The History and Evolution of Claymation

With so many innovative forms of animation and computer technology being used to create films, adverts and TV shows, some might think that “old favourites” – such as claymation – are a thing of the past. But in reality, some of the more traditional forms of animation are making a comeback – and they’re doing so in all realms of media. This type of animation happens to be one of the most prominent traditional techniques making a comeback, and can be seen in everything from films, television shows and educational content, to marketing material for companies the world over.

But what is the history behind claymation, and how has it evolved over the years? It actually dates back to 1897, and started with a messy material called plasticine. However, it wasn’t until the 1950s that this form of animation was prominently used in adverts and children’s shows. A man named Art Clokey started producing such advertising films during this time, and then went on to produce the famous Gumby and Pokey television show – which, for many, was the defining introduction of claymation into households. The series ran from 1956 to 1963, making a comeback in the 1980s. Another famous duo consists of Wallace and Gromit. The characters were created in 1989 by Nick Park for the Wallace and Gromit animated series, and Park went on to produce a number of other films starring the two loveable characters.

However, even with the rapid development of this type of animation, the process required a lot of work and time. While conventional commercials are shot on 35 mm film at 25 frames-per-second, claymation production requires stop-action photography, and shoots up to 30 individual frames for each second of film. The models in each and every frame have to be hand-sculpted by the animator, with the artist slightly changing expressions and movements – including forms of the characters’ mouths, eye movements, eyebrow raises, glances, shrugs, and of course, bodily movements – before scenes are shot by the camera. The process then slowly repeats itself one frame at a time. The result is an amazing and convincing portrayal of movement in the clay characters.

Claymation is now a popular form of animation, used not only for entertainment purposes but as an advertising and informational tool. Many companies, for example, have adopted characters of this type too – such as Wallace and Gromit – as mascots of sorts, to either represent a product or service, or to help relay more information to customers.

Such characters are often used in TV commercials, company literature and online media, helping assign a story or a theme to companies and products – a move that can make products, services, and companies as a whole more memorable to clients, as well as enable clients to make associations between characters and company offerings.

Finally, many customers find it easier and more entertaining to follow information relayed by claymation characters, thus making it a valuable marketing, advertising, and informational tool.