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Peek Behind the Scenes with Horror Animator Trent Shy, if You Dare

Peek Behind the Scenes with Horror Animator Trent Shy, if You Dare
October 2020

Find out why millions of viewers are scared silly by his gory YouTube videos

Animator Trent Shy peeks in on the clay set of one of his latest horror videos, Franky.

WARNING: You must have a strong stomach and a good sense of humor to tune into animator Trent Shy’s YouTube and Instagram videos, and based on the number of views, more than 100 million people are willing to be scared and grossed out. In Franky, one of his latest demented creations, a clay figure with blue hair sets out to have a picnic. But when he picks up an apple with a worm crawling on it, bumps into a tree, and knocks down a bee hive, his idyllic day goes horribly wrong. You’ll have to watch the 54-second film to find out how Franky meets his untimely demise.

Franky is one of 28 shorts the Wando graduate and former chef has posted to his YouTube channel in the past seven years, attracting nearly 300,000 subscribers and millions of views. It’s exacting work to bring the nightmarish stories to life and can take more than an hour to produce less than a second of video—and that’s after the characters and set are molded and sculpted from clay.

The self-taught artist, who says he watched too many scary movies as a child, first began experimenting with claymation after he made a video using Play-Doh. Since then, the 34-year-old has been able to quit his F&B job to exclusively produce claymation videos in his Summerville garage studio. Here, Shy opens up about the work he’s most proud of, his film festival run, and why he’s so passionate about horror.

(Clockwise from top left) In for a Fright - It’s safe to say animator Trent Shy is not into your feel-good, pumpkin-spice-filled fall festivities. You definitely won’t want to cozy up with the ghoulish gourd in his stop-motion film Pumpkin Girl; It takes about a month for Shy to create 40 seconds of animation; Franky’s picnic goes horribly wrong.

Making it Real: Monster Zombie Claymation was this stupid, fun thing that I made on my kitchen floor because I didn’t have a studio. It actually got over one million views on YouTube. When I posted it, we probably had a goal of getting 1,000 views, so to see it go crazy like that was just a whirlwind of emotions. It felt like the start of something.

The One: The Animator Trilogy [which has 60 million views on YouTube] is the film I’m most proud of. I called my mom the day before I put it on YouTube and said, ‘This is the one; I feel it. I’ve never seen anything like it before.’ I was right. It took off. It was blood, sweat, and tears. I cried at one point because the nature of stop motion is so intense. So many things can go wrong. It just finished its film festival run.

Must Watch: Stop motion is so time consuming. It’s about a month of work for about 40 seconds of animation, so I trim all the meat off of it and compact everything. That’s why they do well on YouTube. People will skip right through something if in the first three seconds they are not into it. I think the shocking element helps, too. People are like, ‘I’ve got to watch that again.’

The Feast: We just finished one where there’s a guy, and I, um, eat him. It’s called “pixilation;” it’s an animation technique where you film a live person. It’s another reason why The Animator series did well. They’re blends of clay animation but also animating myself. That adds an extra mind-blowing element.

All the Feels: I feel a lot more emotions when I’m watching a horror film. I think that’s a big reason for my passion. As far as making horror films, especially with the clay animation, the blood and guts, to me, it’s just a lot more fun than if I was to animate some heartwarming, touching story with great dialogue.

No Offense: It’s all about getting that emotional reaction. I would much rather have somebody watch it and say, ‘That’s so disgusting, how dare you?’ then somebody say, ‘Whatever.’ Above everything, I want people to love the work and think, ‘This is the coolest thing ever.’

Child’s Play: My very first claymation was actually with Play-Doh. It wasn’t supposed to be animated. I just made this guy; he was missing an arm and a leg, and it was something to look at to surprise my girlfriend at the time. It might have been about a week later, I was looking at it and said, 'Oh, I can do stop motion,' and I made him wiggle around a little bit, and it all went from there. That’s when I went and bought some clay and started getting really into it.

The Inspiration: My six-year-old does stop motion. His latest one, he asked me to take pictures because he said he wanted to bite the guy because he was a shark. They are not bloody, but that’s what gave me the idea. I just finished one where I eat a guy. Through stop motion trickery, I slowly eat this whole chunk of clay. I’ve never seen anything like that. The whole inspiration was his idea. I told him that. I told all my fans on Instagram: ‘Yeah, this next one is inspired by my son’s work.’ Mine is a lot more disturbing.

Making Magic: Three-fourths of all the work is just making everything. And then the animation process starts. I’m taking 12 pictures for one second of footage. Sometimes it can take 30 minutes to get one picture right. I think of every picture as its own work of art. As I’ve gotten better, I’ve actually gotten slower and slower and slower. It’s therapeutic for me, having so many things going on at once and keeping track of everything. After the animation process, you have rig removal, which is where you go through and erase a lot of wires that were in your film, so that’s where the magic happens.

Watch his other horor videos on his YouTube channel


Watch Shy's "Franky" video:


Watch a family-friendly video: