For most of us, animation is one of the first forms of cinematic entertainment that we are exposed to. Whether it be classic Disney movies, the first animated Pippi Longstocking movie that I remember being my first cinema-going experience, or computer generated animation a la Pixar or Dreamworks, some of the very first films we are exposed to as children are animation.

Out of all different forms of animation, however, stop motion has always attracted me in a way that hand-drawn 2D animation and computer generated animation even at their best never have. On some subliminal level, it is probably no coincidence that Tim Burton - possibly my favorite film director - when directing animation just so happens to consistently go with stop motion. But before Burton shorts like Vincent or feature films like Corpse Bride, I was introduced to stop motion through Wallace and Gromit.

My first introduction to Wallace and Gromit and thus the work of Nick Parker was the third Wallace and Gromit short A Close Shave, but the world was introduced to the inventor and his canine companion through the short A Grand Day Out. Already in A Grand Day Out we are introduced to what still might be Wallace's most ambitious achievement - building a rocket and flying to the Moon. While the short comedically chalks up this ambitious endeavor to a motivation no more grandiose than Wallace just wanting to go to the Moon to get cheese, there is still something to be said about the short's depiction of dreaming big and making outrageous fantasies a reality. And it's this aura of wonder and discovery that permeates the short right down to the very animation technique that brings it to life.

With hand-drawn animation you can draw anything on a piece of paper, same as how you can create anything on a computer when crafting a 3D animation. It is an image you create out of nothing, not having to be bothered by limitations of reality. But with stop-motion animation there is a practicality to the animation that is never there with hand-drawn or computer generated animation, having to shoot in front of a camera the same as if you were shooting live action, only on a smaller scale. You have to build figures that can fall over at any moment and ruin a shot, there are miniature sets you have to build, and when all is said and done the final images you see on screen feel real because, well, they are. There's a tactility to stop motion because you know the characters on screen were really there, and there's a magic to seeing these inanimate objects suddenly come to life on screen.

It is the challenges and limitations of the art of stop motion that have always fascinated me. When a figure moves in front of a background, you know how it's done. Move an arm a little, take a shot, move and arm, take a shot, and repeat. But as a kid, I always wondered how much of what I saw on screen was practical and what was added in later - what was post-production effects and what were mysteries of practical effects for me to solve. When Wallace pours out water out of a kettle during the beginning of A Grand Day Out, how was that effect achieved? What material was used that looked that much like running water? Surely it couldn't have been the same clay Wallace and Gromit were sculpted from? Or when Wallace kicks a ball, how was the effect of the ball flying through the air achieved? Strings? A figure standing on its legs will stay that way as you move it between shots, but a ball surely couldn't levitate in the air between shots without help.

These are questions I often pondered as a child and worked to figure out for myself. I would make my own Wallace and Gromit figures from clay and try and make little shorts of my own to experiment. And eventually I started making figures of characters of my own creation. It is in these ways that film can inspire us and feed our imaginations, leading us on journeys of discovery to learn more and to create. Much like how when the Lord of the Rings films came out, my friends and I would gather in a forest to shoot our own fantasy trilogy. We never got past a first short lasting roughly ten minutes or so, but it was an unreal amount of fun while it lasted. And after all, putting things in the world like artists do when they create is one of the most precious things in the world.

Or sometimes the influences of film can be a lot less romantic and poetic. For a long time, a favorite snack of mine was cheese and crackers, and the sole reason why I had the idea to try said combination in the first place was because of Wallace and his love of cheese and crackers. It's the little things that often have the most telling and profound impact, it seems.