Imagine you are a child living in the 1960s. Your family have finally purchased their own television set and it is so exciting! You finally have the chance to see the television shows you love, but only usually have the opportunity to watch when you are visiting friends. You are particularly looking forward to being able to see Gumby. You love the little man and his horse, and it will be so exciting to be able to see his adventures whenever you like!
When I showed the little green figurine of Gumby to the children their reaction was interesting. They love toys, but found this one slightly odd. Obviously, the figure was of a ‘person’, but he was an odd shape and colour. He was also very flexible, much more than they are used to. The thing which they found most intriguing though was the shape of Gumby. The idea you can create a character from ‘any old shape is totally awesome’.
Gumby is one of the most famous of the early clay animation (also known as claymation) series. Stop motion animation and clay based animation had their origins in the late 1800s and early 1900s but Gumby was the first clay figure to dominate popular culture. Gumby was created by Art Clokey with help from his wife Ruth. Art went to film school in America and while he was studying, in 1953, he created a short, 3 minute film called ‘Gumbasia’ as a parody of Disney’s ‘Fantasia’. The film was a montage of moving, growing clay figures, set to music, and it caught the eye of Sam Engel who was a movie producer. Engel was impressed by the film and asked Art to create a new character for childrens television.
There were problems with animating clay figures under hot lights though and so the characters had to be created to allow for these. The figure had to be substituted for another model when the clay became dirty and misshapen so the character needed to be quick and easy to recreate. A geometrical figure seemed best and Ruth suggested Art start with the shape of a gingerbread boy and see what happened. Soon the character of Gumby was decided upon and not long after, other characters, like Pokey, Gumby’s horse best friend were also created, still using geometric basics to allow them to be remodelled quickly and easily when a new model was needed. By the 1960s Gumby was dominating childrens television and the series continued to be produced and aired for many years. Even today, Gumby is occasionally seen on television, though he is more unusual. The techniques used in his creation remain popular in animation though – just look at Wallace and Grommit!