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Claymation Facts

Updated April 17, 2017

Clay animation, or "claymation" as it is more popularly known, is an imaginative and exciting medium of animation. This animation has a handcrafted and loving feel to each frame. Memorable characters like the California Raisins and Wallace and Gromet have been created through the use of clay animation. While this technique is not as popular as it once was, fans of clay animation stay busy creating their own videos and characters while keeping the art form alive.

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Clay animation has actually been around for more than 100 years. The creation of a type of clay called plasticine in 1897 was partially responsible for creating the tools necessary for clay animation. Clay was used as animation in the early 1900s. This animation used the same principles that clay animators still use today.

Construction of Figures

The vast majority of clay animated figures employ some sort of skeletal armature underneath the clay. An armature is a wire frame that can support the clay but is still flexible enough to bend. This allows an animator to create arms and legs for clay animation characters. Without armatures, clay figures would not be able to support their own weight or move their arms and legs around in realistic motions.

Some clay figures utilise fabric clothing to create texture like the characters in the film Coraline. Clay animation artists like Will Vinton, however, insist on using only clay for everything visible in each shot.

The Process

Posing the figures in front of a camera and exposing one frame of film creates clay animation. The figures are moved ever so slightly and then another frame of film is exposed. Over time this will create the illusion of movement. This is a painstaking process and is incredibly time-consuming, as each movement must be created by hundreds of tiny incremental movements. Because the animation is shot one frame at a time, sound and voice work must be done separately and added in later.

Mainstream Success

Clay animation and stop motion animation were used for many years to create unique characters and effects in television and film. Gumby is one of the most notable clay animation characters. Created by Art Clokey in the 1950s, Gumby was the first clay character to have his own television show. Stop motion animation, which is the principle behind clay animation, was used in films like "Jason and the Argonauts" to armies of skeletons to life on the screen. Later, George Lucas would use stop motion animation to create effects in popular science fiction and fantasy movies like "Star Wars" and "Willow."

The Future

While computers have taken over much of the mainstream world of animation, artists like Tim Burton and Neil Gaiman have gone back to clay animation to produce beautiful motion pictures. "A Nightmare Before Christmas," "Corpse Bride" and "Coraline" use a clay animation with other digital techniques to create a look that would be impossible to achieve in one format alone.

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About the Author

Andrew DeWitt is a freelance writer/illustrator and stand-up comic with more than eight years of professional experience. He has written for Chicago Public Radio, Vocalo Radio, Second City Chicago, and The Lemming. DeWitt has a liberal arts degree with a double major in theater and creative writing.

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