When most of us think of claymation, a few iconic animations come to mind: “Wallace and Gromit,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and the California Raisins' “Heard It Through the Grapevine” music video.
Indeed, claymation—or clay animation—can make for a very entertaining film. And a successful one! The Wallace and Gromit feature film “Curse of the Were-Rabbit” won an Oscar for Best Animated Film in 2006, and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was nominated for a Best Visual Effects Oscar in 1994.
While it may be a visually impressive feat, it's also a difficult one. Claymation is a type of stop-motion animation, which means it's essentially shot frame by frame and then compiled together to form a fluid action onscreen. After each time, the filmmaker stops the camera recording, the subject—in claymation it would be a figure sculpted in clay—is adjusted ever so slightly. Then, the camera records again, and so on and so forth, until the action is complete.
It's a larger undertaking than your average film project—most animations are—but with the accessibility of apps like Vine and Instagram that allow users to make short stop motion films, it can be less daunting. Here are a few things to think about if you're looking to try some claymation.
Choose your clay.
Getting the shots right takes time, so you will need a type of clay that does not dry out too easily or quickly. A type of modeling clay called Plasticine is a popular choice. It is typically sold in bricks of varying colors at art stores. Play-Doh, while it's fun to play with and comes in bright colors, is generally not a good idea to use in your claymation project because it dries quickly.
Plot it out.
Having a solid storyboard is a good idea for any type of video or film project, but it becomes particularly important for animation projects. Because claymation requires so many precise shots (as many as 64,000 for feature-length films!), having a well-defined notion of the story progression will go a long way to save time, money and energy.
Well, brace yourself for the need to brace your clay figures! A good way to ensure that sculptures you make say consistent through the lengthy process of filming—they can melt under lights and other stresses—is to sculpt them around toothpicks or wire.
Timing is everything.
There is no getting around the fact that claymation (or any animation) requires a lot of one-frame shots (we're talking thousands for longer films). With Vine and Instagram, where your films are only 7-15 seconds long, you won't be taking as many shots, so this tip isn't really applicable there. But if you're shooting the good old-fashioned way, many filmmakers use a technique called doubles or twos, in which two frames are shot each time you turn the camera on
Don't get dirty.
So many outside factors can interfere with the consistency and fluidity of animation. Minute flecks of dust can even mess up a project, depending on how granular you want to get. When you are shooting, be conscientious about your set and the things that come into and out of it. You won't be able to control everything, but devoting some attention to it will make your project better!