Clay Animation

Shoot an animated movie with characters made of clay.

Since this an advanced-level project, ideally members will have completed the Storyboarding badge before doing this one. This project allows for a lot of freedom in how members prepare for shooting, from how they shoot (with a smartphone or a digital camera) to which app they use. Give members room to flex their creative muscles on this project.


Computer or Phone


What is Clay Animation?

If you recognize this man or these chickens, then you’ve probably watched a claymation movie. In this type of animation, an animator makes figures out of clay and then takes lots of photographs of the clay figures as a story is acted out. When all the photographs get put together as a video, the clay figures will appear to move.

Check out these examples of claymation films created by Boys & Girls Club members:
Lily and Shadow
Revenge of the Penguin 
Project this image of Wallace and Gromit and this one from “Chicken Run.” Ask: "Who are these characters? And what movie are these characters from? What type of movies are these?" Answer: Claymation.

Ask if someone can explain claymation. If you need to, add this information to the explanation: Claymation is a type of animation in which an animator makes figures out of clay and then takes lots of photographs of the clay figures as as a story is acted out. When all the photographs get put together as a video, the clay figures will appear to move.

Next, show examples of claymation films created by Boys & Girls Club members:

Lily and Shadow
Revenge of the Penguins

If a group of members will be creating claymation together, consider showing a claymation animated short video such as Pingu.


Create a Storyboard

Have you completed the Storyboard badge yet? If so, you could use that story for your claymation film. If you haven’t written a storyboard, that’s your next step.

Your first claymation story should be very short and should not require dialogue. Dialogue is when characters talk to each other. Telling an interesting story quickly and without dialogue is challenging. What kind of story could you tell this way?

Ask yourself these questions:
-- What is a story you could tell in less than one minute?
-- How will you communicate the story without dialogue or with very little dialogue?
-- Who will your characters be? You should have no more than three characters.

Now, sketch out a storyboard for your story. Here’s an example of how simple your first claymation storyboard could be.

Story: The Happy Gardener
Characters: Gardener, Flower

happy gardener claymation storyboard

Beginning: Man plants seed
Middle: Plant grows
End: Flower blooms, Man smiles

If you want, you could use one of these sample stories:
-- A blob moves through a city and devours anything in its path. Each time it eats a toy, object or character, it gets bigger.
-- A child builds a snowman. The child leaves. The snowman comes to life. The snowman looks around and sees that he is alone. The snowman builds another snowman to hang out with.

Say: "Today you will create a one-minute claymation video. The story for your video should be short and simple. Since we will take photos to make the video, rather than shooting it as a video, there will be no dialogue."

Show the group the sample storyboard for a claymation video about the man and the flower. Another possibility is to give members the option to use the sample story ideas about the blob or the snowman.

Once members have their story ideas, tell them to sketch out several storyboards that show the movement of the characters.


Build Your Characters

Grab some clay and start building your characters!

Check out these claymation characters. What do you notice about them?

simple claymation characters boy and cat


Here are a few tips when you build your own:

-- Keep it simple. No elaborate details are needed.
-- By drawing eyes or a mouth with a toothpick or similar tool, you can erase and change the shape of the mouth for different shots and make your character laugh, smile, talk, etc.
-- Build your character so that it can stand up on its own. You can do this by making the feet much heavier than the head and shoulders.
-- Your character doesn’t have to be 100 percent clay. Sometimes, designers make a stick figure out of wire or pipe cleaners and then add clay around the figure’s wire “skeleton.”
-- If you want, you could incorporate small toys like Legos or other materials for your characters to interact with.

Before you pass out the clay, ask the group to take a look at the sample clay figures in the photo to the left. Talk through the list of claymation building tips. Then let the members loose to start creating their characters and props.


Set the Stage 

Gather all your materials:

-- Your storyboard
-- Your characters
-- A digital camera or smartphone
-- If you’re using a digital camera, adjust the settings so that the photos are no bigger than 640x480.
-- If you’re using a smartphone as your camera, consider downloading one of these apps: 

-- Stop Motion Studio (iOS and Google Play)
-- OSnap! Time-Lapse & Stop Motion Camera (iOS)
-- Pic Pac Stop Motion (Google Play)
-- Motion - Stop Motion Camera (Google Play)

-- A tripod for your camera, which can be as simple as binder clips or a stack of books. If the camera shakes or moves, it can ruin your film.
-- A lamp so you can shine a bright light onto your characters while you photograph them
-- Extra clay or props to use in your story
-- A background image is optional. Some Club members draw or paint their own backgrounds.

How to Set the Stage:
-- Choose a space to film. If you have a backdrop or items that will be in the scene, set them up in the filming space.
-- Point your camera toward the area you’re filming. It is very important that your camera is stable and doesn’t shake or move while you take pictures. If you don’t have a tripod, make a secure space for your camera to sit with a paper cup, binder clips, or other objects.
-- Point a lamp at the space where you’re filming. Keeping the lighting bright and consistent throughout the film with make your video much better.
-- Turn off your camera’s flash. Take a few sample photos. How do they look? Is it bright enough?

smartphone in a tripod made from a coffee cup films claymation

Show or give members the materials list and the “How to set the stage” list. Since this is an advanced-level project, give them the freedom to do this activity without formal instruction. As members work, circulate around the room to observe, ask questions and offer an idea or two.


Capture the Action

Set up your characters as they appear in the first frame of your storyboard. Take a photo. Move your character(s) a TINY bit in the direction of your next frame. Take another photo.
Continue making tiny adjustments and taking photos until your characters have “acted out” the entire story.

You’re going to end up with a ton of photos. Take your time. Moving too quickly or shaking the camera are two of the most common mistakes in claymation.

series of claymation photos

Stop-motion animators use a term called “frames per second” to determine how many photos they need to take for each second of action in their stories. Professional stop motion animators might take 24 photos for every second of action (that’s 24 frames per second) while amateurs are more likely to take 12 photos for every second of action (12 frames per second). You could even animate in 3 frames per second, but it’s going to look a little choppier. The more pictures you use per second, the more smooth your animation will seem.

If you’ve taken all of your photos with a digital camera, you can learn how to turn them into a movie with the Producing a Stop-Motion Movie project. If you used one of the smartphone apps, the app will turn your pictures into a video.

If you want to learn more about frames per second, watch this video.

Once members have set up their projects, get the group’s attention. Ask: "How do you think we will get the clay figures to look like they are moving by taking photographs?" Listen to a couple ideas. If members don’t mention everything, add to what they said with the explanations to the left.

Tell students to begin taking photos. As you walk around the room, you may have to remind students to move their clay figures only a tiny bit between each photograph.

If members are using a smartphone and one of the apps listed in Activity 4, the app will create their video with the photos.If they are using digital cameras, members can learn how to turn them into a movie with the Producing a Stop-Motion Movie project.


Save and Submit

Even though your claymation video may not be done yet, you can still submit your work in progress. Choose four to eight photographs which show different parts of your story and upload them. If you want, you can also upload a picture of the storyboard you made.
Encourage members to share their works in progress by uploading several of their claymation photographs and even a copy of their storyboards. 

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