All traditional animation is produced in a similar fashion, whether done through cel animation or stop-motion. Each frame, or still picture, is recorded on film or digital media and then played back in rapid succession. When played back at a frame rate greater than 10-12 frames per second, a fairly convincing illusion of continuous motion is achieved. While the play-back feature creating an illusion is true of all moving image (from zoetrope, to films to videogames), the techniques involved in creating CGI are generally removed from a frame-by-frame process.
A sub-variation of clay animation can be informally called "clay melting". Any kind of heat source can be applied on or near (or below) clay to cause it to melt while an animation camera on a time-lapse setting slowly films the process. An example of this can be seen in Vinton's early short clay-animated film, Closed Mondays, (co-produced by animator Bob Gardiner) at the end of the computer sequence. A similar technique was used in the climax scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark to "melt" the faces of the antagonists.
"Freeform" clay animation is an informal term where the shape of the clay changes radically as the animation progresses, such as in the work of Eliot Noyes Jr and Ivan Stang's animated films. Or clay can take the form of "character" clay animation where the clay maintains a recognizable character throughout a shot, as in Art Clokey's and Will Vinton's films.
One variation of clay animation is strata-cut animation in which a long bread-like loaf of clay, internally packed tight and loaded with varying imagery, is sliced into thin sheets, with the camera taking a frame of the end of the loaf for each cut, eventually revealing the movement of the internal images within. Pioneered in both clay and blocks of wax by German animator Oskar Fischinger during the 1920s and 30s, the technique was revivied and highly refined in the mid-90s by David Daniels, an associate of Will Vinton, in his 16-minute short film Buzz Box.
Another clay animation technique, and blurring the distinction between stop motion and traditional flat animation, is called clay painting (which is also a variation of the direct manipulation animation process) where clay is placed on a flat surface and moved like wet oil paints as on a traditional artistic canvas to produce any style of images, but with a clay 'look' to them.
Already 1972 animated André Roche in the Cineplast Films Studio of Marc Chinoy in Munich (Germany) several films for a serie named Kli-Kla-Klawitter for the Second German TV-Channel ZDF, for a German language teatching serie for foreign children and another one for a traffic education serie (Herr Daniel paßt auf = Mr. Daniel cares of).
A variation of this technique was developed by another Vinton animator, Craig Bartlett, for his series of "Arnold" short films, also made during the 90s, in which he not only used clay painting, but sometimes built up clay images that rose off the plane of the flat support platform, toward the camera lens, to give a more 3-D stop-motion look to his films.
Some of the best-known clay-animated works include the Gumby series of television show segments created by Art Clokey, and the TV commercial made for the California Raisin Advisory Board by Vinton's studio. Clay animation has also been used in Academy-Award-winning short films such as Closed Mondays (Will Vinton and Bob Gardiner, 1974), The Sand Castle (1977), Creature Comforts (Aardman, 1989), and all three Wallace & Gromit short films, created by Nick Park of Aardman Animation. Aardman also created The Presentators, a series of one-minute clay-animation short films aired on Nicktoons. Some clay animations appear online, on such sites as Newgrounds.
Several computer games have also been produced using clay animation, including The Neverhood, Dark Oberon, Clay Fighter, Platypus and Primal Rage. Television commercials have also utilized the clay animation, such as the Chevron Cars ads, produced by Aardman Studios. Besides commercials, clay animation has also been popularized in recent years by children's shows such as Bob the Builder and The Koala Brothers, as well as adult-oriented shows on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim lineup, including Robot Chicken (which uses clay animation and action figures as stop-motion puppets in conjunction) and Moral Orel. Many independent young film makers have used clay animation features for internet viewing.