Life From Clay – Part I

Words by Benjamin Pinsent

With the movie business growing out of and perpetuating a technological revolution, films are becoming more and more reliant on computers for special effects and editing. The animation industry has almost completely stopped using traditional animation techniques in favour of CGI animation with the rise of Pixar and Blue Sky Studios (the people responsible for Ice Age and the unnecessary sequels). The over saturation of slick animation starts to leave one cold, wishing for the subtle nuances and imperfections that can be found in hand drawn animation and “claymation”.

With two big stopmotion releases coming from Laika (the makers of Coraline and the animation studio behind Nightmare before Christmas) and Tim Burton would be a good time to revisit this technique of creating life from the inanimate.

Arguably stop motion animation was invented at the same time as the medium of film, when George Melies discovered editing. It grew into the form that we recognise today, largely due to its use in early creature features like King Kong (1933) and The Lost World (1925) doing the job that nowadays would be done by Andy Serkis in a wetsuit.

But back then was painstakingly animated by Willis O’Brian. Pioneers in the industry like Ray Harryhousen are still considered to be industry legends with work like The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1974) and The Clash of Titans (1981). This technique was also used in the big science fiction and fantasy series Star Wars, by Industrial Light and Magic.

Despite the use of the Stopmotion Animation in the industry almost since films inception, it wasn’t until 1980 when the first feature length stopmotion film was made. I Go Pogo directed by Marc Paul Chinoy based on the Pogo comic strips. This film used a mix of straight clay puppets and those with armatures (skeletons if you will that allow for a more stable range of movements and is used fairly frequently in most stop motion productions).

Although a relatively new art form in terms of independence from the live action feature, auteurs have emerged. Will Vinton worked on Return to Oz (1985) which gained praise from the academy in the form of nominations for best Special effects.

Quickly after that he released The Adventures of Mark Twain. Most of his work is very recognisable due to its free flow style and it was he who first coined the term “claymation” to describe what he was doing.


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