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If an animated character exists inside a lump of clay, is it still an animated character? The co-founder of Portland-based animation shop Bent Image labs dissects his mind-blowing stop-motion animation technique known as Strata-Cut, which makes sushi out of the space/time continuum. To see it in action, go to AdCritic.com.

Strata-Cut uses the same plasticine clay that makes familiar sculpted characters like Wallace and Gromit and the California Raisins, but it produces a very different result. The idea first struck me in 1966 at age 8, after a birthday party. My sister created a small layer cake in clay, just like the one we had eaten in real life. As we cut it into wedges, I realized the layers inside had not disappeared or blurred into gray. The shapes remained embedded and clear. I returned to this small insight in 1981, at age 23, where I tried every way of layering clay and cutting it, for several uninterrupted months. I studied the frame-by-frame animation results of these experiments, and developed a predictable working method for harnessing this motion sculpture-over-time effect.

Imagine a sample shape, like a cone. When cut a slice at a time (1/10 of an inch) from the top down, it animates like a small dot becoming a circle. Now think of a slice of bread (standing up on a kitchen counter) when it's cut 90 degrees perpendicular a frame at a time-it's just a thick line going nowhere. It's not animating. But if you put that bread slice at a 45-degree angle to a camera that's also on the kitchen counter right next to it, it's an even thicker line animating a slice at a time, from one side of frame to the other.

By shaping long tubes of mixed color, and twisting and joining these sheets of clay into precise sculptural alignment, visual movement is programmed into a pre-animated block. The distortions, warps and sculpted changes within the block are revealed and photographed as it is cut like salami, cheese or bread, using a very sharp meat blade or paring knife. The methodical design of presculpted shapes that are sliced to reveal talking faces, dancing bodies and controlled animation images moving over time is Strata-Cut.

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