Stop-motion animation films with clay models started in 1908 and have been wowing audiences ever since. Even in this age of computer graphics, claymation, as it is often called, remains a well-respected art form.
But, have you ever wondered what types of clay stop motion animators use on a daily basis. When the modelers who have their choice of any clay on the market buy clay, what do they choose? The answer may surprise you.
This article will look at what the best in the business consider to be the best clay for stop motion animation.
Best Clay for Stop Motion Animation
Clay for stop motion animation must have a unique set of qualities. It must be mailable, carvable, easily mixed, and hold its shape for long periods of time. Below we have listed the three types of clay that meet these criteria and what are considered the best brands under each.
1. Oil-Based Clays
Oil-based clay, also called Roma Plastilina, is clay that has been formulated with oil instead of water. It is based on the Gudicci Italian modeling clay of the 1800s and is a standard product in many art studios to this day. It only comes in gray and white but is easily painted or stained and can be had in several consistencies ranging from very soft to extremely firm.
Roma Plastilina is often used for making prototype pieces or for short film work but is not suitable for long-term use. The oils from the clay tend to weep under hot lights, and the clay can often soften when heated.
2. Wax-Based Clays
Wax-based clays are normally the first choice of professional animators, and the most recommended is the Plastilina clay from Van Aken. While many believe this is an oil-based clay, it actually uses paraffin instead.
Van Aken Platilina comes in a variety of colors, is easily worked, and is exceptional for holding its shape and moldability. Characters created from Platilina do not weep as oils, as they contain none, and can be used or stored for months or even years under proper conditions without any worry of it drying out.
To create a custom palette of colors with Platilina, you heat different colors in a double boiler. Then blended them by folding the softened clay to create the exact tone or shade desired. When cooled, the clay returns to normal.
3. Polymer-Based Clays
In recent years, Polymer-based clays have become more popular. Instead of being made from ceramic clay, they are plastic-based. This does give them some advantages.
Characters made of this clay remain pliable indefinitely, are easy to blend together, and animate well. Another advantage is that it can be hardened. When baked in an oven at 275 degrees Fahrenheit, these clays harden with a smooth finish. This makes them ideal for making small parts like eyes or teeth that could be easily smudged.
Polymer clays one disadvantage is that it does cost more than wax clays.
Overwhelmingly the polymer-based clay preferred by most professional animators is Original Sculpey
What to Consider in Stop Motion Clay
There are a number of clay characteristics that you should consider when you are looking to get into claymation. Here are a few of the things you should consider when choosing a clay to create stop-motion works.
For claymation, you want a clay that can be repositioned easily without losing its shape or deforming. Clays that are too stiff may pull apart when an elbow or knee joint is moved. By the same token, stiff clays can make it difficult to adjust positions without having to use too much force and deforming the figure.
Of course, one of the first clay characteristics you should look at is malleability. This is how easy or difficult it is to shape the clay. To some extent, the form of your characters and how you will sculpt them will play a large role in determining the best consistency to work with. Clays come in a range that can be hard enough to carve to soft enough to be shaped by a toddler’s fingers.
Elasticity is how far you can pull a piece of clay before it starts to pull apart. Depending on your particular sequence, you may want a clay that snaps at the first pull or one that will slowly thin as it extends and can be stretched a great distance. The stretchability of some clays can be affected by the addition of moister, oils, or some additives.
Hardening characteristics can involve how long a clay will stay usable before it starts to dry out, become brittle, or start showing cracks. It can also involve what is needed to harden the clay. Yes, there are some pieces that may want to be hardened to prevent them from becoming smudged or to provide rigid support. Some clays will air harden, others need to be baked, and some will not harden at all.
Most clays for stop motion animation come in a variety of colors. Still, if you want to be able to create a custom palette, you will want to be able to blend these just as a painter blends their paints. Some clays can be blended simply by working them with your hands. Others, like Plastilina clay from Van Aken, must be melted to be blended.
What is the best material for stop motion?
Stop motion animation can be created using a wide variety of mediums, including action figures, paper, and modeling clay, among others. It is difficult to say anyone is the best. That involves a lot of personal taste and artistic preference. However, clay is generally regarded as the most versatile.
Can you use air-dry clay for stop motion?
Yes, you can use air-dry clay for stop motion animation, but there are a few things to keep in mind. Some air-dry clays harden faster than others. The faster the clay dries, the less time you will have to shoot your film before it begins to change colors or show cracks. Ideally, you will want to work with the slowest drying clay you can find. This is to give you give the maximum amount of working time.
That being said, there are some air-dry clays like foam clay and cream clay that makes it easier to achieve certain stylistic effects that can be difficult with other clays.
Can you harden plasticine clay?
Plasticine clays are made by mixing either oils or waxes with natural clays. Because of their makeup, there is no way to permanently harden them. They can be temporarily hardened by placing them in a refrigerator or freezer. Unfortunately, they will soften again when they warm back up.