centre for animation & interactive media

Animation Project #6
Claymation - "seize the clay"
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An audition for a talent show. A nondescript lump of clay is seen centre stage under the unforgiving glare of a spotlight. It metamorphoses into a ‘character’ who comes to life. A short 5-10 second performance follows - some trick, circus routine or bizarre physical feat designed to impress the judges. It either succeeds with a grand self-satisfied flourish or fails miserably. The judges are less than impressed and the creature retreats into itself with embarrassment.

Direct and animate an ‘audition’ sequence so that your piece can be linked to those of your colleagues by making the character return to the lump from which it emerged.

The character should convey personality and a capacity for thought and feeling. Is it a polished confident "Look! Nothing up my sleeve" magician who executes its trick to perfection? Or a talentless ham who doesn't know when to quit? A nervous, timid creature who shrinks from the bright light into the shadows? A zany off-the-planet character who tears off parts of itself off to play with? A mime artist? Try to convey the sense that your character seeks and acknowledges the reaction of an unseen audience. Exploit the use of the frame (on-screen and off-screen action). 

Don’t be overly figurative with your character design. Celebrate the possibility that non-figurative roughly modeled forms can possess personality.

Explore the nature of plasticine and the visual magic of ‘metamorphosis’. Be true to the medium. Don’t be afraid to push the clay around. Parts of the lump of clay can morph into objects or stage props that the character needs for its performance. When a prop or limb is required, your character could simply grow one!

Be playful and don't forget to apply the basic principles of animation - squash and stretch, exaggeration, faired movements and especially anticipation to flag a major action, and please keep in mind the value of the held pose - 18 to 75 frames might be needed to register a pose or accent an expression.   

Be aware that the time you spend modifying the clay bears no relationship at all to the time it will appear on screen. The most common mistake is to rush the ideas because you believe everything always has to move every 2 frames. The result looks too frenetic. Stillness is a nice contrast to constant movement.

For smooth animation you will need to use a frame rate of 2 frames per recording unless you want to hold a pose.   Frame rates of anything larger than 4 will look very jerky indeed. You should also think about fairing your movements so that they slow down and speed up.

Like cutouts, claymation is a 'straight ahead' animation technique which is open to spontaneity and the possibility of you changing your mind mid stream. Ideas will unfold as you animate. Don't worry too much about mistakes because you can't go back and do it again.

Design your characters keeping in mind the practicality of moving them around. Top heavy characters will constantly fall over and you will spend most of your time trying keep your character standing up instead of animating. Long spindly limbs will droop unless supported by an internal armature. Special malleable armature wire, which can be bent many times without breaking, is available for this purpose.  

  • The lighting and composition will be pre-determined for you to allow you to concentrate on your performance and animation. The camera framing and focus must remain ‘locked-off’ to avoid jumps and discontinuity until others have the chance to complete their sequence.
  • The lighting is designed to look like a spot lit stage so that you can use the fall off into darkness for dramatic effect.   That is, your character could retreat into the shadows at either side or to the back of the stage area at some point in its performance.
  • Nothing is to be added to, or taken away from the original lump of clay. Try not to use sets or props other than those which emerge from the lump of clay itself.
  • Take care to ensure that nothing is moved during the shoot other than that which you intend - especially the camera, and keep your modeling tools well out of shot.
  • Remember, each sequence begins and ends with the character emerging from and returning to the lump of clay.
  • Model the clay in position. Do not pick it up and place it back again for each recording as your character will jiggle all over the place.
  • Be careful not to record over anybody else's work. Start and end your sequence with a 30 frame hold.
  • The act should last no longer than 5 to 20 seconds piece (125 - 500 frames) will give you an idea of what its like to animate with something as plastic as clay. Celebrate the fact that clay is so malleable.
This project is merely to give you a taste animating in-the-round and the possibilities of using pliable three dimensional media. It can be a fast method of animating compared with hand-drawn techniques. This short piece might be suitable for creating a QuickTime movie for an interactive project. If you enjoy this project, then you could consider using this stop motion technique for your major project.

An area will be set up specifically for this exercise next week. If you feel like having a go at this project for one of your optional animation exercises, book yourself in for a session of claymation, preferably after 5pm, or on a Friday or over the weekend if you normally come in then. Your commitment to the Collaborative Project is only 3 weeks of the allotted 5 weeks for this project. Theoretically you should therefore have 2 weeks to catch up on various assignments. You should only spend 1-2hrs on this exercise as we do not want it to interfere with the production of your other projects.

If the claymation animation technique intrigues you, then consider it a possible production technique for 2nd semester. We would like you to wrap up this assignment prior to the commencement of your minor project Friday 22 May 2009


AIM's Claymation Collection - ask David or Jeremy


Stop Motion animation notes and links

  "My bones were found in the clay you are playing with"


Sharon Parker's claymation exercise which inspired a sequence in her major project 'This Way Up'.

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