How to: Claymation

by Micah Newman


This is my report on Claymation. By reading it you will hear some things I can probably guarantee you have never heard before about Claymation. You will hear about some different clay animators, equipment, special effects, clay characters and many different things. I hope that after you have heard this report you will know many different things that you didn't know about before.

History of Clay Animation

There are many different techniques of animation. I am writing about Clay Animation. Here are some different Clay Animators. One of the most famous was Art Clokey who made 127 six minute films with his character Gumby and Gumby's horse Pokey. Will Vinton was an animator who made all of his props, sets and characters out of clay. He started making Clay Animated movies in 1974 with his friend Bob Gardiner when they were in college. Together they made the movie "Closed Mondays'' which won an Academy Award. Later he started his own studio where he made the movies "Rip Van Winkle '', "Martin the Cobbler " and "The Adventures of Mark Twain".

A more recent animator is Peter Lord who owns an animation studio in England called Aardman Animations. He and co-owner Brian Sibley started making claymation videos when they were twelve years old. Together they have made the movies "Creature Comforts","Wats Pig", "Adam", as well as the three Wallace and Gromit movies "A Grand Day Out","The Wrong Trousers" and "A Close Shave" and many others.


To make a good Claymation video you need the right equipment. One of the most important things you need is a good camera. The best kind to have would be one with a single frame button. Animating in single frame means you have to animate your character 24 times for one second of film. If you do it well enough it will turn out very smooth. However if you move your character too much it will turn out quite jerky and too fast. As a short cut some animators use double frame which means taking only 12 shots per second.
The best kind of camera is the cine camera which has a single frame button.You can also use a digital camera if you have a computer with an editing program such as Adobe Premiere, Adobe After Affects, Adobe Photo Shop, Lumiere, Avid and others which let you edit your movies, rearange clips, do special effects, add transitions, create titles, add audio, and do many other things as well.

Lighting is also very important. You can use lights to achieve many different moods such as dark and spooky or bright and happy. You can also buy colored gel filters to go in front of your light to make your light colored. Most animators use 4-6 lights.

Special Effects

There are many different special effects in animation. Some of the hardest are water and rain effects. Aardman uses blobs of glycerine on glass in front of the character, then they blow them frame by frame down the glass . For the soap suds in a scene in "A Close Shave" they used white hair wax dotted with glass beads to represent bubbles. To make it look like bubbles bursting and new ones forming they took out beads and put in new ones.
One of the most commonly used special effects in movies is Blue screen. It is a way of putting hard foreground action into a realistic background such as people falling down a mountain or falling out of a building.
The people falling are filmed against a blue background. The blue is digitally replaced by the background; which is filmed earlier. Clay animators use this technique when they want a clay character in a real background.
Double exposure is also used a lot in animation for such things as ghosts. First film the other people or whatever else is in the room, then windback the camera and film your ghost character.

Creating Characters

One of the main things you need is your character. The character is usually made of plasticine clay built around a metal skeleton called an armature. One way to get an idea for your character is to look at real people's heads and faces. Some people have high foreheads or big noses or round heads or oval heads or many other noticeable traits Most characters are between 8 and 10 inches. Some are smaller and some people even use life size clay figures for extreme closeups. Will Vinton uses up to hundreds of pounds of clay in some of his movies.

The Set

Another aspect of claymation is the set. The set is the miniature world that your clay characters inhabit. All you need for a simple set is a 2 or 3 walled room with some dollhouse furniture. For your first videos you should try to film indoor sets as much as possible because it is much easier to do. Later you can go into more complex outdoor sets. You should also have good props. Many of the props I use I bought at a miniatures store. Most miniatures tend to be a bit expensive but, you can also use any other kind of dollhouse furniture.

The Storyboard

The first step in making a movie is writing and making the storyboard. A storyboard is like a comic strip. All the scenes are drawn out in comic strip form and written underneath each picture is what the characters say and any other audio. Once you have your storyboard, your set and your characters you are ready to make your movie.

Micah and Christina have been creating animated video works. Take a peek at what's happening at Newman Claymation Productions.