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How to Make a Clay Animation Movie

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 6/2/2011

Whether you’re bored and / or wanting to experiment, you can create your very own clay animation! It’s easy, plus it’s fun to do with friends!

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    How to Make a Clay Animation

    From concept, to art supplies, and equipment & software, see where your imagination may lead you! Have fun!

    Here's what you’ll need:

    Concept: (if you want to do something professional, take your time developing a good story and characters)

    • Story or conflict (as a beginner, you may want to keep it short & simple - maybe something that may be fleshed out in no longer than a minute.)
    • Characters (sketch them out first--make them original)
    • Plan special shots: close ups, zooms, etc.
    • Sketch a plan of the set (if you want to use clay and/or objects)

    Art Supplies:

    • Plasticine clay (best choice since it won’t ever dry out on you; plus, it will endure the heat from the lights, and will still be pliable) --get different colors
    • Armature (wire frame) used to support the clay, like a skeleton underneath
    • Paint (you may want to paint the set)

    Construction of set:

    backdrop/ set ideas: clay set, painting, poster board; green screen; etc (you want your set in a place where no one will ruin it in case you have to take several breaks) a sturdy table works great.

    Pplan where you want to place the lights, your camera and make sure you have enough room.

    Equipment/ Software:

    • Digital camera with a firewire port

    - or-

    • Video camera with a firewire port (out to computer)
    • Tripod
    • Firewire cable (e.g. 4 pin (connected to camera/ 6 pin connected to computer)
    • Computer & monitor
    • Lights (you may want to set up a 3-point lighting system: key light, fill light, and backlight)
    • Capture software (such as Stopmotion Pro or Framebyframe (freeware)) (for stop motion you’ll need at least 10 fps. Capture software will enable you to control your shutter speed from the software’s capture controls, so you won’t even have to touch the camera!) Make absolutely positive your camera will be recognized by the software program!

    Post production (for extensive editing/ tweaking):

    (this may not be necessary if you choose to edit and add audio through the capture software. Keep in mind some stop motiong capturing software is not equipped with special filters and effects.)

    • A non-linear editing system (such as iMovie, Final Cut Pro) (if you shot with a blue/greenscreen make sure your editing system has a chroma key filter.) (In this article, FCP terms are used - e.g. sequence)
    • External audio recording equipment (including mic(s)) (for narrative, vocals) (some stop motion capturing software does not support audio so you’ll need to edit audio with a non-linear editing program)
    • If you don’t have an external digital audio recorder (such as a Merantz kit), you may use your camera mic, then import the footage separately
    • Music (create your own, use a buddy’s, or use royalty free music)

    .... and you’ll need plenty of time and patience!

     

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    Preproduction Tips:

    Begin by building your characters and the set. This will be time consuming and may take longer than expected--but can be fun. You may want to visit your locat craft store to get more supplies and/or ideas for either your character(s) or your set. For each individual character’s body, mold the clay around the armature. Create the head(s) separately so you switch them out based on extreme facial expressions or any dramatic changes that take place in your charcter--e.g. a raised eyebrow.

    Production Tips:

    Whether you’re shooting with a still camera or a video camera, have enough power supply. A battery’s life may not prolong the amount of time you’ll need. Therefore, a camera that can be plugged into a wall outlet will work best. For safety, use a surge protector.

    Just as live action uses different types of camera shots, angles, and composition, you may want to use these techniques as well. For instance, you may want to start with an establishing shot (wide shot) of your entire set. Or, if one of your clay animation characters is talking, shoot a medium or close up shot of them. *(This is best if the camera is set on manual focus!)

    Because you’re shooting frame by frame, you may lose a sense of where you are in the script. It’s a good idea beforehand to rehearse, or do ‘dry runs’--you’ll get an idea of how long this will take. Take notes along the way.

    Remember: for every second, your shooting roughly 30 frames (if you’ll be editing on a 30 fps timeline). There’s 60 seconds in a minute. That’s a total of 1,800 frames in just one minute! Estimate easy movements versus more difficult ones. Don’t be afraid to experiment or make a mistake! Some of the greatest achievements were founded by experiements and mistakes! e.g. Georges Méliès

    Post Production Ideas:

    If you’ve captured your frames with stop motion capturing software and the program doesn’t offer extensive filters (e.g. color correction, motion blur), export the footage into another program to edit. Most non-linear editing software programs offer you a variety of options, and this will give you more flexibility, particularly if you’re not familiar with the stop motion program’s editing capabilities.

    You most likely will have to cut into the file, edit out shots that are too long, and/or extend others.

    On some of the frames, add a motion blur filter to create more realistic movement, and/or add other filters too. Add dissolves in the appropriate places.

    Adding Audio

    If the script you’re working with has character vocals, record the audio while having the video play out. Create your own slate/ ‘clapperboard’ method for syncing purposes. For instance, on the video timeline create a special point, such as a marker, title, color bars, OR, use a time code generator filter and jot down the elasped timecode of the exact time you clapped. Don’t forget to write down the take/ scene number and/or any other notes.

    For easier referencing, keep the data in order so you’ll know what audio goes with what take. Always start the audio recorder first and allow several seconds of silence before playing the video and marking. On the video, when the playhead gets to that particular point/ marker, clap your hands together ONE TIME (for audio). (This is so you’ll know EXACTLY where to begin syncing your audio file(s) with the video file.)

    Do different takes, and remember to mark each one, takng notes along the way. If you make a mistake, stop the video, and do another slate. Make more markers if needed but DO NOT delete or move any of your video markers until your audio file(s) is appropriately synced on the timeline.

    It’s best to edit different scenes in their own timeline or seequence to start. (Make absolutely positive your sequence/ timelines are set at the same capturing settings.) This will help you if you’re having to sync any vocals.