How to Make a 3D Animation Look Like Claymation

Written by daniel sanz
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How to Make a 3D Animation Look Like Claymation
Clay characters are a common element of stop-motion animation. (clay figurines image by fabersky from Fotolia.com)

The development and evolution of computer-generated imagery has revolutionised filmmaking. It has largely taken the place of previous traditional animation techniques, including stop-motion animation, commonly referred to as claymation. Claymation involves taking individual shots of a model and painstakingly adjusting it in tiny increments so that motion is perceived when the animation is played back (at 24 shots per second). If you make an error during the process, you often have to start over. Using a few basic techniques in CGI, you can create the classic claymation look.

Skill level:
Moderate

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Things you need

  • Computer
  • 3D animation program
  • High resolution images of clay texture
  • Photoshop

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Instructions

  1. 1

    Load your 3D program and, using the modelling tool, make a basic character. Keep the character simple if you are a beginner. You can always repeat these steps later with more complex animations.

  2. 2

    In your material editor, load the picture of your clay texture. It needs to be high resolution so that the detail will remain sharp and look realistic. It is ideal to use an image that has minimal shadows and flat lighting since you will be making custom lighting and shadows in a later step.

  3. 3

    Load your clay texture in Photoshop and desaturate the colour from it. Adjust the black and white levels and increase the contrast slightly. Save it as a new image. Load the new black and white image in your 3D application and apply it as a bump map to your model. This will simulate a slightly 3D look to your texture. The light areas in the map will translate into slight elevations while the darker areas will look receded, much like real clay would look.

  4. 4

    For a simple animation, you can drop in a photograph as the background. If you decide to build your scene with modelled objects, you will want to use photographic textures similar to your clay texture. With some skill, this will help sell the illusion of using actual materials.

  5. 5

    Light your scene. Most professional 3D applications allow you to choose between basic lights and photometric. Choose photometric as these will behave like real-world lights. With photometric lights, you can adjust reflectivity, falloff, refraction and other illumination properties. Consult your 3D documentation on how to accurately adjust these settings.

  6. 6

    Create a 3D camera for your scene and turn on the depth of field settings. In real-world cameras, lenses utilise focal range to direct a viewer's eye to a particular area of the scene, much like a real human eye works. If everything is in constant focus, it will be "too crisp" and look artificial. If your character is in focus, adjust the background elements to be slightly fuzzy. This will give it a more natural look.

  7. 7

    Most 3D applications default to a 24 or 30 frames per second. Adjust your playback settings to a lower frame rate, such as 12 frames per second. This will give your animation a choppier motion and emulate many older style claymation speeds.

  8. 8

    Open your render settings and deactivate any motion blurring. Since stop-motion films are taken one image at a time, the object is not in motion during the camera exposure and therefore does not create a motion blur. It was extremely expensive to create motion blurs in stop-motion animation, and as a result, the lack of motion blur is a characteristic of most claymation. Turning it off will result in a more convincing effect.

  9. 9

    Play back your animation and make any final adjustments. Restrict your character movements to those a real life model would exhibit. Keeping parts of the character rigid may help sell the effect. Your animation should now resemble traditional claymation in both appearance and motion.

Tips and warnings

  • If you decide to animate clothing on your character, use high-resolution images of fibrous cloth. When applying the texture to your model, keep the scale slightly larger than what would be natural. The larger scale threads will help make your model look miniature, as was common in most claymation characters.

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