Fears for Wallace and Gromit after clay manufacturer shuts up shop

Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death
Wallace and Gromit in A Matter of Loaf and Death - BBC/Aardman Animations Ltd/BBC/Aardman Animations Ltd

With innovative animation films featuring characters such as Wallace, Gromit and Shaun the Sheep, it was the production company that turned humble modelling clay into cinematic art.

But the closure of Aardman Animations’ only supplier of modelling clay has raised question marks over the future of the studio’s output, prompting drastic measures.

When Newclay Products announced it was closing its factory in Newton Abbot, near Torquay, in March this year, Aardman’s staff moved quickly to buy up all remaining stock of the clay, a specific type that is not made elsewhere, ensuring they could finish work in the studio’s production pipeline.

The Telegraph understands that the last remaining stock of “Newplast” clay was enough to allow Aardman’s animators to create one more film, a new Wallace and Gromit animation due to hit the screens next year.

Peter Lord with Morph
Peter Lord with Morph, one of Aardman Animations' earliest characters - Reuben Armstrong/Reuben Armstrong

But in the long run it is expected that Aardman will have to find a new supplier of the clay if it is to continue.

The decision by Paul and Valerie Dearing, the directors of Newclay Products, to retire and close their firm stunned the world of modelling, which had grown to rely on the clay originally named Lewis Newplast, after the Lewis family of art teachers who who invented it in the 1960s in a shed in Chislehurst.

Newplast, a nylon-reinforced air-drying clay, was an ideal modelling material for children as it did not require either the long hours or complication of firing and glazing. This also made it suitable for making models that could be easily manipulated.

Mrs Dearing, 67, said: “Aardman bought a lot of our remaining stock of Newplast to keep them going. They got what they said was two years’ worth. It came to about 40 boxes, which must have been around 400 kg.”

Her husband Paul said: “We ran the business for 16 years and it was thriving, but we couldn’t find anyone who wanted to take over the firm after we retired so we sold off everything.

“It’s always given us both tremendous satisfaction that Aardman used our product. They thought it was the best material of its type in the world.”

‘A great legacy to be part of’

He added: “It’s a great legacy to be part of, to look back and think that all those wonderful characters they created were made with our clay and that our company was such a key part of the artistic process. We’re very proud of it, although we didn’t always get the credit because, as a supplier, we were so behind the scenes.”

Aardman is now understood to be seeking alternative supplies of clay with similar qualities to that of Newplast to enable it to continue making its stop-motion animated films.

The production company was set up in 1972 by Peter Lord and David Sproxton, whose early character Morph quickly became a favourite of children’s TV. Aardman also created the animation for the music video of Peter Gabriel’s song Sledgehammer and produced the video for Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me in 1987.

The company went on to produce Creature Comforts, directed by Nick Park in 1990, which became its first film to win an Academy Award. Park also directed the Wallace and Gromit series. Gromit was originally intended to be a cat, but Park quickly changed the character into a dog, believing it would be easier to make and animate in clay.

Aardman Animations said it was unable to comment.