The Clay in Stop-Motion Animation at Aardman Studios

The Clay in Stop-Motion Animation at Aardman Studios

Hey guys, it’s Adam from Tested, and I’m at Aardman Animation in Bristol England. Aardman is famous, of course, for their unique style of animation that utilizes modelling clay. Now at the beginning of a feature film project, they have to mix up sometimes hundreds and hundreds of pounds of modeling clay, and because that clay might be dispersed among 15 different versions of a single character, the color has to match exactly. In addition, it also has to match with other materials like hard polyurethane and silicone, and the man in charge of all that is senior modeler and color maestro Jay Smart. He’s going to walk me through the ex food processing machines that he uses to keep the color consistent at Aardman. Jay, obviously if the animators are animating the characters using modeling clay, you have to produce a lot of modeling clay. Can you talk to me about some of the challenges in getting that clay right both in terms of color and consistency? [Jay] Yeah, sure, so um, basically, we get it in bar form. As you can feel, it’s quite soft and sticky. [Adam] Oh yeah, it’s very soft and sticky. [Jay] Yeah, so it’s no good for the animators really, especially when it’s a very hot day today as well, So they need something slightly stiffer. So what my job is to do is to make the color first and to make it stiffer, We use a bit of chalk.
[Adam] Oh, so you add chalk into the mix.
[Jay] So basically, what we’re doing is just adding chalk, there is- it depends because the bars change. Sometimes they’re soft, sometimes they’re slightly firmer. So you’ve got to play it by ear a little bit, and it’s a bit of guesswork and you can’t go back and foresee the animators and make sure they’re happy with it.
[Adam] So if it’s too soft, You add chalk. What happens if it’s too hard?
[Jay] If it’s too hard, you can stiffen it with things like petroleum jelly- Vaseline, or linseed oil, which I’m doing at the moment, actually. [Adam] Now, consistency is one thing, but color is much more important right? You have to match the color across a Year and a half of filmmaking.
[Jay] Yeah, of course.
[Adam] Do you mix the color constantly throughout production? [Jay] The trick is I try and over-mix sometimes, so I don’t have to do it. If you’re doing a batch at the beginning It’s not too bad. You’ve got a bit of leeway. Once you’re into production and you’re run out that’s got to hit absolutely match straight on.
[Adam] And that’s a really tough challenge to color match. [Jay] It really is.
[Adam] How do you guys mix this stuff together? How do you mix in the chalk? I mean you must-
[Jay] Well, so I can actually show you. I can give you an example. [Adam] Oh, please!
[Jay] So what we’re gonna do here is, We’re gonna do a slightly pink color skin tone which you run out of.
[Adam] Oh I didn’t realize we’re going to mix this right now That’s awesome!
[Jay] Oh yeah, so I’ve got some ready to go. So what I’ll do So yeah, I’ve got actually three colors here We try and keep it as low as possible, the amount of color. sometimes you get six or seven colors But we’ll stick with three there, and that’s it. I’ll try and get the color first before I put any chalk in. So it’ll take a few minutes just to kind of mix in.
[Adam] Wow! [Jay] And actually, I write recipes and things a lot of time but when we get a new batch from the factory, I mean, their pigment levels change a lot, so the red is- just for kids, the red’s red. But for us, you need to be spot-on so Generally recipes change. my recipes changed. Generally there is a guideline. Then it’s just all by eye really. Also I find with color, just every room you’re in, it changes to a different color. Every light source is different. Yeah, it’s a tricky one, with this machine it can take a lot of chalk, so if you put too much in, I’ll just go to Dust and then it’ll just take forever to catch again. [Adam] Oh really.
[Jay] if you whack a load of chalk in there, it will eventually, but it’ll just go like really heavily and really dusty and it can take like an hour or so to kind of catch. So really do it very slowly, which takes forever. [Adam] This color doesn’t necessarily just have to match silicone, but also the hard polyurethane if necessary.
[Jay] Yeah, so it matches the hard polyurethane resin, Silicone, but sometimes also rubber inks, because this is foam. Occasionally you have a bit of flesh showing so you can might have to paint a bit of flesh color on there. so, potentially, four different things. All having to look the same as well, and absorbing light at the same rate. So in the hand, it may look different. On screen, hopefully it will look right. [Adam] Can I see this? [Jay] Yeah, of course. Yes. [Adam] Oh, he’s just beautiful. Look at that. oh! This is silicone. This is hard polyurethane, this is modeling clay, and all their colors have to match each other. That’s… Incredible. [Jay] so now we’re going to, now I’m pretty happy with the color. I’m going to start adding chalk and it’ll stiffen up Just generally add it very slowly, as it can go very dusty. I’ll put a little bit at a time so sit back. [Adam] What is this machine used for normally?
[Jay] I believe before chicken run, It was used as a chewing gum machine, a bubble gum machine.
[Adam] making bubble gum. [Jai] Yeah. [Adam] oh my gosh. [Jay] I think before Chicken Run, we generally did things, we had smaller batches, We did things by hand. yeah, obviously when Chicken Run started, It was a lot more plasticine, we had to do a lot more loads, so we needed something bigger. [Adam] How many pounds of clay can you process in this at once? [Jay] This, this machine here generally It’s about a box, which is about ten kilograms. That’s all that isn’t hangs [Adam] 22 pounds about here, and how much Plasticine might you process for an entire feature film Well some of the lead characters Jerry had about twelve boxes I think I’ve worked out on this there was about 550 kilograms almost half a ton, I think. [Adam] Wow! [Jay] In total [Adam] That’s astounding! That’s a lot of just sitting here and mixing. [Jay] Yeah. I think you ought about a ton of modeling clay And we’ve used about half a ton for the characters. [Adam] Do different animators prefer different densities of modeling clay? [Jay] Yeah, of course They all have their different preferences, but you have to go somewhere in between [Adam] Does adding the chalk also change the color slightly? [Jay] It can, it can be a little bit milky. [Adam] Yeah [Jay] Obviously, it goes a little bit whiter so you have to bear that in mind, so when I do my samples always add the chalk to make sure that it matches the Color as well [Adam] How did you get the job of being the color matching clay specialist what- what in your past led directly to this? [Jay] Working from an art background art course Really just need an eye for color. Yeah, you kind of assume Everyone’s got a life color, but actually you know a few people can do it There was a lady here before me But I’ve been doing it now for about 15 years. [Adam] Wow! It was one of my first jobs as an assistant animator For cel animation was mixing the colors beneath, you know whether it was between one, two, or three layers of acetate [Jay] right [Adam] because it’s always a different color Depending and I was the color matcher for about six or eight months, so I have little taste of what you go through here But the idea is easy [Jay] It’s not as easy as it looks [Adam] No, it’s totally. I mean because The batches you get from the factory you were just saying aren’t necessarily totally consistent [Jay] No, they do change a lot, so it stands to you already you can’t trust the recipe you’ve made What was always my eye [Adam] but at the top of a film? Do you then? Make a couple of hundred pounds of the right pigment and then go and mix up the correct color mixture for the silicones all at Once so that everything matches at the top of show, or is that something that’s still an ongoing process [Jay] Now generally I’ll have a two month to three-month persons beginning pen on the size production This has been quite big so bad Another model maker Claire do it with me. We’ve kind of split it. There’s a lot of work actually was about three months on this film Before anything else started [Adam] Wow [Jay] We come in at the beginning do all the color work Before anyone obviously we can’t cast that you can’t do anything without it, so [Adam] How does this clay get delivered to the animators is it in chunks out of this machine? [Jay] No, so actually we tend not to use this machine. We’ve got a bigger machine over here We’ll just show you in a minute. This we can do smaller batches obviously on the film I could do anything up to 12 boxes per color [Adam] Yeah [Jay] So I’ll generally use this for smaller things like maybe tongue color some eyelids little bits and pieces. We’ve got some mud, done some mud color, [Adam] okay [Jay] this is generally for the smaller pieces. [Adam] The one behind you here is the big machine? [Jay] Yeah So this is the big machine. This extrudes so you’ve got to constantly be here and cut so I’ve done a few- [Adam] You want to put- to put me to work? [Jay] to cut [Adam] so it’s just going to start coming out of there [Jay] Yeah, it’ll just start coming out of there and you just cut when you feel ready [Adam] Okay [Jay] Do you want to do it or do you want me to do it? [Adam] This one? [Jay] Yep. [Adam] Okay here we go extruding simple modeling, haha Wow Oh look at that That is so cool. *Gasps* Oh It’s like making Medusa’s wig [Jay] *laughs* [Adam] And I put that back in the top [Jay] Back in the top [Adam] you’re processing it [Jay] yeah [Adam] oh my goodness That’s got to get tiring after a few hours [Jay] yeah, it can take a few hours I mean this stuff the colors right on this. What we’ve got to do with this We just got to soften it ever so slightly [Adam] I see and that means you’re adding something like petroleum jelly or Linseed oil [Jay] Yeah, actually what we’re gonna do is- This is linseed oil [Adam] Okay So this is how much we’re gonna put in I generally just do it over the course of half an hour or so So I put a few drops on at a time There [Adam] The it’s warm Yeah they warm up really quickly actually [Adam] yeah [Jay] and it helps the mixing process, [Adam] and is that warmth basically just a process of it being extruded [Jay] Yeah, I think it’s so tight there. You can feel this will get really warm What under there and that’s very warm, [Adam] and that’s just the friction Wow [Jay] it’s just pushing it through tiny gaps Before we used to have a bigger open ones which tubes. [Adam] Yeah [Jay] It didn’t get as hot, but this is is a smaller tighter So it can get very hot after a while [Adam] Really Ah, it smells great [Jay] you feel it working in your shoulders, right? [Adam] This is really- I’m having a great time. This is exactly [Jay] You get a smell of the linseed? the smell of the modeling clay Actually, this color is called spam [Adam] Is it really? That sounds- that seems totally appropriate. That was a deeply satisfying, thanks for putting me to work, Jay. [Jay] No worries, mate [Adam] I appreciate it

100 thoughts on “The Clay in Stop-Motion Animation at Aardman Studios

  1. I love how delighted Adam gets in these sorts of things! XD Thanks for the fascinating look behind the curtain, Tested!

  2. I'm confused exactly what pieces of the models are made of clay? In the other video, the puppets look like they are made completely of other materials. Armature support for the inside, silicone, removable sections for the hair, mouth etc… I'm confused.

  3. All this time watching this I couldn't help thinking – can't they just use a spectronometer (color meter) to do this? Or even just a camera with a fixed light source, and just use the RGB values of that… You don't need specific colors, you just need them to be the same (you are making a relative measurement), so you don't even need a calibrated sensor, just one that doesn't change.
    I can't see why this needs to be made into such an "art" when every bigger paint store around here has a machine that does exactly this without any problems (they allow you to put a piece of material under a sensor and it will mix up a batch of paint that matches the color).
    You could still have a guy mix it up and perhaps even guess what he needs to do to make it match – but it just seems to me that the "color matching" problem has long been solved by technology, and no human will beat a quality sensor. And since you don't even need to have the original there to compare it – just the same measuring device and light, it also makes things easier.

  4. This is perfect, I've been so curious about these filming processes since I was young and was watching Wallace and Grommet.

  5. i love knowing how stuff like this is done. my cousin worked as the sequincing editor so its like haveing a free pass to his job almost.

  6. All you need is to add some AMSR sound with that clay coming out of the machine people all over the world will be having braingasmz….

  7. if there are shots where ther are more than 100 puppets, and hey are doing all a drffrent thin, how do they manage to animate all puppets without forgetting one.

  8. Can you please telll – what are the same or very similar animation stories made in stop motion and CGI (Computer-generated imagery)? :))

  9. It's great to see Adam is so enthusiastic for animation. I thought he was just a tech / builder guy. I had no idea he even had experience in art.

  10. Love these videos, thank you, however; after watching each video twice, my question is WHERE are the thumbnails that grab the attention? Besides being a reportable offense, it is damned disappointing. NO light grey hog in various stages of production (this video, NO golden yellow hog in The Stop-Motion Puppets of Aardman Animations! one. Ticks me off.

  11. I was surprised to find the color is matched by eye. I thought they would have used the same tech photo editors used to calibrate monitors. From an engineering standpoint, I would have re-purposed a flat bed scanner to quantify RGB values for targeting the recipe results much the same way a paint shop scans your paint sample and matches your existing color.

  12. I would love to have the job of cutting extruded clay! Dream job!!! The repetitiveness is perfect, handling clay would be perfect. But alas it would be a dream job IN my dreams!😖😖😢😥

  13. I never knew aardman was stop motion until pirates came out (because I'm clever like that) and since then I've been absolutely amazed by what they do and the effort that goes into it

  14. I hate animation clay to an extent… I have problems keeping surfaces smooth and it could be due to the brand I use. When I press to smooth on the surface of the clay I end up putting too much pressure which causes a chunk to be pulled down which ultimately alters the shape of the sculpture. So instead of having everything smooth I decided I’d add my own twist to fix my OCD problem, I scored everything like how the sheep looks like in the thumb nail and now my art pieces look really nice

  15. Thanks you for taking us behind the scene. So interesting… imagine grown men taking plasticine So seriously. Love Aardman studio. Some of the most Creative and witty folks around.

  16. Nick Park once tried to start a fight with me in a bar. Not sure if he had a reason or he was just being an Aardman.

  17. I never understood and never will understand the mindset of the degenerate people who disslike these type of educational videos, why bother to come here, what the hell do you expect to see!?

  18. The Wallace and Gromit, Shaun everything they I love. Incredible to see how they create the colours. I want to know more!

  19. Paint stores have very simple technology that matches color, yet this guy obviously likes the attention he gets doing it by eye. Notice that he hardly smiles or elaborates on anything, yet when he tells Adam how long he's been doing it and that it 'has to be done by eye', he smiles, elaborates, and starts dancing around a bit. The idea of being a color mixer excites him, and at the cost of accuracy, he'd rather do it by eye, when computers will ALWAYS be more efficient (less wasted product until the desired color is achieved, less trial and error, less variation, etc.)

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