Day Out or original sketches. They are part of film history."

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