The Perils of Plasticine


You’ve decided to make a film one frame at-a-time. To make it you’ll need lights which get very hot but the substance you have chosen to use slowly melts under those lights. Not only that, the substance has the alarming tendency of falling over at regular intervals, thereby flattening the features you’ve carefully modeled. Even if you can achieve the impossible and prevent it falling over, the very act of manipulating the substance to get your animation slowly disintegrates your model. You’ve guessed it – this melting, squashing, disintegrating substance is plasticine. It is also an excellent medium for the animator to work in. These statements side-by-side indicate the basic requirement for all animators. They need to be a little nutty. Having established that fact, let’s talk about animating plasticine.

I think it’s true to say that you can do almost anything you want in animation with plasticine. But some things are much more of h hassle so as to be impractical. Sooner or later you are going to need to do a walking movement. Suppose your script calls for a beautiful long-limbed girl striding about a beach in bikini. Using plasticine, you could mike a super multi-coloured, highly detailed sculpture. Everything would be fine until you got to the ‘striding about’ bit. Halfway through stride number one, those long lithe limbs would sag, and your beautiful model will fall onto her face and come up looking like Neanderthal man. Plasticine is VERY heavy. If your figures have to do a lot of walking, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief by making figures with short thick legs and big feet. Long beautifully proportioned legs are out. If you must have a character like that make sure she has very little to do, and NO walking whatever.

Another lesser problem is the tendency for different coloured plasticine to blend together as you animate. You will have to accept that you arc continually remodeling your characters as you work, and it’s an easy matter to scrape out areas where two colours have mixed, and patch in with new. Many items can be made in self hardening clay. This solves the problem. Things like teeth, eyes, cigar hats, walking sticks etc., can all be made in clay. I use DAS, which is obtainable from all art shops. You model with it like plasticine; it dries overnight, and can be painted with poster paints. Another way round the colour problem is to make your characters all one colour. This is often acceptable, but sooner or later you’ll want to work in different colours. Incidentally, I get my plasticine in 500g packs from Art shops. They are all one colour, cost about 75p, and are big enough to make one six inch figure. One advantage plasticine has is that it is re-usable. Gradually all the colour will blend in and become a dirty grey colour, but it is still perfectly good. It can be used for scenery. I made a bed with an ornate carved headboard for one film. The bed was made with hardboard and the carvings from old plasticine. I painted over the whole lot and it looked pretty good.

For your first attempt at plasticine I should start with something very simple and short. If you are using a character, rather than an abstract figure, keep the design simple and easy to reproduce. You will soon find after a very short ‘screen’ time, that the figure requires re-building. So don’t start with something so complicated that you will put yourself off. My first attempt was made with two little characters, all the same colour, having an argument on a plain table top. To my great surprise it was shot in one day. Plasticine is great for changing one thing into another. For example; stick into snake; snake into lizard; lizard into cat; cat into dog and so forth. This is fun to do, and a good exercise, but I don’t think it makes a film in its own right.

Lewis Cooper with Joe Soap.

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