How to Create a Clay Character

Learn how to create a clay character from Joe Vena of the Children's Museum of the Arts in this stop motion animation tutorial from Howcast.

So if you’d like to make a clay character or a clay puppet to be animated, there area few great tips I can give you. First, get some clay. The clay that you animate with is really up to you. There are a variety of modeling clays on the market. You’re probably looking for a non-drying, non-hardening modeling clay, something with wax or oil in it so that your puppets don’t harden up on while you’re animating. That would be a bad thing. So we have some of this red modeling clay here, and I’m taking a whole bar, and I’m softening the clay in my hands first. When the clay feels soft enough, I’ll roll it out. And I think I’ll start by making a very basic humanoid puppet, two arms, two legs, a head.

You want to keep in mind that your puppet needs to be sturdy. So using your finger and your thumb, you can start on the bottom of your oval of clay by pinching out a leg and another leg like so. As you’re pinching, keep in mind You want your creation to be able to stand, maybe even walk in your animation. So you want to keep those legs fairly thick. You want to bring a head and two arms out on top. Same pincher fingers, same approach. We’ll start with the head, gently pinching one way and the other way. And really I’m not pinching the head right now. I’m pinching a neck.

You leave yourself a little clay up on the top, and that will actually just be your head, and you can round it off. Be gentle as you pinch. Try standing again. Once you have that head, you can pinch out an arm on one side and an arm from the other side. Stand him up again. Is your figure animatable?

Does he or she balance? These are important things to consider when you’re building a puppet to be animated. So we could also create a four-legged creature. It’s a similar approach. Suppose we were making a dog. Pincher fingers. You can start almost anywhere on the puppet, but pinch out that neck and that head first. It’s great to work from one piece of clay, rather than taking a piece off of another piece of clay and sticking it on, say for the tail of your dog, where it’s likely to maybe just fall off during animation. You don’t want that. It’s best to pinch that tail. I’m pinching the legs of the dog. Again, you just want to consider will the animal stand? Can you animate? So again, when you’re making a clay puppet to be animated, use one block of clay, one piece of clay. Pinch those parts out.

Make sure your subject can stand, that you can move isolated parts of him or her. And of course, this is just the beginning. You can add eyes, a nose. You can add a mouth to your puppet. Different colors, accessories. But this is a great way to start and perfectly ready for animating.