Clay animation or claymation, sometimes plasticine animation, is one of many forms of stop-motion animation. Each animated piece, either character or background, is "deformable"—made of a malleable substance, usually plasticine clay.
Traditional animation, from cel animation to stop motion, is produced by recording each frame, or still picture, on film or digital media and then playing the recorded frames back in rapid succession before the viewer. These and other moving images, from zoetrope to films and video games, create the illusion of motion by playing back at over ten to twelve frames per second. The techniques involved in creating computer-generated imagery are conversely generally removed from a frame-by-frame process.
Each object or character is sculpted from clay or other such similarly pliable material as plasticine, usually around a wire skeleton, called an armature, and then arranged on the set, where it is photographed once before being slightly moved by hand to prepare it for the next shot, and so on until the animator has achieved the desired amount of film. Upon playback, the mind of the viewer perceives the series of slightly changing, rapidly succeeding images as motion.
A consistent shooting environment is needed to maintain the illusion of continuity: objects must be consistently placed and lit, and work must proceed in a calm environment.
Producing a stop-motion animation using clay is extremely laborious. Normal film runs at 24 frames per second (frame/s). With the standard practice of "doubles" or "twos" (double-framing, exposing two frames for each shot), 12 changes are usually made for one second of film movement. Shooting a 30-minute movie would therefore require making approximately 21,600 stops to change the figures for the frames; a full-length (90-minute) movie, 64,800—and possibly many more if some parts were shot with "singles" or "ones" (one frame exposed for each shot).
The object must not be altered by accident, slight smudges, dirt, hair, or dust. Feature-length productions have generally switched from clay to rubber silicone and resin cast components: Will Vinton has dubbed one foam-rubber process "Foamation". Nevertheless, clay remains a viable animation material where a particular aesthetic is desired.
Clay animation can take several forms:
"Freeform" clay animation is an informal term referring to the process in which the shape of the clay changes radically as the animation progresses, such as in the work of Eli Noyes and Ivan Stang's animated films. Clay can also take the form of "character" clay animation, where the clay maintains a recognizable character throughout a shot, as in Art Clokey's and Will Vinton's films.
One variation of clay animation is strata-cut animation, in which a long bread-like loaf of clay, internally packed tight and loaded with varying imagery, is sliced into thin sheets, with the camera taking a frame of the end of the loaf for each cut, eventually revealing the movement of the internal images within. Pioneered in both clay and blocks of wax by German animator Oskar Fischinger during the 1920s and 1930s, the technique was revived and highly refined in the mid-1990s by David Daniels, an associate of Will Vinton, in his 16-minute short film "Buzz Box".
Another clay-animation technique, one that blurs the distinction between stop motion and traditional flat animation, is called clay painting (also a variation of the direct manipulation animation process), wherein clay is placed on a flat surface and moved like wet oil paints (as on a traditional artist's canvas) to produce any style of images, but with a clay look to them.
A sub variation clay animation can be informally called "clay melting". Any kind of heat source can be applied on or near (or below) clay to cause it to melt while an animation camera on a time-lapse setting slowly films the process. For example, consider Vinton's early short clay-animated film Closed Mondays (co produced by animator Bob Gardiner) at the end of the computer sequence. A similar technique was used in the climax scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark to "melt" the faces of the antagonists.
The term "hot set" is used amongst animators during production. It refers to a set where an animator is filming. The clay characters are set in a perfect position where they can continue shooting where they left off. If an animator calls his set a "hot set," then no one is allowed to touch the set or else the shoot would be ruined. Certain scenes must be shot rather quickly. If a scene is left unfinished and the weather is perhaps humid, then the set and characters have an obvious difference. The clay puppets may be deformed from the humidity or the air pressure could have caused the set to shift slightly. These small differences can create an obvious flaw to the scene. To avoid these disasters, scenes normally have to be shot in one day or less.
Clay animation featured in Segundo de Chomón's Sculpteur Moderne (1908) and Edison Manufacturing's trick film entitled The Sculptor's Welsh Rarebit Dream (possibly referencing the comic strip Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend).
In 1916, clay animation became something of a fad, as a U.S. East Coast artist named Helena Smith Dayton and a West Coast animator named Willie Hopkins produced clay-animated films on a wide range of subjects. Hopkins in particular was quite prolific, producing over fifty clay-animated segments for the weekly Universal Screen Magazine. By the 1920s, drawn animation using either cels or the slash system was firmly established in the U.S. as the dominant mode of animation production. Increasingly, three-dimensional forms such as clay were driven into relative obscurity as the cel method became the preferred method for the studio cartoon.
Nevertheless, in 1921, clay animation appeared in a film called "Modeling", an Out of the Inkwell film from the newly formed Fleischer Brothers studio. "Modeling" included animated clay in eight shots, a novel integration of the technique into an existing cartoon series and one of the rare uses of clay animation in a theatrical short from the 1920s.
American cultural icon Gumby, created by Art Clokey, debuted in 1953 in the short student film Gumbasia. The character would go on to feature in segments in Howdy Doody in 1955 and 1956, his own television series (1957-1969, 1987-1989) and a theatrical film (1995).
Clay animation has been popularized on television in children's shows such as Mio Mao (1970-1976, 2002-2007 - Italy), The Red and the Blue (1976 - Italy) and Pingu (1990-2000 - Switzerland, 2003-2006 - U.K.)
In 1972, at Marc Chinoy's Cineplast Films Studio in Munich, Germany, André Roche created a set of clay-animated German-language-instruction films (for non-German-speaking children) called Kli-Kla-Klawitter for the Second German TV-Channel; and another one for a traffic education series, Herr Daniel paßt auf ("Mr. Daniel Pays Attention").
Pioneering the [clay painting]] technique was one-time Will Vinton Studios animator Joan Gratz, first in her Oscar-nominated film The Creation (1980), and then in her Oscar-winning Mona Lisa Descending a Staircase, filmed in 1992.  Another Vinton animator, Craig Bartlett, developed a technique in which he not only used clay painting but sometimes built up clay images that rose off the plane of the flat support platform toward the camera lens to give a more 3-D stop-motion look to his Hey Arnold! films.
Nick Park joined Aardman in 1985. He would become the most successful claymation director, receiving a total of six Academy Award nominations and winning four with Creature Comforts (1989) (the first Wallace and Gromit film A Grand Day Out was also nominated), The Wrong Trousers (1993), A Close Shave (1995) and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005). Wallace and Gromit spin-off Shaun the Sheep has also proved hugely successful with long-running television series (since 2007), theatrical movies and its own spin-off Timmy Time (since 2009).
Aardman's Chicken Run (2000) became the highest-grossing stop motion animated film in history.
Many independent young filmmakers have published clay animations online, on such sites as Newgrounds.
More adult-oriented clay animation shows have been broadcast on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup, including Robot Chicken (which uses clay animation and action figures as stop-motion puppets in conjunction) and Moral Orel.
Several computer games have been produced using clay animation, including The Neverhood, Clay Fighter, Platypus, Clay Moon (iPhone app), and Primal Rage. Probably the most spectacular use of model animation for a computer game was for the Virgin Interactive Entertainment Mythos game Magic and Mayhem (1998), for which stop-motion animator and special-effects expert Alan Friswell constructed over 25 monsters and mythological characters utilising both modelling clay and latex rubber, over wire and ball-and-socket skeletons, much like the designs of Willis O'Brien and Ray Harryhausen.
Notable clay animators
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- Gumbo (2003)
- Oddball Films: Stop-Motion Explosion III - Thur. Aug 15 - 8PM
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