SNDCLT clay modelling session
Participants shape clay into animals during Friday’s hands-on session led by National Geographic’s Fernando Baptista. (Photo by Kenney Marlatt)


To help create realistic visuals to enhance National Geographic‘s storytelling, Fernando Baptista and his team build models by hand using a variety of materials.

“My job is to do what that photos and text can’t do,” he said.

Fernando Baptista infographic
An example of Fernando Baptista’s work for National Geographic.


To create models like these whales,  Baptista takes photo and video that can later be altered with slow motion video and edited using Adobe After Effects.


Baptista led a hands-on session Friday afternoon that allowed participants to create a mammal using his techniques.

By using sculpting and armature wire, attendees formed a skeleton of their desired animal by lining up with prints that Baptista provided. Normally, Baptista and his team would sketch out the subject, focusing on details they would later implement in their model.

A clay whale that emerged from Friday’s hand-on modeling session. (Photo by Katelyn Winkler)


To give the body mass, Baptista wraps the wire with tin foil, followed by Super Scoopy, a clay-like material. During the session, participants smoothed out some of the clay imperfections with petroleum jelly. In some instances, Baptista uses paper and plastic instead of clay, depending on the effect he is attempting to create.

Fernando Baptista demonstrates modeling with tinfoil
Fernando Baptista demonstrates his tinfoil method to model an elephant. (Photo by Katelyn Winkler)


Baptista said that modeling allows his team to create extra detail and shape the images exactly the way they like, in addition to being creative when the assignment allows.