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Aardman Senior Model-Maker Jay Smart Reveals Aardman's Puppet Materials and Plasticine Techniques for "Early Man" to Adam Savage of Tested

Adam Savage (right) holding "The Farmer" puppet from Shaun the Sheep and Jay Smart (right). Copyright Tested.

Along with the usual humdrum of press ranging from critic reviews and interviews with voice actors regarding British animation powerhouse Aardman Animation’s latest feature film – Early Man, a “prehistoric underdog sports story,” in the words of the film’s director Nick Park – has come by the way of the YouTube channel Tested something really exceptional and especially meant for stop motion enthusiasts – a deep-dive into the materials and plasticine techniques Aardman uses for their puppets presented by television personality and special effects aficionado Adam Savage and Jay Smart, a senior modeler at Aardman.

During Savage’s tour of the plasticine department, Smart gives Savage a demonstration of a system Aardman began developing for Chicken Run, their first plasticine-driven feature film, to methodize a system for mixing large batches of plasticine to produce a particular, standardized color of plasticine. The technique developed, it turns out, was to amalgamate several different colors of modeling clay in a repurposed gumball machine, which, Smart elaborates, can mix about one 10 kg box of Newplast modeling clay at a time. Although after Chicken Run the amount of clay needed in large quantities increased and the modeling department upgraded from a gumball machine to a large industrial machine which looks like it was once used to mince meat – a machine the modeling department at Aardman dubbed “the extruder.” It should be noted, however that the gumball machine is still put to good use whenever smaller batches of clay of particular color are needed to sculpt the tongues and eyelids for the plasticine puppets.

Director Nick Park (right) displaying the characters for Early Man. Copyright Aardman Animations.

“How much platicine might you process for an entire feature film?” Savage asks Smart.

“Some of the lead characters generally have about 12 boxes. I think I worked out on this [the gumball machine mixer] 550 kilograms which is half a ton, I think, in total…I think in total about a ton of modelling clay, and we use about half a ton for the characters,” Smart responds.

In the video, Smart also gives fascinating rundown of the techniques Aardman’s modeling department employs to make their modeling clay firmer or softer depending on the animators’ preferences and he also goes into detail about the other, non-plasticine materials that Aardman utilizes to make their characters. He also goes into depth about how he and the rest of the modeling department tackle the important task of creating a new batch of clay with the same consistency of color across Early Man’s 18 month production schedule.

You can watch Tested’s video – “The Clay in Stop-Motion Animation at Aardman Studios” – by going here.

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Early Man has already been released in theaters in the UK and will hit the theaters in the US on February 16th.

Early Man poster. Copyright Aardman Animations.

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