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You Can Make A Claymation Short

When you watch a claymation movie or TV show, it’s easy to be in awe of the process; the result is both simple and magical, as toy-like clay models come to life.

Making your own claymation short film does take some resources, time, and patience, but with today’s technology, it’s not as hard as you might think.

Claymation is technically “stop-motion photography,” but it doesn’t have to be done with clay (as seen in Photo 1); you can animate toys, models, action figures, puppets, or everyday objects like socks and crumpled paper. However, traditional claymation offers an artistic way for you to create your own characters, and move them bit by bit as you tell your story.

Here’s how to create your first short, step by step:

1.) Write your storyline. Before you do anything else, decide what story you’re going to tell within a few minutes. Script out your characters, the situations they’ll be in, and what they’ll say.

2.) Record your dialogue. The easiest way to animate clay is to record the characters talking first. Have your actors (or you using different voices) read out the dialogue and record it to your computer using a USB microphone and an audio program (like the free Audacity). Then use a program (like JLipSync or Papagayo) to produce an “X sheet” (exposure sheet) that will help you sync up the lips, if you choose to do that.

3.) Make your characters out of clay. The best type of clay to use is non-hardening oil-based animation clay. There’s no need to get too complicated; simple blob-like characters (as seen in Photo 2) can be just as expressive as those that look almost human. Their mouths don’t have to move when they talk, either; think about what you can convey with a simple tilt of the head, or strategically-placed hand gestures. If you choose to tackle animated speech, dig out a hollow mouth and put a darker color inside for depth. For teeth, use a hardened white clay; animation clay will mix with the color around it as you work. Make the lips out of rolled clay that you can mold into different shapes for each word.

4.) Set up your lighting. Use consistent, even lighting that won’t change as you shoot your short. Don’t rely on natural sunlight; instead, close the curtains and set up a few desk lamps or floor lamps.

5.) Set up your staging. Working with the lighting you’ve chosen, put up a simple backdrop—a plain colored or white piece of paper may do—and whatever kind of doll furniture, blocks, or cardboard boxes you feel will help tell the story.

6.) Do your animation. Put your characters on the set, and take the first frame. You can use a still camera on a tripod, and import your stills later into an animation program (like iStop Motion or iKit Movie), or you can capture directly from your webcam or digital video camera through a Firewire or USB connection. (If you’re doing the latter, try the free Helium Frog Animator.) After capturing each frame, move your characters slightly, thinking about whether they’re walking, waving, bending, talking, or all of the above. Then take your next frame, and repeat the process until you’ve worked your way through the script. If you’re animating the mouth, refer to your X sheet to see what letter or sound you need to reproduce for that frame.

7.) Import your movie. If you haven’t captured directly to your animation software, import your stills into your editor. Line up your shots in your timeline and see how your animation looks; you can double certain frames if you want to reuse them or slow down a particular sequence.

8.) Add your background sound. When a character walks, knocks something over, or otherwise takes action, you can add sound effects, which may come with your animation software. The mood can also be enhanced using background music in select portions, including the beginning and end.

Congratulations! You’ve now completed your first claymation short. Now pop some popcorn, invite an audience, sit back, and enjoy the show.

Resources to help you out:
The Stop-Motion Handbook – Free online handbook
Animate Clay
– Community and resources for claymation
– Community and resources for stop-motion using brick toys
– Free audio recording software
– Free lip-synching animation software
– Free lip-synching animation software
Helium Frog Animator
– Free stop-motion software
iKit Movie
– Animation software for Windows (free trial)
iStop Motion
– Animation software for Mac (free trial)


Photos Courtesy Of: Heather Vale Goss