You can make ‘Brickfilms’ with Lego or use other ready-made puppets such as Playmobil, Barbie or Actionman.
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 the 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).
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 base 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 an iron base to your set.
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 good. 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 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.
Professional armatures and puppets are often made by Mackinnon and Saunders
We often use Boinx iStopmotion for workshops because it’s quick, fun and good value at $49.99 US. It allows HD via video or DSLR and higher resolutions via DSLR (Mac only).
The pro alternative we run is Dragonframe (Mac & Windows $295 US). The choice of Aardman and Laika for feature films such as Kubo, Paranorman and Coraline. Provides extra cinematography tools and can control lighting, motion control and 3D stereoscopic sliders.
Jed used Dragonframe for this pitch for an ad for Blutack – this was all shot in a day, though the models and storyboards took weeks of preparation before that: