Animation Art is a term used to describe the art used in creating animated
cartoons and features. "Animation art" most often refers to the cels (often misspelled "cells") used in creating
animated cartoons and animated features like Disney's classic "Snow White And The Seven
Dwarves." But strictly speaking, it can refer to any art that is based on animation - from
the original artists' drawings and production cels to limited edition reproductions.
To begin to understand animation art, you need to understand the classic methods of producing animated films. In its simplest form, an artist called an "animator" draws a series of images on paper. Each image makes up a "frame" of the final film. The frames are shown to audiences at a rate of 18 to 24 frames per second to produce an illusion of motion, just as you might see in a child's flip-book. Once the animator has drawn the images on paper, the outlines are traced onto sheets of clear celluloid - hence the term "cels". Then the cels are painted to give them color. One by one, the cels are photographed in sequence to produce the final product - an animated cartoon or feature film. The cels and backgrounds were designed to be used once and then quite literally thrown away. Disney began to purposely preserve a selection of production art starting with the 1937 animated feature "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves." The Courvoisier Galleries, an art gallery in San Franciso, teamed with Disney at that time to create a series of artwork by carefully reproducing the original hand-painted backgrounds and matching them with original production cels.
Over the past 20-30 years, animation studios have begun to produce their films using computers instead of relying on people to trace drawings and paint cels. They still create the original hand-drawn images, but instead of tracing them or transferring them to cels xerographically, the drawings are scanned into computers where they can be colored and otherwise edited. Some animated films, like those produced by Pixar and Dreamworks, are produced entirely on computers.
People have been collecting animation art since the late 1930's, following the
release of "Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs" in 1938 when the Courvoisier Gallery of
San Francisco started to sell them in special presentation set-ups with reproduction matching backgrounds.
The genre peaked in the 1980's and 1990's with the rebirth of interest in Disney movies and memoribelia,
thanks to films like "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" in 1988 and "The Little Mermaid" in 1989.
By its very nature, of course, original animation art is a scarce commodity. Each original production cel
is one-of-a-kind. While prices have declined in the last 10 years, selecting a piece of quality
animation art is still a significant investment for most people. So it's important to understand what
makes one cel more valuable than another, and how to select a piece of animation art that's right for you.
The first principle of collecting animation art is to only buy pieces that
please you. Whether it's just the sheer beauty of the artwork, or the fact that the image brings
back happy memories. If you buy art that pleases you, you can never make a bad investment. As
the poet John Keats wisely wrote, "a thing of beauty is a joy forever". Amen to that.
But it is true, of course, that not all animation art holds its original value, any more than any other
commodity. Their values rise and fall in the marketplace due to many factors. So buying the
art that you really like is fundamental to successful collecting.
Further, from a cold, objective, purely monetary point of view, all animation cels
are not created equal. Many factors are involved, but the most important aspects include the
relative popularity amomg collectors of the character(s) depicted, the integrity or completeness of the image of
each character (full-figure, face forward, eyes open), whether or not the cel has been trimmed
to fit the mat, and the presence of a matching background. Naturally, the physical condition of
the cel is also a vital component. Cels are often fragile, and it is common to find them with fine cracks
or drop-outs in the paint. Fortunately, they can often be repaired and restored to look like new again.
Production art, particularly original production cels, are the most valuable because they were created by the
original studio artists and actually used to make the film. Reproductions like sericels rarely rise in
value, and generally sell in the secondary market for much less than their original retail price.
See the Disney Cels
and other animation art we have for sale right now.
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It's always best to buy animation cels and other artwork from knowledgable galleries dealers like Rainbo Animation Art. We stand behind the authenticity of all of the art we sell, and back it with our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee. You can certainly shop online on sites like eBay and local estate and moving sales are often sources of great bargains. Just be careful to buy only quality pieces that have been properly framed, matted, and cared for. Buying cartoon art in person is a joy, of course, because you get to see it all right in front of you. You can find art galleries in small shopping centers around the country. While they're not generally focused on animation art, they do often offer some real treasures.
Like any piece of valuable art, you need to use some care to preserve your animation art so that it will continue to give you pleasure for many years. Animation cels were never meant to last, so they require even more care than traditional artwork.
Never hang animation art in direct sunlight or close to a direct source of strong light. Bright light can damage the pigments in the paint and cause the color to fade. Make sure that the temperature and humidity of the room where the art is kept or displayed stays close to 70°F and 50% relative humidity. If the room is too dry, the paint on the cels and the paper backgrounds can become brittle and crack. If it's too humid, the art can be damaged by mold and mildew.
If you decide to store your animation art instead of displaying it, store it flat and not rolled up. Store the artwork in acetate or mylar envelopes and make sure that you do not store anything on top of the art. If you want to store more than one cel together, just be sure to place a sheet of clear acetate or acid-free paper between each cel.
When handling the animation cels themselves, be sure to only handle them by their edges because the paint and outlines are fragile and easily damaged, and because it is difficult to remove fingerprints from cels.
If a cel needs cleaning, your best choice is to take it to a skilled conservator who is experienced in working on animation art. If you want to try to clean a cel yourself, use a dry, soft cotton cloth and use very light pressure to remove dust and smudges from the non-painted surface only. Avoid touching or rubbing the paint and outlines. Do not use any kind of liquid cleaner on a cel, and do not use compressed air to remove dust and dirt. The oldest animation cels - those created before World War II - used cellulose nitrate cels which were fragile and flammable. Those nitrate cels require expert handling, and you should not try to clean them yourself. Companies like Ron Barbagallo and S&R Labs specialize in this service. They have the experience and the quality materials required to restore your cels.
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This page was last updated on November 15, 2017.
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