Most people today still love those old Christmas specials that have aired every December since their conception. Even if they were created long before your time, these classic films resonate with almost everyone during they holidays and they have grown near-and-dear to our hearts. Movies like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, Santa Clause Is Comin’ To Town and even Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas have become treasured Christmas classics in the childhoods of many. No matter which of these holiday films was your favourite growing up, the claymation process is what allowed these shakily animated characters to become part of our collective holiday traditions.
Many of these films were made through a film process still used today called “claymation”, or “clay-animation”. Clay is one of many mediums used to create stop motion animation films. It requires an incredible amount of talent and patience to create the thousands of individual pictures which are put together to create a unified film. The process is similar to the far more benign method of drawing pictures on sticky notes and flipping through them to animate the images.
In claymation, every piece of the scene is malleable to some extent being made of substances such as plasticine clay. Usually the clay is moulded over a wire skeleton, which gives the creation support without limiting the filmmaker’s ability to alter it at will.
Once arranged on the set, the filmmaker takes a still-frame of the scene. The crew then makes a slight alteration to the set and begins the process again. It’s a wash, rinse, repeat cycle that requires extreme patience from the filmmaker. It is approximated that to make a half-hour film using Claymation, the filmmaker would have to stop and change the scene over 21,000 times.
It’s an extremely delicate process; the production must take place where everything from lighting to set positioning is consistent. Not to mention that they must ensure that there is no unintentional altering of the set or its pieces by things like dust, smudges, or stray hairs which can be catastrophic to the film’s continuity.
With all of this in mind, it’s safe to say that these films we enjoyed so much as children, and still do today, deserve our respect as do the filmmakers who created these classics. Let’s appreciate the hard work and patience that went into creating these films, rather than complain that “Rudolph is on again?!”