You can make ‘Brickfilms’ with Lego or use other ready-made puppets such as Playmobil, Barbie, Actionman or Bionicles.
If you want to make your own characters from Plasticine for claymation in the style of Aardman’s Morph and Wallace & Gromit then you will need to consider what size to make them. Too large and you will need a huge set or backdrop and plenty of room to get your camera back far enough to get everything in the shot. Too small and it becomes difficult to model expression (and you will need magnifying lenses to screw onto your usual lens whenever you want to do a close up – you can buy a pack of five of differing enlargements for about £10 on eBay for most digital SLR and video cameras).
We sometimes film characters lying on their backs or sides to solve one of the hardest problems you will face – getting your puppets to stand and walk without toppling over. The traditional solution is to have little bolts sticking out of your character’s feet, and have holes in the set so you can put the bolts through and fasten them with butterfly nuts. This ‘tie-down’ system is slow and awkward. A variation is to have very powerful ‘earth’ magnets on the puppets’ feet and have a ferric metal (iron or steel) base to your set. Making characters fly usually involves fine fishing line; rods through their backs hidden from the camera; a rig painted green that you digitally remove later; a completely green background that you replace later; or in the case of Rex the Runt they simply stuck their puppets to a sheet of glass held at a 45 degree angle.
The puppets may need an ‘armature’ – often of twisted wire. Florist’s aluminium wire can be ideal as it is soft and will not rust and is easily obtained at a garden centre. Eventually all the bending back and forth will snap the wires so having at least 3 strands is a good idea. If you bind masking tape around the body, legs and arms EXCEPT where you want your joints to bend your character will move more realistically at anatomically believable joints and the plasticine will stick better too.
The most popular plasticine brand for serious animation is Newclay Newplast, available in 26 different colours. It is quite firm and usually comes in fairly large blocks. In addition we use actual Plasticine or softer unbranded packs from The Range.
If you want to soften plasticine then you can knead it with your hands – adding a little vaseline helps, as does a few moments in a microwave or oven.
We use Boinx iStopmotion (Mac only) for workshops because it’s quick, fun and good value at $49.99. It allows HD via Firewire video and higher resolutions via USB when using a compatible DSLR.
Windows users might like to check out StopMotionPro (SMP) which has some nice features including automatic painting out of green painted rigs.
There is wonderful Website at stopmotionworks.com which includes this extremely comprehensive guide to stop-motion software. The author acknowledged that is was a little out of date when we added this link but hopefully it may be updated by the time you click the link : )