In the early days of motion pictures, filmmakers began experimenting with clay animation as quickly as the new technology developed.
William Harbutt developed plasticine in 1897. Plasticine didn’t dry and harden like normal clay and was much more malleable than other options. This made it easier for creators to take the time they needed to make films. The early 1900s were full of artists using claymation. Though many of the films are now lost, one example from 1908 called The Sculptor’s Nightmare can still be seen.
Making stop-motion animation using clay takes enormous amounts of time and careful craftsmanship.
Each object or character is sculpted from clay or plasticine, usually around a wire skeleton, called an armature. Then it is posed on the set, where it is photographed once before being slightly adjusted by hand for the next shot, and so on until the animator has finished the entire film.
THE AFE TEAM SETS UP THE SHOT
To film one second of movement, creators must make between 12 and 24 tiny adjustments to the figures and photograph each adjustment separately. That means a short, 30-minute stop-motion film takes approximately 21,600 still frames. And a good production day means getting 5-10 seconds of film in the can!
THE TEAM SETS UP SARGE FOR HIS CLAYMATION DEBUT!
Active sets are called “hot sets” and access is strictly forbidden to prevent any alterations by movement, accident, slight smudges, dirt, hair, or even dust. Any unauthorized changes can ruin a claymation production in an instant!
WATCH THE FINAL PRODUCT!
Claymation has been part of cinematic history from the beginning, and the reason why Indy and Marion were right not to look when the Ark was opened!
Here are some of the most famous examples of this art you may have seen:
King Kong (1933)
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964)
The Clash of the Titans (1981)
Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)
The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993)
Chicken Run (2000) – first feature-length, theatrically-released clay animation film & highest-grossing stop-motion animated film in history