In the early days of feature animation, maquettes were one of the small pieces of art that never found their way onto the screen or into the public consciousness. I used to marvel at the small sculptures produced for Fantasia and other Disney features.
But it's not a lost discipline, not by a long shot. Today there's a nice profile of model-maker Damon Bard in the L.A. Times
"I use different kinds of clay for different maquettes. If we are doing a fast sketch, I may make it out of a polymer clay, which can be baked and painted. It is semi-permanent -- it turns rigid. When we get a design we like and we want to evolve it ... I'll do it out of a clay that has to be molded because it's not permanent."