It only takes one single drawing to spark the imagination of legendary stop motion director Nick Park and the Aardman Animation team.
That’s exactly what happened back in 2010, when Park was nonchalantly “drawing a caveman wielding a club, and hitting a rock.” Suddenly, inspiration hit, as the rock reminded Park of a baseball. Soon Park was developing a broader idea, eventually landing on the premise of cavemen inventing soccer.
“You’re looking for an idea that has legs,” the Lancastrian explained to me over the phone. “And I wanted to tap into the tribal nature of the game. And that seemed to suit primitive man. So I started to develop it into what if these idiotic, but loveable, cavemen had to learn a game where they couldn’t use weapons or fists but had to use their feet instead.”
8 years later, Park now has his finished film “Early Man,” which revolves around a tribe from the Stone Age going up against an army from the Bronze Age in a soccer match that decides the former’s fate and home.
Because of Aardman Animation’s storied past, Park had no shortage of actors lining up to star in the film. Eddie Redmayne and Tom Hiddleston quickly signed up, as did “Game Of Thrones” veteran Maisie Williams.
As a native of Bristol, the city that Aaardman has called home since Peter Lord and David Sproxton founded the company back in 1972, Williams jumped at the opportunity. Especially as Aardman had previously inspired her to make her own Karate Bull animation.
Little did she know how difficult performing would be, though, not just because she had to do dozens and dozens of takes for each line.
“As an actor I use my body language and facial expressions a lot,” Williams explained over the phone. “So when that is stripped away it becomes very challenging. Nick was there to give line readings. And there to bring the character out of me. Until you are there doing it, though, you don’t realize the struggles you have to face.”
Williams reveled in these challenges, though, especially as they were so vastly different to the ones she faces as Arya on “Game Of Thrones.”
“I am always looking to have fun in my roles. The things I want to do are often something I haven’t done before, and working with people that I have never really worked with. Doing a kid’s animation film was wonderful, and I was able to learn a whole new different set of skills.”
Meanwhile, Nick Park was still busy sculpting “Early Man” into his vision, a process that saw him take inspiration from a series of random films, and even invent a brand new genre.
“’Gladiator’ inspired me very much. I wanted to portray a football game with all the drama and cinematicness of ‘Gladiator.’ I also thought I had never seen a prehistoric underdog sports movie before. So I invented the genre.”
“There’s also a reference to ‘Three Amigos,’ when the cavemen are going hunting and using animal noises. Other things like ‘Die Hard,’ the toilet roll and jumping out of the window. There’s passing glances.”
“Early Man” is packed full of these Easter Eggs and homages, all of which you can try to spot when the film is released on February 16.