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A History of British Stop-Motion Animation
When looking into the history of stop-motion, it’s hard to overlook the impact that British studios and animators have h...
As a UK stop-motion animation studio, all of our team has a favourite Claymation character. Whether from a love of the character whilst growing up or an appreciation of the animation it comes from as an adult, there is always a character that any stop-motion animator loves and adores. But what makes these characters so appealing?
This blog will look into a few of our favourite stop-frame animation characters and see just what makes them appealing from an animation perspective, as well as the different characteristics that make all of them unique.
Probably the most famous Claymation characters to grace the big screen are Wallace and Gromit. Created by British stop-motion animation legends Aardman Animations, they made their debut in the 1989 film A Grand Day Out. From that point on, they’ve dealt with lots of different foes, from international jewel thief Feathers McGraw to the horrific were-rabbit curse! What has maintained throughout all of these is the distinctly British tone that permeates every frame of stop-frame animation. From costume design to the talented voice work of famous British actors like the legend Peter Sallis, every aspect of these clay characters is undoubtedly British.
In terms of character design, every character throughout the Wallace and Gromit series has a very distinct outline. This is a very important element when creating a character because it allows the viewer to easily recognise any character on screen from their silhouette. If you were to create an outline of the characters Wallace and Gromit, most people would probably be able to recognise them from the shape alone.
Staying on the theme of British stop-motion animation, a series we love also created by Aardman Animations is Creature Comforts. The animated interview show translates real-life interviews with the British public into short animated segments of Claymation animals. The show ran from 2003 to 2006 and comprised a colourful cast of characters, each with a unique voice. This is one of the main appeals of the series, as so much of each character’s individuality is their voice. The candid nature of each interview also helps in creating memorable characters as each conversation feels so natural and candid.
On top of the memorable voices, each animal seems to have been chosen perfectly to match each voice. From cats to snails, so many animals were brought to life with the signature Aardman style that we know so well.
Jumping back in time for this Claymation character. Back in the 1950s, Gumby exploded on to American television. Covering the adventures of the character Gumby, the show focused on creating and exploring a toy-filled wonderland and different points in history with his sidekick Pokey the talking horse. The appeal of the characters in Gumby comes from their limited animation. By animating the characters with a limited number of animation frames, it creates a jerky and fast style. This could be attributed to the limitations the US animation studio creating Gumby had at the time and gives the show a distinctly homemade feel.
This homemade quality also transfers over to the characters themselves. All of the models used in the show were created from the same obvious clay as Gumby. These simplistic designs combined with the integration of toys as props and sets give a strong feeling of a real child’s playtime. When watching Gumby, you feel as if you are playing with every character on screen and that you could easily make any of the characters you see in the show yourself. With a little bit of clay and some imagination, Gumby inspired so many to begin their journey into the world of stop-frame animation.
This is an interesting one and not a children’s preschool animation series. Starting on MTV in the 1990s, the show took on the format of a professional wrestling show with each episode pitting two celebrities against each other in the ring and watching them fight to the death. Sounds a bit gruesome doesn’t it? Well, you’re right! Each short ended with at least one character being horribly dismembered. That was, however, the main appeal of the show. Seeing a Claymation character (which most people would assume with children’s entertainment exclusively) be horribly mutilated in graphic detail was a fresh, new and subverted expectation.
The other main appeal of the characters in this show was that all of them were celebrities you would recognise. Famous fights such as Chris Rock vs Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson and the infamous Beavis vs Butt-Head showed world-famous celebrities you knew getting horribly injured in outlandishly cartoon ways. The show is a testament to the fact that you can make a show about anything using stop-frame animation!
Finishing off this list of Claymation characters with another classic from Aardman. Morph as a character is so iconic in the UK animation industry. Morph’s design is deliberately simple and embraces the fact that the character is made of clay. This direct link and acknowledgement of the fact that he is a Claymation character opens up so many creative opportunities when it comes to animating him. He can be squashed, stretched or even taken apart in service of a joke as the fact he can be remodelled is core to his character.
Another main feature of Morph is his inability to speak beyond high pitched squeaks. This means that all of his emotions and character needs to come from the way he moves and acts. This is a joy for animators to animate as it allows you to go as extreme or as nuanced as you want in service of conveying emotion. It harks back to the work of actors such as Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton who managed to say so much without saying anything at all. Morph can be anything for any situation which is what makes him such an appealing Claymation character.
There are so many amazing clay characters in the world of stop-frame animation that we’ve barely scratched the surface. Their ability to stay as grounded or as cartoony as you want is what makes working with clay such a joy. There are always new animations with creative and interesting characters to be found. Just keep in mind what you find appealing about each and every one of them when creating your own! If you would like to check out some of the colourful cast of Claymation characters we have worked with the studio, you can read about them in this blog!