Claymation is the generalized term for clay animation, a form of stop animation using clay. The term was coined by its creator, Will Vinton, owner of an animation studio that worked with clay artists to create clay animation. Claymation involves using objects or characters sculpted from clay or other moldable material, and then taking a series of still pictures that are replayed in rapid succession to create the illusion of movement. Some of the more famous characters created in this form include Gumby and Pokey, Wallace and Gromit, and the California Raisins.
In a claymation production, artists sculpt the characters out of clay and often support the sculpture with wire molds underneath. To create the illusion of movement, the position of the sculpted characters is altered slightly in every still photo, or frame. Just like other forms of animation, claymation generally requires a storyboard or background for the characters to be set against and to develop what they will do or say. Depending on the length of production, the same character may need to be sculpted hundreds of times.
Claymation has been around in some form since the invention of plasticine in 1897, though the first film to use clay animated characters wasn’t until 1908. Clay animation is laborious work, and the productions are often shorter in length than other animated productions due to the work involved. It wasn’t until Gumby came along that this form gained public attention as a variant form of entertainment art. Claymation was one of the first forms of 3-dimensional animation, opening up the world to animation assisted by computer generated imagery (CGI).
Though the production time and cost to create feature-length claymation films is excessive compared to other forms of animation, it has its own look and feel that is very different from traditional or computer generated animation. While this form may not be the wave of the future, experts in the industry believe its future may well rest in the hands of Will Vinton, the man who also helped shape its history.