By Annie Wong
The classic character of clay, Gumby, showed the world that it?s possible to gain fame even if you are just a piece of clay. Fifty years after his birth, claymation gained popularity around the world, including Utah.
After stretching, molding and breathing life into clay for six months, local artists and brothers Chris and Nathan Smith present their first major film production, ?Jonah: A Great Fish Story.?
The 25-minute movie, which follows a reluctant Jonah and his hermit crab friend Sartan into the belly of a whale, won top honors at the Eclipse Film Festival, held annually in St. George. It also caught the eye of filmmaker Richard Dutcher while he was serving on the judging committee for the festival.
?This film just blew away the competition,? Dutcher said in a press release. ?There was no doubt in anyone?s mind that it was the best animated show of the festival. There are few people who can create claymation films with the skills that Chris and Nathan have shown in their work.?
Attracted by the charm of claymation, Dutcher, who is the founder of Main Street Movie Company, decided to distribute the movie. Retail DVDs were available to the Utah market in September, especially targeting families with younger children.
Kelly Loosli, director of the BYU animation department, said claymation is a great medium and gives the audience a very different visual experience than other types of animation.
?Not only has it broadened the market for animation, but it has also brought to life stories uniquely adapted to this exciting and visually fun medium,? Loosli said.
Nathan, co-director of the movie, said the production of claymation is time-consuming, but the task is challenging enough to have kept him and his brother interested in the field for the past seven years.
?It is basically live action movie making in slow motion,? Nathan said. ?Sometimes you only get three or four seconds done each day, but once the movie is done, you are able to sit back and watch it, and it is worth all the hard work and energy.?
The physicality of claymation also satisfies the Smith brothers? interest for being hands-on artists.
?Basically you are just using your hands, it feels real.? Nathan said. ?You are seeing something that should not move or be alive. So it?s very rewarding to see your work in the finished form when it is alive.?
Sons of well-known artist Gary Smith, Chris and Nathan began training at an early age. Chris followed a more traditional path studying sculpting and painting, eventually receiving a bachelor of fine arts degree from BYU, while Nathan?s love of filmmaking led him to years of working as an electrician, assistant director, cinematographer, and production editor.
After watching Nick Park?s ?Wallace and Gromit? in 1999, the Smith brothers were motivated to combine their talent for fine art and film to create a stop-motion animated company, Ageless Animation. The company?s first project was a two-minute short film titled ?Bird Bonkers,? based on the artwork of renowned fantasy artist James C. Christensen.
With Christensen as their artistic mentor, Chris and Nathan created ?Jonah: A Great Fish Story.? The success of the award-winning film encouraged the brothers to produce additional films, such as ?Davie and Golimyr,? a story based on David and Goliath, and ?The Night Before Christmas,? which is currently in pre-production.