Claymation: The Forgotten Art…Or Is It?

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So you want to get started with claymation or maybe you’re just curious about what claymation is.

Claymation is a combination of “clay” and “animation” coined by Will Vinton. It’s a technique that uses clay, and other pliable materials, to create scenes and characters. They are moved between each frame while being photographed to create the illusion of movement. This process involves stop motion photography.

There is so much you can do and see with claymation, from dramas to comedies to horror, and in this article, I’ll tell you all about it.

hands working with clay for claymation

What is claymation

Claymation is a type of stop-motion animation where all animated pieces are made of a malleable material, usually clay. The process of making a claymation film involves stop motion photography, where each frame is captured one at a time. The subject is moved slightly between each frame to create the illusion of movement.

Why is claymation popular?

Claymation is popular because it can be used to create a wide variety of characters and settings. It is also relatively easy to create claymation films, making it a popular choice for independent filmmakers.

What is the difference between stop motion and claymation

Stop motion animation is a type of animation that uses images of real-world objects to create the illusion of movement. With claymation those objects are made out of clay or other pliable materials.
So the technique behind both are the same. Stop motion just refers to a broader category of animation, where claymation is just a type of stop motion animation.

Types of clay animation

Freeform: Freeform is one of the most widely used form of claymation. With this method the clay is transitioned from one shape to an entirely new form.

Replacement animation: This technique is used for animating the facial expressions of characters. Different parts of the face are made separately and then re-placed on the head to express complex emotions and expressions. In newer productions these interchangeable parts are 3D printed like in the feature film Coraline.

Strata-Cut Animation: Strata-cut animation is a complex art form of claymation. For this method a hump of clay is sliced into thin sheets. The hump itself contains varying images on the inside. During the animation the images inside are revealed.

Clay painting: Clay painting involves moving clay on a flat canvas. With this technique you can create all sorts of images. It’s like painting with clay.

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Clay melting: This is more like a sub variation of claymation. The clay is placed near a heat source that causes the clay to melt, while being filmed on camera.

Claymation in Blender

Not really a technique but a project I’m really excited about is the Blender “Claymation” add-on for creating stop-motion-style animation. One of the features is that you can create clay from Grease Pencil objects.

The history of claymation

Claymation has a long and varied history, dating back to 1897, when a pliable, oil-based modeling clay called “plasticine” was invented.

The earliest surviving use of the technique is The Sculptor’s Nightmare, a spoof on the 1908 presidential election. In the final reel of the film, a slab of clay on a pedestal comes to life, metamorphosing into a bust of Teddy Roosevelt.

Fast forward to the 1970’s. The first claymation films were created by animators like Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen, who used clay to create stop motion animation sequences for their live action films. In the 1970s, claymation began to be used more extensively in television commercials and music videos.

In 1988, Will Vinton’s claymation film “The Adventures of Mark Twain” won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Since then, claymation has been used in a variety of films, TV shows, and commercials.

Who invented Claymation?

The term “Claymation” was invented by Will Vinton in the 1970s. He is considered one of the pioneers of claymation, and his film “The Adventures of Mark Twain” is considered a classic in the genre.

What was the first claymation character?

The first claymation character was a creature called Gumby, who was created by Art Clokey in the 1950s.

How is claymation made

Clay animation is a form of stop-motion animation using clay figures and scenes that can be re-positioned in different poses. Usually malleable clay, like plasticine, is used to make the characters.

The clay can be shaped on its own or formed around wire skeletons, known as armatures. Once the clay figure is complete, it is then filmed frame by frame as if it were a real-life object, resulting in a lifelike movement

The process of making a claymation film

The process of making a claymation film usually involves stop motion photography, where each frame is captured one at a time.

The filmmakers have to create every character and the sets. And then move them to create the illusion of movement.

The result is a unique production where still objects come alive.

Production of claymation

Stop motion is a very labour intensive form of film making. Feature film productions usually have a 24 frame rate per second.

The animation can be shot on “ones” or “twos”. Shooting an animation on “ones” is essentially shooting 24 frames per second. With shooting on “twos” you take a picture for every two frames, so it’s 12 frames per second.

Most feature film productions is done at 24 fps or 30fps on “twos”.

Famous claymations films

Claymation has been used in a variety of films, TV shows, and commercials. Some of the most famous claymation feature films include:

  • The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
  • Chicken run (2000)
  • ParaNorman (2012)
  • Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005)
  • Coraline (2009)
  • California Raisins (1986)
  • Monkeybone (2001)
  • Gumby: The Movie (1995)
  • The Pirates! In an Adventure with Scientists! (2012)

Famous clay animation studios

When you think about claymation, the two most famous studios come to mind. Laika and Aardman Animations.

Laika has its roots in Will Vinton Studios, and in 2005, Will Vinton Studios was rebranded as Laika. The studio is known for feature film productions like Coraline, ParaNorman, Missing link and The Boxtrolls.

Aardman Animations is a British animation studio known for using stop-motion and clay animation techniques. They have a great list of feature films and series, including Shaun the Sheep, Chicken Run, and Wallace and Grommit.

Famous clay animators

  • Art Clokey is best know for The Gumby Show (1957) and Gumby: The Movie (1995)
  • Joan Carol Gratz is best known for her animated short film Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase
  • Peter Lord producer and co-founder Aardman Animations, best known Wallace and Gromit.
  • Garri Bardin, best known for the Fioritures cartoon (1988)
  • Nick Park, best known for Wallace and Gromit, Shaun the Sheep, and Chicken Run
  • Will Vinton, best known for Closed Mondays (1974), Return to Oz (1985) 

The future of claymation

Claymation is a popular animation technique that has been around for more than a century. While it has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years, there are some who believe that claymation may be on the verge of extinction.

One of the main problems facing claymation is the increasing popularity of computer-generated animation. Claymation faces an uphill battle in competing against CGI animation. Additionally, the process of making a claymation film is often slow and labor-intensive, which can make it difficult to compete with faster, more streamlined CGI films.

However, there are some who believe that claymation still has a place in the world of animation. Claymation is a unique and versatile medium that can be used to create characters and settings in a unique way.

Final words

Claymation is a unique and fun animation technique that can be used to create fascinating stories and characters. While it may take some time to perfect the art of claymation, the final product can be well worth the effort. Claymation can be used to tell stories in a way that no other medium can, and it can be very entertaining for both children and adults.

Hi, I'm Kim, a mom and a stop-motion enthusiast with a background in media creation and web development. I've got a huge passion for drawing and animation, and now I'm diving headfirst into the stop-motion world. With my blog, I'm sharing my learnings with you guys.