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How to Create Clay Scenery

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


Once you've created your clay character, perhaps you'd like to make a place for the character to animate in. Dressing your set in an animation is important, of course, and there are many directions you can go in. We're going to be working with a camera directly in front of us, shooting against this backdrop here. You could use any color of fabric or paper to create your backdrop.

This is a nice light blue, sort of for a daytime sky. It's mounted on a piece of foam board with something heavy taped to the back of it so it stands up. Next I think we'll add some hills, little green rolling hills, and we can do this by starting with a piece of cardboard and drawing out our little hills on the cardboard, and then cutting with an Exacto knife or scissors into the cardboard. And you want to cut your hills out, and in most cases you should be able to just pop it right off once you've cut with a knife. Cutting with scissors might take a little bit longer. Whatever gets you there. And you have your hill piece just like this, which depending on how you like to animate, you could just make it work just like that, or you could begin to cover your hill with green clay, whatever color you'd like your hill to be. And you can take bits of that clay and just smear it right on there. Once you've covered your entire hill, you might get something like this. You can texture it with a tool, add details.

A little piece of clay on the back is good to keep it sturdy and standing, and then you can set it up right in your scene there. So we have a couple of little rolling hills, again simply by cardboard back, smearing clay onto the front. Next we could do a tree perhaps, and rather than just build the tree out of clay, we're going to use what is called a wire armature. This is just an aluminum wire. You can get it in most art stores and sculpture stores, maybe even some hardware stores. To create a very basic tree trunk form, you take the wire between your fingers, do a little loop down there on the bottom, and just start to twist that wire, twisting the wire until you feel like you have a sufficient trunk, and then you have two branches coming off of the top. That loop I like to take and kind of stand up. You can cover that armature with clay. Take some brown clay to represent the tree bark, small amounts of it. We'll just press it onto that wire and coat the wire all the way up the trunk. And what the wire enables you to do is create a form that is fairly skinny, thin, but that will stand up. The clay alone, without the wire acting as a sort of a structure or skeleton, would fall over. We'll use some moss for the leaves of the tree, and you can get moss outside, of course. But you can also purchase moss. There are not really right and wrong answers here. It's about how you'd like to creatively interpret your scene. "Creative" being the word of choice. Get creative with it. I'm using these bits of wire up at the top and spearing the moss right in there, nice bright green contrasting with our brown tree trunk. Add that in there. One more touch we could add would be clouds. And just like everything else, you can go in a number of directions with your clouds. I like good old cotton. You can rip open a stuffed animal, an unloved stuffed animal, and take the cotton out of that stuffed animal. You can also buy cotton. You can use cotton swabs. I've added a little bit of masking tape to the back of the cotton, and I can just pop that in there. And now we're really getting a sense of place for our animation, some wonderful trees, some hills. Of course we have our blue sky and these nice cotton clouds as well. And you could animate your clouds to move back and forth in the sky. You could animate your trees to blow in the breeze. And of course, we could use maybe a little character here as well, a red dog perhaps. Not a big red dog, just a medium-sized red dog. So there it is. We have a scene now, complete with a character. Remember as you're creating a set for your animation, be creative with it. A lot of the elements that you might use to find your sense of place are things you can find around the house, at the local store. So go for it, and have fun.

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