taking one frame at a time since 1999

Hi folks, I keep seeing this stuff called "Cloud Clay" at art supply stores, and it doesn't seem to have taken hold in the stop motion community, but it's a new-ish air-dry polymer material similar to Crayola Model Magic. With one difference... It's incredibly STRETCHY. Once dry, it has a foam-like texture and continues to be flexible. It has memory, so you have to wire it to make it poseable- but to my knowledge this is the only air-dry clay that has these properties. You can even bend it back until it touches itself once it's dry and it will not crack or crumble. Fascinating.

So far, the only issue I've found with it is that it will only bend the way it is designed. For example, if you sculpted a long, slender arm that was flat and then you bent the arm and let it dry, once dry it will only bend in the direction it was positioned while it was "wet". So, you would want to make sure to have a strong neutral position with no directional bias when posing the puppet as the material is still soft. Other than that, this clay is cool. If you can get around its stretchiness when attempting to pull off a piece to add to your sculpture, I think you'll find that it has a lot to offer. The lightweight factor alone positions it as something useful to bulk up an armature. You can also cast with it, for all of you who like making molds. Pretty cheap, too, after all that...

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It's an interesting material for sure. I tried sculpting a puppet head out of it a week ago, and found it very challenging to work with because it's so soft. After "curing" overnight, it was still too delicate for my project. But I'm sure it has many useful applications!

These are only polymers, and to that end they can be manipulated if you know how to do it. For example, a commonly used plasticizer in various vinyls is glycerin. You should be able to use that to keep this material flexible (just knead a few drops in and working the clay, folding it into itself on a table).

One way to add strength to it, is to knead it like dough and fold it on itself many times as you stretch it out. This will create strands that are parallel (even as they blend together), not unlike tendons in your arm. So when you bend it, it's less likely to crack because it's been already been conditioned outward and bending it will compress the arm, rather than stretching it more.  A combination of the glycerine and the kneading should make this material more useful. I have had success with making hands and every finger bends repeatedly without cracks. I have even made repairs and filled in cracks with this stuff. You can keep adding to it, which is pretty neat.

So far, I have tried making a test arm with the clay without conditioning it in the way mentioned above. I also took a piece that had been stretched many times and folded on itself. The piece that was conditioned prior to drying bends without cracking. The piece that wasn't stretched first was more brittle. The conditioning basically fills in the gaps between molecules with the plasticizer that is already in the clay. There are a lot of parallels between polymer clay wax-based clay. Both have binders and fillers, and plasticizers, as well as the ability to cross-link molecules and create a putty-like consistency.  Polymer clay differs in that it dries or hardens (if only temporarily in some products like Sculpey).

It would be great if we had a chemist on the boards to fill any gaps in our knowledge of materials (composition, limitations, and compensation for limitations).

Another way to add durability is to dip the dried clay in liquid latex, so even if you do get cracks, they won't be as noticeable because there won't be cracks in the latex (only what's underneath it- and if you constrain the movement of your armature with plumber's epoxy "bones", the cracks will only form at the intended joints anyway.

It is possible that the material will eventually wear out on a bend and a wire will poke through but the same thing happens with foam latex and silicone puppets at some point. I don't think there is really a way to make a puppet that will never have to be repaired. But I do think you can keep the need for those repairs to a minimum by taking the proper precautions and designing the puppet around the limitations of the material it's made from.

This is actually a pretty handy way to study wrinkles for when you have to sculpt them. The wrinkle in the elbow added itself when I bent the clay. Thought that was pretty neat.

I like that elbow wrinkle effect, looks just like you would want it to. I don't know if it is sold in my country but I will look out for it. There are times when a limited amount of bending is enough, and being able to sculpt it directly is a real advantage. I tried The crayola stuff once and it was very difficult to sculpt with - too draggy - but a flexible version is worth trying.
I found it on eBay Australia, but the seller is in the US. It's $10 for a 4 oz pack which is ok, but the shipping is another $10, so I would have to pay double. Can't find it locally.
After curing, my puppet head mushed-in on one side, with regular handling. I don't know if maybe there was an air bubble or something? I will have to try kneading/conditioning it like you said. Thanks for the info!

I found a seller at Amazon who sells it for $2.99 for a pack with black, brown, white, and yellowish... so that guy offering it for $10 is just trying to take advantage of  Aussies not being familiar with it.

Here's a kid doing a tutorial, showing how  it stretches out of the pack, and also how squishy a piece of the cured stuff is - really helpful.

It looks pretty diabolical to sculpt with and probably not at all suited for fine details, but it could be ok for the very simple claymation-style characters.  Or miniature food like bread loaves.  I have enough trouble with polymer clay squishing and dragging, not like plasticine where you can carve or shave a bit off and the rest of it stays put, so I would probably struggle to use this.  

I did try Model Magic once, and while I liked it's light weight, it took 5 times longer to sculpt anything, and this may be similar.

I think you could freeze it, Nick. That should make it easier to work with. Or even chill it for a few minutes in a refrigerator. Clould Clay is sensitive to temperature in the hot extremes (it becomes softer), so I'm going to put it in the freezer and see what happens. I suspect it will be brittle, but easier to shave down and remove material. No idea if it will cure while it freezes, though, so I'm putting it in an air-tight bag just to be sure.

Update: Don't freeze it... It makes the clay feel like rubber and it loses elasticity until it reaches room temperature again. You could try casting cloud clay in place of foam latex or silicone, but I'm not sure how well it will hold detail. At any rate, it will be very useful for some things (especially bulking up the torso of a latex build-up puppet with rounded forms while giving you the ability to add details like a shirt collar and front pocket). The main drawback is that stikki wax will not stick to it once it's cured, so you'll have to stick bug pins it it or something to hold the mouths on if you make a head out of this stuff. You can, however, paint it with acrylics once it's cured, and stikki wax, sculpey, and clay will stick to dried acrylic paint. You'll just lose the flexibility feature if you liked that aspect of the product. 

From my view, the hardest part of the character to maintain is the hands. So if I can make the hands out of Could Clay, I've got it made.

As far as the cracks, they don't happen in a brittle fashion, so it's more like a tear. This means that if it happened during animation, you could change the angle to hide the defect and finish animating the shot. If you had used Model Magic in the arm and managed to break it while bending it, it would have broken straight through rather than tear slightly. So with regards to Cloud Clay's benefits and drawbacks, I'll take the good with the bad.

One last thing: If you get a tear in your puppet in the middle of a shot and you can't switch angles, you can do one of two things: You can either swap out the arm for a new one and move it into position, or you can notch out a triangular piece of the arm with an Xacto knife (being careful not to ding the armature wires), patch in a piece of uncured Cloud Clay, and smooth the join with rubbing alcohol-similar to making the arm bones out of sculpey and filling in the elbow joint with clay- but with the added benefit of having an arm that will flex once the patch has cured.

might be good for hands 

The cloud clay was exciting in principle, but I just couldn't figure out how to make it bendable indefinitely. Don't know enough about its chemical composition so I was not able to reverse-engineer it the way I've been able to do with other clays.

Cloud Clay is still nice for making stuff like hair where you need a lot of volume but it has to be lightweight to keep the sculpture from being top-heavy. If you wanted to animate it, I suppose you would have to cheat with plasticine color-matched to it.

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