How to Animate Clay

Clay animation is an obscure yet amazing art form. In the following ten steps, you will learn how to turn a ball of clay into a figure of your choice. Then you will animate the figure and create a short clay animation video of your own. This form of animation is most often called "Stop-motion animation" because that is what it is. You are animating something that can't move.


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    Buy plasticine or polymer clay and wire at your local craft store. Any size wire will do. Make sure the clay will not harden when exposed to air. Purchase any color of clay you desire, but also purchase gray clay to use as a base.
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    Cut about a three foot piece of wire and bend it in half. Starting at the bent end, twist both strands of the wire together.
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    Form the wire into the general shape of the object you wish to make. Do not include fingers. This shape is called an armature, and it is the frame on which you will mold your clay. This will help support your clay figure when you begin to animate it.
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    Start molding a thin layer of gray clay onto the armature or wire frame. The gray clay acts as a neutral base on which you will later mold other colors of clay.
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    Create a figurine for clay animation. Begin putting on the other layers of colored clay. For example, if you are creating a person from clay, then you mold different colors of clay onto the figure for things such as the shirt or pants. If you are creating a zebra, you may want to use black and white clay to make stripes.
    • If you cannot buy the color of clay that you desire for your figure, you can always make it by combining other colors. You can do this simply by kneading the different colors together.
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    Begin animating your figure. Set up a still digital camera at the angle in which you wish to capture the animation. A tripod is essential in this situation. For the animation to flow, it needs to all be captured from the same angle. Without a tripod, it isn't going to work.
    • You can also use a video camera for this step. To do this, press Record and then put the camera on Pause. Each time you want to shoot a frame, take the camera off of Pause and then quickly press Pause again. Note that this can reduce the image quality because of the constant starting and stopping.
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    Place the figure on a flat surface. Carefully bend it into a starting position and take a picture of the figure with the camera.
    • Because you need to make sure that you only move the figure slightly between each shot, it is very helpful to mark the original spot of the figure in the first shot. That way, if you need to pick up the figure to adjust it, you can put it back in the same spot it was in. You can mark the spot with chalk, pencil, etc.
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    Move the figure very slightly into the next position, then take another picture. Each picture is called a frame. Film runs at 24 frames per second, and digital video runs at 30. Be very precise while animating your figure. If you move it too much, it will appear to jump in the video. If you remove the figure from the camera's view, it will seem to disappear.
    • Be aware that the wire may poke through the clay when you move it, especially if the clay has become slightly rigid from sitting for a while. To soften the clay so that it does not rip, you can warm it up by holding it in your hands or putting it under a light.
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    Continue to move the figure and take pictures until you have completed your desired animation. If you run out of pictures before you have finished, save the pictures to your computer and leave your figurine in the exact same position. Clear the camera and continue shooting.
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    Load the pictures onto a computer. Use a photo editing program to speed up each individual picture so that it creates a movie. Watch your creation and show it to whoever you wish.
    • Keep in mind that clay animation is an extremely time- and labor-intensive process. Your animation may not come out perfectly the first time, but keep trying and it will get better.


  • Using Macromedia Flash to import your series of pictures as a movie is an easy (although not cheap) way to put your pictures into an animation.
  • Stop Motion Pro is available for PC users it connects to webcams and other cameras.
  • Paint Shop Pro (from Corel, formerly JASC) comes with a program called Animation Shop. These two programs are great for doing animations and working with photos and are relatively inexpensive for what you get.
  • You can also use Windows Movie Maker to import photos one by one and alter the time they last on the timeline (or in options). This software is packaged with Windows, but you may need to download a more recent version.
  • Linux users can use Mencoder (a part of mplayer) to make animations with the command along the lines of "mencoder 'mf://*.jpg' -mf type=jpg:fps=4 -ovc copy -oac copy -o output.avi" provided that it run in a folder were the the images are in an ascending order.
  • iStopmotion is a great mac program that will make stop frame animation much easier. It is only about $30 and is great fun.*
  • It's best to do your animation away from natural light. Due to the sun's movement, shadows and lighting will change while you make your animation.
  • iMovie can import a series of still pictures and animate them.
  • Alternately, you can use the freeware program VirtualDub to make an AVI file on your computer. Simply be sure the pictures have a number that correlates to when it appears in the film, and that all the numbers are continuous. Then click import and click on the first picture of your movie, VirtualDub will search for the rest.
  • JPGVideo is a free and simple program for PC users, it converts jpg images into a AVI video file. It doesn't have many functions, but if you don't want to spend money then you could try this. It's great to use if you just want to experiment.


  • Working with clay can be frustrating, so you must have patience if you cannot mold the figure into the shape you want. Additionally, you must be gentle when handling clay; if squeezed too hard, all of your hard work could be lost.
  • Don't expect your first few attempts to look the best, or even to flow - normal video runs at about 24 or 30 frames per second, so clay modelling does take a great amount of time and patience. When it's done, however, it can be very rewarding.
  • You can animate at slower frame rates, down to 6 frames per second, so that would mean taking anything up to 4 frames per move for your animation. This speeds things up and can still look convincing.
  • Wire is sharp and can poke you in the eye. This is painful and can damage your vision. Be careful when making your armature.

Things You'll Need

  • Bendy wire
  • Polymer clay or plasticine
  • A camera
  • A video editing program
  • A computer

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