Claymation is a form of stop motion animation that has you use clay for your characters, objects, and set. Clay animations were produced in the United States as early as 1908 and soon became very popular. A Claymation film series that has gained a lot of popularity was Wallace and Gromit, produced by Aardman Animations. Any form of stop motion animation is a long, and time consuming process, but in the end, it is worth watching what you have created.
I. Choosing the Right Materials
To start off, you will need a camera. Webcams are preferred for beginners because of their easy use but they are limited in their focusing ability. This is crucial because you will need to shoot close ups many times and nobody wants a blurry picture. DV camcorders can also be used, but you may need to buy a special type of cable to be able to connect it to your computer. SLR and DSLR are the most preferred by professionals and bring out the best quality and results. But those can get quite pricy.
Next up, software! A good, free software that I have come across is called Animator DV. This is a great place to begin and as you gain more experience you can move on to more advanced software that satisfy your needs like Stop Motion Pro or even Dragon Stop Motion.
And how can you forget about clay? I recommend non-hardening clay like Van Aken. Though many people animate with Play Dough, this is not recommended. Choose clay that is firm and that does not get affected easily by heat and moisture. Some clay tends to get really weak when they get warmed up by the hands when getting sculpted. So choose wisely, this is the main focus of Claymation!
You’re almost set! All you need now is a firm, strong tripod and some lighting. No one wants to watch a dimmed animation without any decent lighting! Any adjustable lamp will do just fine if you’re starting out. Make sure to take some test shots and see if the image is clear and bright.
II. Setting Up
Make sure to find a comfortable area with a good surface and a computer at reach. If you have a laptop, that’s great. You will have a much bigger variety of areas to choose from. But if you only have access to a desktop computer, a usual office desk will do the job well enough.
When it comes to characters in Claymation, there are many different ways that they can be made to look, feel, and function. A simple clayman will do just fine. A clayman is a simple, solid color human figure formed out of one chunk of clay, there is no need to form the arms and legs separately. A more complicated character will have something that is called an armature. This is a wire bone structure that is made to support the character. First the armature is built, then, the character is formed around it. Some fairly thick aluminum wire will do the trick. Any extra details are fully up to you.
Now, we need to get a good view of your set. Make sure your camera is firmly attached to your tripod and viewing your stage at a comfortable angle. Set up your lighting to make it easy to see what is going on though the camera’s perspective. Be sure to keep the lamp out of the camera’s view. Let’s now prop up our character(s) and any other objects we have created onto our stage. Fire up the animation software and make sure that your camera is properly connected. We are ready to go!
III. Lights, Camera, Action!
As I mentioned earlier, stop animation is a long process and requires a lot of patience. To create animation, you will have to set up your character, take a picture, move the character a bit (the arm for example), take a picture, and on and on. To start, many people prefer to shoot at 12 fps. What is fps? This is short for frames per second; this is how many images will play for every second that passes by. So for every second of the animation, you will have to move you character 12 times, unless it is idle. As you gain more experience, 12 fps will not be enough, you will have to move on to what most professionals use, which is 24 fps. This gives you a smooth and more realistic look.
A basic rule is that the faster you want a figure to move, the larger increment of movement you want to use. If you use the same amount of movement for when a figure drops and when it is lifted up, it will not look realistic. It is a good idea to have all of the movements planned out in your head.
When you take a picture, the image will load up automatically onto your computer and you can play back your animation up to that moment. A nice feature that most of these programs have is called onion skin. This is when two frames are combined together so that you can see the live frame and the previous frame at the same time. This helps a lot in detailed movements, or if you knock your figure over and need to set him up precisely again. It is a good idea to be careful around your camera and your set so that you won’t accidently bump anything and ruin the smooth flow of the animation. Otherwise, you will have a shaky camera at playback.
IV. Finishing Up
When you are finished with the image capturing process, it is time to move on to exporting and editing the video. Export your animation in a comfortable format and you can begin editing it any video editing software of your choice, from Windows Movie Maker, to Adobe Premiere. Now you can add a title, some transitions, and credits.
You’re done! Time to upload to YouTube and share with your friends! Claymation can be very simple, and yet very advanced, so be sure to explore further and be creative! There is no limit to the kinds of things you can create with Claymation, it has no end. Good luck and happy animating!