fields of clay

words: sam hockley-smith

art: azod abedikichi


You may know Azod Abedikichi by his Instagram handle, or you may know him not by name at all, but by his work. For the past couple years, Azod has been making hilarious, over-the-top, instant-cult-classic claymation shorts that begin as re-enactments of a recent sports highlight, and then zoom off in unexpected directions. Think MTV's Celebrity Deathmatch minus the gore—Azod's humor is often biting, but each film is very clearly done with love. We spoke with him about his process, his childhood obsession with imaginary Pay-Per-View events, and more.


VJ: How'd you get into doing claymation?

AA: I've always been very into stop motion in general. Specifically stop motion in animation. I was going to do a handful of basketball animations and there was nothing more to it than that. And the second one I did—which was not a basketball animation—was picked up and featured on Deadspin and that was something that pushed me into, like, 'I've gotta keep doing this longer, because there is clearly an interest in it.' And then it gradually just turned into me, as a sports fan and as an animation fan journaling—making them and entertaining myself as I made them. It just happened to keep growing and entertaining more people.

VJ: Did you have any animation or stop motion experience before you started making these pieces?

AA: I had done a few stop motion shorts, but not anything with clay. I had never sculpted anything. So the first one with clay was a silly pun because it was about Klay Thompson. I was like, 'well, that's the obvious direction, I'll just do clay.' It was so shitty looking, which was great because it was a good challenge. Then the next one was more like, 'I'm gonna stay with cay because I just bought a bunch of clay and I want to make it faster and I kind of want get better and see if I can figure out how to actually sculpt.' and I just ended up getting stuck like in Claymation because I kept pushing myself and challenging myself to get better and get faster.

VJ: How long does it take you to make a short?

AA: Until recently, it was pretty much a burst of nonstop work. Probably on average it would be about 20 to 24 hours—somewhere around there. And it was in one sitting, so I would just build to puppet, and occasionally I would do two sittings where I would do two 15 hour sittings, and then be done with it. Most of the time it was one, just running off adrenaline until I was done.

VJ: So you'd often work for 24 hours straight?

AA: Yeah. It was insane. I would actually watch a game and I would say, 'Okay, awesome. I'm gonna go animate. He just had a triple double.' And the next game would be starting as I was finishing the animation.

VJ: Most of your pieces are pretty reaction-based. What does the process for creating one look like?

AA: I'll see something and think, that's the obvious thing that I'm drawn to, and I'll find the parallel with something else that I have another interest in, whether its something from a long time ago or even something more recent. That is usually the best case scenario. 

VJ: So do you script them out first?

AA: Yeah, I write it. I start pulling in content right away. Whether its stuff on YouTube, or music, or actual video references that I'll be using as my animation reference. I pretty much put together a really bare bones cut and its a skeleton of what I'm gonna make. I'm usually using that while I'm animating, but I also have like a blueprint for what I'm about to do. The only thing you cannot rush is the pre-production of writing it. Sometimes I get stuck there. The animating and can rush that stuff and it will show, and either it can be intentional and rushed in a good way or it can like make post production a lot tougher because you didn't quite get the movement you wanted.

VJ: You've been doing these for awhile now. Do you have the process down to a science?

AA: Well, no. I probably spend more time on it because before I got so caught up in it that my health started suffering. I got pretty sick. I was not sleeping much, and I was having heart trouble. Nothing that brought me to the hospital or anything, but in hindsight I was pushing it. I read an article about a guy about my age who had a stroke and he was always on caffeine, tons of coffee, no sleep, work, work, work. And then I was pretty much like, 'Man, this is me.' I have a heart murmur and it's always heavy when I'm pulling these all nighters. I needed to adapt, I want to be healthy. I've adapted pretty good to it now. I'm keeping a little more normal schedule and instead of doing it in one sitting, I'll spend three or four days making one.

VJ: Does taking more time change the process and the way you approach making a short?

AA: I find that now that I'm not racing the clock, I spend a little more time making the sculptures better. Even though I'm saying I'm spending a little more time, its still a process of getting it out as fast as I can even if it is like three or four days. I could easily spend like a week or so on a sculpture if it was not going to be animated.

VJ: You initially started building sculptures as a way of animating, but now it seems like these sculptures can exist as art pieces themselves. Is this something you've been exploring?

AA: In animation, you don't really get to see the sculpture because of the constant motion, and my skill level wasn't where it is now, so I would make stuff and it would would pass. It was more functional than it was pleasing. I didn't think anything of the sculptures until an incredible glass artist came through my studio, and he looked at like these shitty sculptures that were used and just hanging on the wall and he just immediately said, 'Wow you gotta show these.' Even in the shape they are in now, they tell a story.' It made me want to spend more time on actually building the sculptures so they would look better and maybe preserve better. But as soon as I start animating, they lose detail right away. I mean, it takes no time from them to go from being really nice to just worn out and soft clay with no detail.

VJ: The act of animating them actually destroys them.

AA: It does, yeah. I started out thinking it wasn't that hard. I'll make one and I'll be satisfied and think it looks pretty good, and then it's not even recognizable four hours later. I'm not even finished with the animation and it's not even recognizable.

VJ: So do you now view the sculptures and the animations as two distinct bodies of work that can exist separately?

AA: They're separate. Recently I watched a stream—I had to show several of them at an event and they were back to back to back, and it gave a whole different experience than watching them on an Instagram feed. Watching them back to back made me realize how much they were like a journal to me. When I watch them, I remember not just things personal to me at that time but I remember small things in sports that aren't that important but seeing them kind of in an important light...the fact that they are's really interesting to see these unimportant moments coming back to life. I'm not saying this makes it 'un-forgotten,' but it does add something beyond a highlight reel or a video clip or an article. It just adds a little something unordinary to it that preserves it.

VJ: The amount of time and effort it takes to make one of these this point, it seems like it takes up your life. Is this what you've subconsciously always wanted to do?

AA: It's exactly that, yeah. It came full circle from when I was a kid. I spent way too much time playing with action figures, especially little basketball action figures and wrestlers. I'f record them on cassette tapes—I was the commentator. Me and my brother, and a friend of his would separately record our voices—which was kind of weird. We would go in a room where we built props and everything, and constantly painted the figures to change the outfits. It sounds insane to say this but we would all separately go in there for about an hour and record on cassette. Each person would do this. This is what we would do on a weekend. Then we would all sit in the room and listen to each other's fake Pay-Per-View events of just our voices. We spent such a crazy amount of time spent doing that. You couldn't see anything. You're just hearing yourself. It was a weird experience because you're sort of embarrassed the whole time.