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Claymation, a brief history

July 19th, 2007

via Prince of Wales Collegiate

Clay Animation isn’t really a new technique at all. Who doesn’t remember Gumby and Pokey? Technically, clay animation began a short time after the invention of a clay-like substance called plasticine. Plasticine was invented in 1897, and one of the first actual films to use clay was in 1902 using clay for lightning sculpting. This was one of the first steps for clay animation, but it took six more years to make a film that used clay animated sculptures. This happened in 1908 when “A Sculptor’s Welsh Rarebit Nightmare” was released in February.

From that time period, many men and women did obscure work with clay animation. It just wasn’t a very popular technique then. For almost 70 years, it remained that way. It wasn’t until the mid to late ’80’s that this wonderful technique began to turn into the large-scale phenomenon that it is today. Perhaps one of the best and memorable things that happened in clay animation was Art Pokey’s creation of Gumby. He was one of the first superstars to be made out of clay. Even now, people still can’t seem to get enough of him. He is a true legend that just keeps reincarnating. He really makes up a large part of clay animation’s history.

Now that there is so much technology available, clay animation has really been made much simpler to do and accomplish than it was in it’s humble beginnings.

When Will Vinton began clay animating, we doubt he knew how he would end up. He first began making independent films at Berkeley in 1966. He is a big part of clay animation’s history, considering some of the things he and his studio have accomplished. From “Closed Mondays”, one of this very first film collaborations that also won him an Oscar in 1974, to the recent “The Adventures of Mark Twain”, this man has done it all. You may know him and his studio best by what might be their most popular creations: those hard-partying California Raisins.

In 1987, Will Vinton made a documentary explaining the process of clay animation. It was titled “Claymation”, and it became Vinton Studio’s registered trademark. He definitely pioneered many of the techniques used by clay animators today and this was the first film ever made explaining the process of clay animation.

According to the man himself, “any school kid can do it and have wonderful results.” Well . . . almost. You see, to obtain that raisin-quality status, the animators at the studio may reshape a character up to 1,440 times in only one minute. That’s right, math fans. Each second of film consists of 24 different frames of film. Three seconds of animation for most is considered a ‘good day.’

Even though Vinton has received numerous international awards (”we stopped counting around 350″) and critical acclaim, not until recently have any of his rewards been monetary. It may have taken a long time for his work to pay off (literally) but the world of clay animation is in tremendous debt to him. His work has done unbelievably good things for clay animation. Will Vinton currently continues to live in Portland, Oregon (his design studio is located there) with his wife and their three children.

Click here to hear my audio interview with Will Vinton.

The dynamic duo of Wallace and Gromit has thrilled many with their exciting adventures. Whether traveling to the moon to load up on cheese or saving the crown jewels from an expert thief penguin, Wallace and Gromit always keep their audience wanting more. As a direct result of their popularity, Wallace and Gromit have become idols to the young audience; as well as the young at heart.

Nick Park, creator of these two adorable creatures, is world renown for his expertise in clay animation. He began clay animating at a very young age and has worked his way up slowly to his professional status. While working at Aardman Animations, his unique characters have appeared in three short films, “A Grand Day Out ” (1992), “The Wrong Trousers” (1993), and “A Close Shave” (1995). Each of his Wallace & Gromit films has won him an Academy Award.

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Stop-motion is one technique that hasn’t really chnaged at all in 100 years, but still proves to be a very popular medium of animation.

The Wrong Trousers is easily one of my all time favorite short films, it’s very much close to perfection. Aardman’s Morph could probably kick Gumby’s arse too. =P

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