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Clay Animation: Strata-Cut

Stop motion can use a wide range and combination of materials and not restricted to just the puppet humanoid or creature forms. Any real objects can be animated. Clay Animation is just another form of Stop Motion. There is a most unique animation method that possibly most of you are not familiar with, called, Strata-Cut Animation, the technique is attributed to, David Daniels. From what I read, he is suppose to have invented the method. As far as I know, there does not exist, how-to information about the technical details of this unusual animation method. It is difficult to describe. You can view for yourself one of Daniel's original Strata-cut work (about 1985), called Buzz Box 

"Strata cut animation involves making 3-D rectangular pieces of clay in layers. It was invented by David Daniels. David lays out the clay in a four dimensional space to create the large block of clay. Then the clay is normally slid on popsicle sticks towards the camera as the front part is sliced off to reveal a new section of clay. Characters faces or images are animated in the 4-D space before the camera captures the movement. It's possibly the strangest way to animate, and has the look of oil on water during a breezy day."

If that is not understandable then maybe this oversimplified sketch might might help.....

In Geology, Strata means layers-slices of rocks, dirt, earth, etc.....so that seems like a good description of this animation technique. David Daniels' early work was on the ol' Pee Wee's Playhouse, then did work for Will Vinton Studios, and also did Strata-Cut animation for Michael Jackson's MoonWalker. Daniels has been doing his more recent work (not just Strata-cut) at Bent Image Labs .  Here is a montage of some of his commercial work using the Strata-cut  animation technique:


In my quick research, it seems that Oskar Fischinger link-1-- link-2 was an early experimenter of a similar Strata-Cut type animation method ,much, much earlier..... in the 1920's. Doing a Google search gives us plenty of references to Fischinger. He was an abstract surreal artist-filmmaker and experimented with a variety styles & methods of visual motion presentations. Daniels uses plasticene oil-wax colored clays whereas Fischinger used Wax that was colored via random swirls & patterns within the wax block or log. He also devised a special wax slicing machine specifically for his Wax Animation work. So, I am guessing that Daniels' might have been inspired by Fischinger.

Another method that is possibly related to Strata-Cut Animation is, the Art & Craft of Clay Millefiori Cane Making using polymer clay which is used to make clay logs by weaving the clay to make intricate designs, The log is then sliced-up producing multiple quantities of pendant shaped slices of the internal clay log design. Each pendant is then baked hard. Some examples of this,
link-3--link-4--link-5.

For Strata-Cut Animation technique, one does not use polymer clay. You use oil-wax based plasticenes. What I find amazing about Daniels' Strata-Cut is, that he is able to weave the clay so that it creates intentional and planned movement from the process. Fischinger's work was random & dependent on the accidental blending-patterns of the melted colored waxes. Daniels' Strata-Cut shows control of motion of the internal clay weaving design. I am certain, involved hands-on techniques require much patience and especially visionary skills, much creativity & planning to weave the clay to create somewhat recognizable images. Result are crazy, nutty, and mind tripping psychedelic!

UPDATE 2010: Interview with David Daniels & Clip examples of Strata-cut

Wikipedia Strata-Cut Animation


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