What You Need to Know About Claymation

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From the cartoons we used to watch regularly as a kid to the flipbooks we bought, the animation is an integral part of how we understand storytelling.

And when we talk about the type of them… it’d never end.

That being said, we love to talk about some popular animation styles. We’ve broken down from motion graphic animation to cut-out animation before.

In this article, we’ll dive more in-depth into claymation.

Creating animations isn’t an easy job. But, claymation is one of the most difficult film mediums in history.

It requires incredible patience and precision. The reason is that each movement from the clay-made objects must be photographed and stitched together.

Claymation has indeed always been a difficult yet fascinating form of film. Now, let’s get closer to this fascinating type of animation!

A Brief History of Claymation

Clay animation or claymation, for short, has such a rich story.

Back in 1897, when a pliable, oil-based modeling clay called “plasticine” was invented, claymation was making its way to be one of the most popular types of animation.

That’s when figurines made out of clay come to life, opening up a whole new realm of possibilities for animators.

Originally, the characters are formed from clay and then are molded into armatures with latex coverings. The first use of this technique was The Sculptor’s Nightmare, an animated political parody of the 1908 presidential election.

As you can see from the video above, in the final reel of the film, three clay slabs on a pedestal come to life by sculpting themselves into living busts of Roosevelt’s three potential successors: William Jennings Bryan, Charles W. Fairbanks, and William Howard Taft.

Since then, claymation has become more and more popular and more commonly used for films and television programs.

Claymation and Stop Motion: The Relation

As you might already know, claymation requires one or two animators to work in front of a camera, sculpting clay into objects.

They record each frame on film and then play them back in quick successions to give the appearance of movement.

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So, it’s obvious that claymation is one of many forms of stop motion animation.

Therefore, the filming procedure is similar to creating stop motion animation: you need clay or plasticine to form into objects and position them in front of the camera in its starting position.

Thus, you need to expose one frame of the film, then slightly move the objects or re-sculpt them and expose a second frame. And repeat until the objects reach their final positions.

The wrong direction could cause an entire reset.

At this point, you can see why creating claymation animation takes time and, of course, requires lots of patience. Imagine if you record a film using this kind of animation.

The process becomes more and more complicated as you have to create thousands of those small, repetitive movements and slight scenery changes.

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Not to mention you also need to put all those frames all together and give careful composition to create a smooth, playable film.

But, the good news is that at least you don’t have to have any design or drawing skills to create this type of animation.

Why Does It Still Work?

As mentioned above, claymation is still popular to this day. It continues to stand against the tide of technological development.

Expensive, difficult, and time-consuming to produce could make this type of animation eliminated from the competition decades ago.

However, many directors like Tim Burton and Nick Park still rely on this claymation for their movies. And there’s no denying that some exceptional films are grounded in Claymation.

Let’s take a look at the classics A Nightmare before Christmas, The Corpse Bride, Wallace and Gromit, Chicken Run, you name it.

Maybe imperfection is the secret to Claymation’s power. With all their eccentricities, characters and other objects in the movies remain astonishingly and recognizably human — which you can’t really find in CGI.

Some Popular Claymation Movies

We’ve slightly mentioned some of the claymation movies above, and now we’re going to get deeper.

With all those painstaking processes in animation production, these movies below surely have a lot more weight and effort put into them.

#1. Coraline

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Coraline isn’t entirely made from Claymation. The production used emerging 3D printing technology to create more printed faces faster.

With the help of 3D, there are 6,333 printed faces, which could be combined to make 207,000 possible facial expressions.

Those facial expressions are kept authentic, handmade-looking, and too ‘computery’.

The number is quite big since the pure claymation movie can only create a few hundreds of hand-sculpted facial expressions.

#2. Shaun The Sheep Movie

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To create this movie, the production used different substances for characters, depending on what they’re required to do in each shoot. But, the main material is modeling clay.

The model makers work at their desks, sculpting the clay into characters complete with visible fingerprints, which are left in to give the models a bit of life.

There are 22 models of the Shaun itself, with separated elements like eyes, heads, arms, and other body parts.

#3. Chicken Run

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Chicken Run might run for only 48 minutes (an ideal length for animated movies), but the whole production took almost eighteen months to shoot as the style is labor-intensive and visually complex.

The bodies of chicken themselves are made from silicone (because plasticine is too vulnerable under hot lights). Meanwhile, the most expressive parts like heads and arms are made from plasticine.

#4. The Nightmare Before Christmas

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The scenes in the movie were filmed at 24 frames per second. This means that they had to set up and reposition the characters 24 times for each second of the completed film.

The characters themselves had an armature inside it, which is basically a ball and socket to make it easier for producers to change their pose.

Therefore, it took a week for the producers to film a minute scene. So, it should come as no surprise that this 70-minute movie took three whole years to be produced.

That has been a quick walkthrough for claymation. A complicated process indeed but results in delicate films.

So, what is your favorite claymation movie? And have you ever tried to create a claymation video yourself? Let us know in the comment section below!

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