You don't need to spend a lot of money on light gels, all you need is some construction paper.
For both plasticine and polymer clay
I was tempted to hunt down 1/4" flag lapel pins for dolls online for my Ben Carson teddy bear sculpture, but was reminded of a technique I saw on the Food Network. Turns out to be fast and easy.
A quick word of advice – make the outer layers a little thinner than the rest. I always find that if I make them the same thickness, they don't seem to get compacted equally and wind up fatter. So either you can trim them when you are done pressing them together or start off with a thinner piece.
When I started animating with colored clay, I switched from Super Sculpey to Van Aken Plastalina. It's incredibly easy to find in the United States and affordable. However, animator Don Carlson recently sent me a block of his Puppet Putty to experiment with, and I must say – this is what I wish I had in 2006 when I made my first animation. While I love the traits of Van Aken Plastalina for my still sculptures, there are some major advantages that Puppet Putty has over it while animating:
Since Puppet Putty is about 30 to 40 percent lighter than Van Aken, clay characters are less likely to show unwanted leaning in-between shots. Additionally, you won't need as robust of armatures thanks to puppets weighing less.
I was shocked at how little clay and pigment stuck to my hands while working with Puppet Putty. It is most likely due to the waxy feel to the clay opposed to the more oily consistency of Van Aken.
When fixing cracks at the limb joints, I found it significantly easier to mend Puppet Putty without leaving fingerprints all over the place. I also didn't have to use tools in order to smooth it out. On a smaller scale, I usually resorted to dabbing with paint brushes to smooth out Van Aken.
Puppet Putty also wound up needing to be repaired less. Due to the almost rubber-like bending of the clay, I was able to bend thin pieces of clay – which notably didn't need armatures yet still held it's shape well – and it remained intact and rigid after a couple complete bends.
Last, due to the rigidity, I was able to move the puppet and incur significantly less damage to the shape of the clay on top of the armature. The hard consistency was an advantage for me, but as I will point out shortly, may turn out to be a brick wall for others.
NOW – I would like to be fair and point out what may give you problems:
Due to the rigidity of Puppet Putty, it is quite a bit harder to shape the clay puppets. This means younger animators may find it difficult or frustrating to work with the regular formula of Puppet Putty – there is also a soft version that I did not try out. You can also melt down the clay in a double boiler and add petroleum jelly (as recommended on the packaging) to permanently soften it.
Puppet Putty is $5.50 per block online versus a similarly sized Van Aken block at $3.57 in store. Bear in mind, they are about the same amount of clay, but Van Aken is significantly more dense. What you are paying for is a product specifically designed for animation.
Before using, I condition clay by rolling it out – no matter the brand. Puppet Putty definitely requires more work to get a smooth consistency, but once it is rolled out a couple minutes, it proves to be as smooth as Van Aken. If you don't condition the clay, you will wind up with lighter spots which prove more difficult to smooth out – so take a minute or two to roll it out if you do buy Puppet Putty!
Ultimately, the best clay is the one you are most comfortable with. I strongly believe Puppet Putty is a great medium to work with if you want to animate, but that doesn't mean that I haven't seen tremendous works done with Van Aken Plastalina or Super Sculpey or Fimo. It all depends on what you are going for! I know that if you give it a shot when animating, you will be able to achieve a lot more than you would be able to with other brands with less work.
If you want to give Puppet Putty a shot, you can order some from Stop Motion Store.
Like all official tools and supplies, sculpture items are usually grossly priced and no better than things you can find for less. Here's a short list of things that I have found to work wonderfully for me.
PVC rolling pin
Gone are the days when I used the acrylic roller. I find them to be overpriced and never big enough to do any damage. Unfortunately, larger roller are made from wood (and impossible to clean) or are expensive. Grab yourself a scrap piece of 2" PVC pipe and cut it down to size with a miter saw, hand saw, or really any kind of saw. It's incredibly quick to make a few different lengths as well.
Additionally, if you are working on a large scale sculpture, it can be used as an interesting hammering tool as well, haha.
Thermoplastics are incredible. I use them for eyeballs, teeth, and feet tie-downs. There's an infinite number of uses for the stuff. You can keep reusing the stuff over and over again. Just keep in mind that the stuff absorbs the oil from the plasticine and will discolor over time. It holds up just the same though. Just don't set it on a plastic surface while hot or it will adhere to it.
Small Angular Brushes
You want to make sure to get the kind designed for oil-based paints as the clay is oil-based. The 1/4" brushes are a nice size to work with for smaller models, especially when it comes to smoothing out the eyelid area. I use them inside of the elbows and knee joints.
Cheap wide brushes
You can find them for few bucks at craft stores with a 40% off coupon. The softer the bristles the better. I use them to brush off clay burrs from hair that I have carved out. Chop them down to size (12" down to 5") as they are unwieldy and will keep you from getting at some angles.
Very rigid, clean cutting foam that comes in different sizes. I used less than half of the 1/2" 4x8' foam sheet to bulk up "The Big Pig" armature. It's incredibly light, can be hot glued together, cut with a Dremel. This leads me to my next choice:
I wrap the Foamular armature build up with this stuff. It keeps the clay from ever leaching into the foam (I don't know if it would break the foam down but I'm not going to find out) or being contaminated by pink crumbs from cutting it with the Dremel.
You can also wrap the odd sizes of clay with it. It works the same way as Saran wrap, but you don't have so much waste since they come in narrow sizes.
Before starting, I would like to mention that the armatures on this page are designed for non-animation purposes; however, the turntable is applicable for creating any sculpture. I will try to come out with an animation video ASAP.
Step One – Make a Tie-Down Turntable
-  12" wooden round panel
-  PVC test caps
-  3/4" wood screws
- 1/4" drill bit
- 1 1/2" (1/4" 20 thread) machine screws and nuts for tie-downs
Step Two – Making a Tie-Down Armature
Making a sturdy armature doesn't have to be difficult or take much time. Knowing how to create an armature opens up an infinite number of possibilities a sculptor cannot obtain without support.
This is intended for solid models, not animation puppets.
- 12 gauge galvanized steel wire
- (optional) 16 gauge galvanized steel wire for arms
- gaffer tape (medical tape will work as well)
- thermoplastic, like Instamorph or friendly plastic
- 1 1/2" (1/4" 20 thread) machine screws and nuts for tie-downs
- tie-down table – or if you don't have one, you can make a tie-down turntable in my other video