Clay play

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By If you like the idea of moulding fictional characters from scratch and watching them come to life on screen, clay animation could seal the deal, says Shabina Akhtar
  • Published 3.04.08

Did you enjoy the opening credits of Taare Zameen Par (TZP) and the animation that brought Ishaan Awasthi’s thoughts to life? Were you a kid who could spend hours messing around with crayons, building blocks and plasticine or modelling clay? If mom’s carefully prepared atta meant “play dough” and you grew to like technology too, you could use your computer skills to mould your imagination with clay animation or claymation.

With hit animated flicks like Chicken Run and Wallace and Gromet, claymation has so far been Hollywood’s forte. In India, it’s still taking baby steps with advertisements like ICICI’s Chintamani, Amaron batteries and MTV’s Simpu series. Hats off to a movie like TZP for showing us what this magical form of animation can create. Going by the rave reviews that the blockbuster’s animation film designer, Dhimant Vyas — the brain behind the dream sequence — has received, claymation is now all set to take off in India.

Claymation is no new technique. It has been around since the existence of plasticine and is a form of stop motion or frame-by-frame, an animation technique that makes a physically manipulated object appear to move on its own. “It uses the technique of sculpting or moulding the characters based on a storyboard — an illustrated frame-by-frame description of the plot or theme, with rough character sketches,” explains Vyas. Once done with models in accordance with the storyboard sequence, a series of still photographs are taken and replayed in rapid succession to create the illusion of movement. Each second of the film needs around 24 different frames and the work could take months at a stretch. “It took me one and a half months to create the storyboard and around 15 days to get things shot in accordance with the script. The challenge in clay animation is that once you shoot footage, you cannot go back and edit the frames in the middle of a sequence. So, you should be very sure about timing and movements,” says Vyas. The kind of shooting involved in claymation is a miniature version of shooting live action, where it’s the animator who sets up the camera, lights, set and characters, animates each sequence frame by frame and takes the photographs simultaneously. This mode can be used in various fields like feature films, TV series, commercials, and e-learning projects as well as in web applications.

“The present breed of clay animators have a background in either art or sculpture. Anyone with a knack for sculpturing or miniature modelling coupled with adequate computer skills can plunge into this field,” says Sharad Shankar, head of production at Famous house of animation, Mumbai. The National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad and the Industrial Design Centre of IIT Mumbai have the facilities needed for stop motion, but there is no specific course in clay animation. Delhi’s Anitoons School of Animation provides a diploma in 2D cel animation, digital and stop motion animation (the type of claymation used in TZP).

Says Anit Kapoor, director of Anitoons School of Animation, “Hands-on experience and the right basics learnt from a good school of animation is the perfect combination for making it big in this field. However, I must admit that the scope at the moment is very limited in India.” The scope may be limited now but with Bollywood toying with the idea of making animated feature films, it may not be a bad career option. “Pritish Nandy Communications (PNC) is already planning six animated feature films in association with DQ Entertainment. The animation films will be based on Indian mythology — some already created by PNC — as well as remakes of Bollywood classics in an animated format for today’s audiences,” informs PNC’s spokesperson.

“I was lucky to get the opportunity to learn stop motion when Prof. Joan Ashworth (head of the animation department, Royal College of Arts, UK) and Catherine Greenhalgh conducted a stop motion workshop at NID in 1988,” says Vyas. That was the beginning of stop motion in India. However, aspirants need not lose heart for professionals like Vyas conduct workshops in Bangalore, Mumbai and Hyderabad. In fact, Vyas used three clay animators to help him model the characters while he concentrated on directing and animating the storyboard.

Since claymation is just coming into the spotlight, there are only a few studios that specialise in this art. Says Shankar, “Clay animation has a big market. But it is expensive to execute and thus has very few people opting for it.” It’s best to be armed with other modes of animation as this is just a specialised case that may not have too many takers in the market, advises Kapoor. “As an artist, this gives major job satisfaction but at the end of the day it seems tough to do a lot of work related to claymation. You need other modes for those dry days when you don’t get work related to your specialisation,” he says.

Vyas also feels there is ample demand for this medium; big studios like Aadrman Studio, UK, Will Vinton Studios (now Laika) and John Lemmon Films in the US specialise solely in stop motion flicks. Famous Studios, Mumbai, has been associated with some of the most memorable television commercials (Amaron, Top Ramen, Chintamani) and also created a claymation title sequence for the television series Yes Boss. Vaibhav Studios (that made the Amaron battery ads) is another major clay animation studio in Mumbai while Toonz Animation, Trivandrum, with branches in many other Indian cities, offers services in stop motion animation. “The starting pay for clay animators varies from studio to studio. However, a fresher can expect to get something between 10 to 15 thousand per second (the duration of the animation film) and with experience it can go up to 50 thousand,” says Vyas.

So, ready to play with clay?