The technique of most cutout animation is comparable to that of shadow play, but with stop motion replacing the manual or mechanical manipulation of flat puppets. Some films, including Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed, also have much of their silhouette style in common with shadow plays. Cutout animation pioneer Lotte Reiniger studied the traditions of shadow play and created several shadow play film sequences, including a tribute to François Dominique Séraphin in Jean Renoir's film La Marseillaise (1938).
While sometimes used as a relatively simple and cheap animation technique in children's programs (for instance in Ivor the Engine), cutout animation has also often been used as a highly artistic medium that distinguishes itself more clearly from hand-drawn animation.
Cutout animation can be made with figures that have joints made with a rivet or pin or, when simulated on a computer, an anchor. These connections act as mechanical linkage, which have the effect of a specific, fixed motion. Similar flat, jointed puppets have been in use in shadow plays for many centuries, such as in the Indonesian wayang tradition and in the "ombres chinoises" that were especially popular in France in the 18th and 19th century. The subgenre of silhouette animation is more closely related to these shadow shows and to the silhouette cutting art that has been popular in Europe especially in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Cutout techniques were relatively often used in animated films until cel animation became the standard method (at least in the United States). Before 1934, Japanese animation mostly used cutout techniques rather than cel animation, because celluloid was too expensive.
Lotte Reiniger made animated silhouette sequences for Die Schöne Prinzessin von China (1917), Apokalypse (1918. lost) and Der Verlorene Schatten (1920)
Reiniger created her own short silhouette films Das Ornament des Verliebten Herzens (1919), Amor und das Standhafte Liebespaar (1920), Der Fliegende Koffer (1921), Der Stern von Bethlehem (1921), Aschenputtel (1922), Das Geheimnis der Marquise (1922, advertisement for Nivea), Dornröschen (1922) and Barcarole (1924, advertisement for Mauxion), before creating her first feature. After Die Abenteuer des Prinzen Achmed she continued to make dozens of shorts. From 1938 to 1982 she worked and lived in the United Kingdom.
Noburo Ofuji worked primarily with cutout animation, for instance using chiyogami (Japanese colored paper) in 馬具田城の盗賊) (Burglars of "Baghdad" Castle) (1926).
Le merle (1958) by Norman McLaren is a combination of (white) cut-outs and (pastel) backgrounds to the music of the French folksong "Mon Merle".
Before co-founding Art And Animation Studio with her husband, Dagmar Doubková created several short cutout animations, such as Oparádivé Sally (1976) (broadcast in the USA as About Dressy Sally on Nickelodeon's Pinwheel and subject of a 5-year long lost media search on internetfora),Sbohem, Ofélie (Goodbye Ophelia) (1978), Královna Koloběžka první (Queen Scooter First) (1981), The Impossible Dream (1983) and Shakespeare 2000 (1988)
Twice Upon a Time (1983), an animated movie directed by John Korty and produced by George Lucas, uses a form of cutout animation, which the filmmakers called "Lumage", that involved prefabricated cut-out plastic pieces that the animators moved on a light table
The video for Röyksopp's Eple (2003), features a specific kind of cutout animation, continuously zooming out and panning through many old (still) pictures that are seamlessly combined. The technique is a variation on the Ken Burns effect, which has often been used in documentary films to add motion to still imagery, but rarely as a standalone animated production.