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Published Date: 26/01/2018
Set in prehistoric times, Early Man follows the story of courageous caveman hero Dug (Eddie Redmayne), living in a thriving valley together with his best friend and sidekick Hognob.
Early Man is the new prehistoric comedy adventure from four-time Academy Award -winning director Nick Park and Aardman, the creators of Wallace and Gromit and Shaun the Sheep.
Early Man is the largest production mounted by Aardman in its 40-plus year history. It went into production in May 2016, and finally wound up in the last few weeks of 2017. However, preparatory work began well before the cameras started rolling.
Director Nick Park had been contemplating and refining the idea of this caveman comedy since 2010. Though he has directed short films, including the legendary Wallace & Gromit titles broadcast on the BBC, and jointly directed Chicken Run (2000), and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005), Early Man remarkably marks Nick’s debut as sole director on a full-length feature.
Aardman production veteran Carla Shelley notes that whereas Nick would normally be ‘directing the floor,’ overseeing and doing the rounds of all the animators creating different scenes, that task was assigned to two other Aardman stalwarts, Merlin Crossingham and Will Becher, who served as animation directors. This left Nick free to direct the voice actors and to keep refining the story as filming progressed, along with writers Mark Burton and James Higginson.
Carla views Early Man as a step forward for the studio: “As elaborate and expensive as other films may have been, this one has been more challenging in some ways. Nick pitched it as Gladiator meets Dodgeball. He really wanted that sort of gladiatorial feel to the stadium and to the football scenes. So there’s been a lot of effects work, including computer graphics, creating the huge crowd. If we’d built that football stadium for real...well, we couldn’t, it would have been bigger than our whole studio! So there were lots of technicalities in matching the physical and digital elements for the film.”
Some of the statistics regarding the making of Early Man are remarkable. Around 150 people have been directly involved with the production, and at its peak 33 animators were working on the film.
Early Man has required 273 puppets, made by 23 different model-makers over a 30-month period. Every individual puppet was created over a period of more than 10 weeks, with the model making team completing a total of 18 Dug puppets, and eight of each member of the Stone Age tribe. An astonishing total of 3,000 interchangeable mouths were crafted for the film’s characters by hand.
Most members of the all-British cast playing characters in the lovable but dim-witted Stone Age tribe were played by actors who were newcomers to Aardman.
The three most prominent roles went to actors with a high profile, for whom voicing animated characters was a completely new experience.
The key role of Dug, the teenage boy who inspires his tribe to fight for their future in their valley they all love, is played by Oscar winner, Eddie Redmayne.
“I’d seen Eddie in a film called Black Death, in which he played a young monk in the Middle Ages,” Nick recalls. “He had a sort of vulnerable feeling, which I really liked. I was looking for someone to play a teenage caveman, who is boyish and eager – but not necessarily confident.
“That vulnerable side of him really worked. The first time I met him and we worked on Dug’s voice, he said to me: ‘How about if we go a bit younger?’ I was amazed by how he played Dug as a dishevelled 15-year-old, and it really appealed to me.”
Goona, the feisty young teenager girl who inspires Dug and the tribe to fight for the valley, is played by 20-year-old actress Maisie Williams, whose debut screen role as Arya Stark in the hit TV series Game of Thrones launched her career in spectacular fashion. “We needed a female character,” says Nick, “and I wanted her to be the expert - the best footballer of them all. Someone who could teach this bunch of idiotic lunkheads in the tribe how to play.
“And Maisie turned out to be great casting. She’s an ideal Goona.”
The third major role is a character who is not in the tribe, but its sworn enemy – the dastardly Lord Nooth, overlord of the Stone Age people. He is played by Tom Hiddleston, best known to cinema audiences as villainous Loki in the Marvel movies, but also acclaimed for his lead role in the TV drama series The Night Manager. Tom plays Nooth with a comically exaggerated French accent.
Nick hit on the idea of casting Tom as Nooth when he saw him on the BBC’s Graham Norton Show, doing a brilliant impersonation of Robert de Niro – with de Niro himself at the other end of the sofa. “You wouldn’t expect him to play that role,” Nick says. “It’s all in fun. Tom himself said the accent was a bit ’Allo! ’Allo! And you don’t expect that from him either. He’s the quintessential English gent.”
One notable non-newcomer to Aardman was Timothy Spall, who plays Bobnar, the tribe’s kindly but cautious chief. He had already worked with Nick on Chicken Run, voicing the character of Nick, a rat who is an expert smuggler. “Tim was always very obliging, and I really wanted to work with him again,” Nick says. “And I love the quality of his voice and his London accent. He’s perfect for that role.”
Also look out for the vocal talents of amongst others Rob Brydon, Johnny Vegas and a certain Nick Park!
Early Man is at Showcase now – click here to book tickets