Not To Scale/Natl for Amex “Clay” [UPDATE]

For this new American Express advert, Not To Scale‘s National Television created a believable claymation look entirely in CG. According to the release: “Shooting the elements for real would have left the Agency and Client little room for ongoing changes and edit decisions, so bringing the script to life in Maya was quickly agreed as the best possible option for all eventualities.”

Makes sense to me. I’m sure this approach has been used many times before without me even knowing it. The first time I remember bumping into it was in Coke “Cloud” from Psyop back in 2006.

Hear No Evil’s music and sound design for “Clay” are worth noting. I love the accordion fill during the lobster sequence, and the way the tympani-based percussion gives way to a funky trap set by the spot’s end. It really helps give the whole spot forward movement.

Credits can be found on National’s project page. The spot can also be viewed on Not To Scale’s site under Latest.

UPDATE: As promised in the comments, we contacted National to ask them how they pulled off this feat of faux-claymation. They responded with a generously technical explanation:

Our biggest challenge was creating a cg animation that behaved like claymation and yet was flexible enough to accommodate modeling and animation changes throughout the client approval process.  We kept our focus on retaining a handcrafted straight-ahead animation style but wound up using blendshapes in an unorthodox way.

We started by modeling out the end objects and then went about ‘deconstructing’ them as if they were clay we could push and pull.  Then through the magic of blendshapes we would take those primitive objects and ‘reconstruct’ them.  This all is much clearer when drawn out.

When objects needed a more staccato building sequence we would freeze blendshape animations at mid point, push them around and then add it to the blendshape sequence.  Between any two transformations we had on average about 6 or 7 blendshapes that we went through.

The real magic then happened with a set of shaders that we built to create the ‘plasticine’ look.  A subtle procedural bump and noise was added to the shader to create an uneven texturing that mimics fingerprints.  Then we added an uneven lighting scheme that subtly strobed to mimic the feel that this was being shot over time.


About the author

Justin Cone

Together with Carlos El Asmar, Justin co-founded Motionographer, F5 and The Motion Awards. He currently lives in Austin, Texas with is wife, son and fluffball of a dog. Before taking on Motionographer full-time, Justin worked in various capacities at Psyop, NBC-Universal, Apple, Adobe and SCAD.



Nice animation.

@justin make sure you mention Psyop in every possible instance :D

Aardman comes to my mind and is a much better example for this type of stuff.


I didn’t realize Aardman uses CG to fake claymation. In which project(s) did they do that?


I believe Aardmans “Flushed Away” was all CG. That’s the only feature they did, that i’m aware of, that wasn’t claymation.


Right, and they weren’t really going for a faux claymation look in that one, so…


Truly amazing !!! – I had watched the movie and by surprise I didn’t realize it was all CG. I thought is was clay/mixed media stop motion. I study stop motion Animation and I have to say Natl and its crew really hit it on the nail! I think I can speak for many, that the shading and lighting is killer!!! sweet!!!! The animation and comping was done very well. And to add I love the transitions! Im a fan!! Hope to see more stop motion, This is one of my fav!


yeah, I watched it too before reading the post in length.



Thankyou for this.


SO FUN! love riding the coaster, good payoff at the end. Like all the colors leading into each other. Shadows are so nice around everything. I watched it 3 times, wow! The rendering of the clay is so sexy! Good job guys!




This is a really nice piece and amazingly executed – my problem is – why replicate a claymation piece in 3D? for some reason knowing this is made in 3D makes the piece lose some of its charm.


“According to the release: “Shooting the elements for real would have left the Agency and Client little room for ongoing changes and edit decisions, so bringing the script to life in Maya was quickly agreed as the best possible option for all eventualities.””


I would love to hear more about the production process and software involved to nail the correct dough look. CG tends to make things so smooth and perfect that imperfection is a tough task…


Just sent a request for more information. I’ll let you know what I hear…


Loving it! The lighting and rendering and the metirials (the little finger prints) timing and tranzitions are nice!

i thing Brett1 is talking about :


Mindbender springs to my mind, waz also nice!



I really like the texture used, the lighting and the transitions as it shows the many things we can do with our American Express.. It really looks like clay!


Looks like clay!
Animation, shading and render!
JUST Superb!

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