All you need is clay

An honored guest at this year’s Animix Festival, claymation master Rony Oren has figured out the secret of making life all play and no work.

Claymation master Rony Oren 370 (photo credit: Courtesy PR)
Claymation master Rony Oren 370
(photo credit: Courtesy PR)
You might think of playing with clay as purely a kids’ activity, but for Rony Oren, one of Israel’s top animators, it’s the basis of his career – and his calling.
You can hear all about it from Oren himself at the 13th Animix Festival, which takes place from August 9-13 at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.
He will be honored at the festival and will give several workshops and master classes there.
“It’s funny, because I didn’t play with clay more than any other kid,” he says. “But my parents remember that whatever I made with it, it seemed to be poised to move.”
Oren, who planned to be a biologist, got into animation as a part-time job when he began making animated films for Channel 1 in the early Seventies. When he tried making an animated film with clay, that was the moment he knew he had found his material.
The medium of which Oren is a master is called claymation, and he pioneered the field in Israel. Oren has produced and directed over 500 short films and television series, a number of which received international awards. Among the series he has produced are The Egg, Foxy Fables, Tales of a Wise King, and Grabbit the Rabbit. These titles have been broadcast in over 80 countries and on numerous networks including PBS, ABC, Disney Channel, BBC and Channel 4. Oren has also served as chair of the animation department at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem for many years, and has taught in several other schools.
So what is it about clay? “For me it was a lot easier to move a clay character than to create a new drawing,” he says modestly, comparing claymation techniques to traditional animation. “And I could make the characters I wanted, the way I wanted. I just knew: this is it.”
His imaginative films delighted the children who saw them on Israeli TV, and because there were no other channels in Israel at that time he became very well known, very quickly, and moved into advertising, teaching and making his own films.
In recent years, the most famous international claymation films were the Wallace and Gromit series (and the film Chicken Run) by Aardman Studios in England, but Oren notes that while they originally made their films with claymation, they have changed their technique: “They work with molds and latex. It’s a bit different.”
Claymation itself has evolved since the Seventies, but in some ways it has changed less than other types of animation, says Oren.
“Lots of animated films are created by different studios working together. One studio creates the images, others do other parts,” he says. “But with clay, everyone has his own touch. You can’t move it from place to place. Or you can, but it would be very difficult to do.”
He prefers to create his films on his own.
“If I worked with different studios, I would have to give up my independence.”
But he emphasizes that with clay, as with all filmmaking, “The technique is secondary to the content. If a film has something to say, that’s what makes it memorable, not how accomplished the filmmaker is technically.”
Oren, who credits his four daughters with inspiring his characters and the way they move – “I couldn’t do it without the context of my family, they are very involved and supportive” – is passionate about the benefits of working in clay for everyone, especially, of course, children.
His series of books, The Secrets of Clay, which teach the basics of creating clay characters, have sold around a million copies all over the world and have been translated into 12 languages. He travels the globe, teaching his secrets to adults and children.
“Children today are very much occupied with screens, but with clay they use their hands again. There’s a need for that – and they love it,” he says. He emphasizes that with his method, anyone can make clay figures – not only the artistically gifted.
“It’s all based on making balls, hot dogs and pancakes,” he explains. “Everybody can do that.”
He is especially proud that his students from Bezalel give clay workshops to children and adults in hospitals, and as well as at many schools for the disabled, such as the Beit Issie Shapiro facilities in Israel.
“Clay cuts across all nationalities, religions, languages, genders. I give the workshop and everyone has a smile on their face.”
It seems that Oren has figured out the secret of making life all play and no work.
He agrees: “Working with and teaching with clay is play, and I hope to keep on playing every day of my life.”
To find out more about Animix, and to register for workshops and buy tickets, to go Rony Oren’s website is