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.