Sculpting Cavemen for Animation

A group of cavemen at home in their cave

One of my all-time favorite animation projects was the 1989 production of Stanley and the Dinosaurs, directed by John Clark Matthews. I was responsible for animating half of the show and also sculpting many of the characters, including a tribe of ten cave people and a juvenile Tyrannosaurus Rex. The clay sculpture served as the basis for each character, but it was only part of the collaborative process of creating the stop-motion puppets for the movie.

All of the puppets for the show were made from scratch, starting with metal ball and socket armatures machined by Justin Kohn and Peter Marinello. I then sculpted each character over its respective armature, which was first covered in plastic wrap to prevent the metal from coming into direct contact with the oil-based Roma clay. John Matthews decided to take a realistic caricature approach rather than following the simplistic artwork of the book Stanley, on which the film was based. He would sometimes provide a sketch of how he wanted the characters to look, but often gave me free rein to sculpt them as I pleased. I added a lot of detail to the characters, but John had to stop me from making them fully "anatomically correct" because the film was intended for children. It was particularly fun to create the old cave woman, with all of her wrinkles. The eyes were intentionally left wide to facilitate the later use of replacement eyes with built-in eyelids. Due to the film's limited budget, I had only three days (24 hours) to sculpt each adult character and two days for the children, so I had to work quickly and efficiently. In total, I sculpted an entire cave tribe of six adults and four children. I wanted to sculpt Stanley as well, but John reserved that task for himself. It was the director's prerogative. It's worth noting that the characters were sculpted in a neutral pose to facilitate the molding process that came afterwards and to minimize stretching when the puppets were animated.

Two-part molds were made of each sculpture using Ultracal gypsum cement, and then turned over to Niki Matthews to be transformed into foam rubber animation puppets. I remember the day Niki delivered the cavemen puppets to the animation studio; it was a surprise to see them with her own embellishments of hair and clothing that added another level of personality. We then brought the characters to life through the magic of stop-motion animation!

Fat caveman and his wife sculpted from Roma clay
Clay sculptures of cave tribe leader Bart and his wife Bertha.

Skinny caveman and old cavewoman clay sculptures
Lanky Bill and old matriarch Blanche.

Sculptures of a cave man and cave woman
Dim witted Butch and the tribe beauty Beatrice.

A baby tyrannosaurus sculpted in clay
I also sculpted one of the dinosaurs, a juvenile Tyrannosaurus.

The cave people from STANLEY AND THE DINOSAURS
The finished cavemen puppets pose in front of the family cave.

© 2011

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