On Monday, shockwaves rippled throughout the animation community: Aardman, the studio behind beloved animated franchises Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run had announced it was ‘running out of clay’.
Indeed, the singular company that manufactures the clay used in Aardman’s claymation works was shutting down, and the animation studio told The Telegraph that they ‘only had enough to make the next Wallace & Gromit film’, which is due out in 2024.
The clay, known as Lewis Newplast (it was invented by a man with the surname Lewis), is supposedly one of the only materials that doesn’t melt under hot studio lights and holds up after multiple sculptings – two things that are essential to stop-motion animation.
Aardman has relied on this kind of clay for the decades that they’ve been in operation, but now there’s a snag. Lewis Newplast is manufactured by a single English company called Newclay Products, owned by Paul and Valerie Dearing, who recently decided to retire and close their firm for good.
The Dearings recently posted this notice onto their website: ‘Newclay Products ceased trading effective 31st March 2023 having completed liquidation of all its physical assets … We would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused by our closure and thank all our loyal customers and suppliers for their support and for the many messages we have received wishing us well in our retirement.
‘Finally, huge thanks are due to the loyal staff members that committed to stay with us until the very end.’
News outlets soon reported that Aardman bought out the remaining supply of Lewis Newplast, which meant, according to at least one reporter’s calculations, it might only have enough of the material to make ‘one more film’.
It was perhaps a bit too early to pronounce, though, especially since you can still purchase the clay online from sites like AnimationSupplies.net … as long as you don’t need black or flesh-pink colour.
Aardman has today released a statement saying there is ‘absolutely no need to worry’. ‘We have high levels of existing stock of modelling clay to service current & future productions,’ they said in an Instagram post, adding that they have been ‘tinkering away for quite some time with plans in place to ensure a smooth transition to new stocks.’
In sum, it looks like they have more Lewis Newplast than was initially reported, so this isn’t the end of Wallace & Gromit yet. And when that particular clay runs out, they’ll just use another one.
Whatever the alternative clay may be, it guarantees that Aardman will remain in business for a long while yet.
The studio’s latest project, Chicken Run: Dawn of the Nugget, releases on Netflix on 15 December 2023