Animation is the oldest form of film making. Back in 1645, inventor Athanansius Kircher published a book in which he described a Magic Lantern; a candle and mirror set up that made pictures move. He was accused of practicing witchcraft. Kircher was an educator and he never really developed the machine he designed. He never even dreamed of the likes of Walt Disney, Hanna Barbera and Chuck Jones. Animation has come a long way.
Animation art is generally discussed in terms of cels but there is a whole lot more. Let’s look at the way a cartoon is put together. To begin with a creative genius comes up with characters and a story. These are usually drawn in preliminary sketches. These pencil sketches may be black and white or color and they lack the detail of a finished product. Next there is a storyboard, a set of sketches that outlines the plot of the story. These can be very rough as they are simply designed as guides for the artists. (Storyboards are also used for live action films especially when special effects are involved). With the characters and story in place, the key animators will design a model sheet. This is a page covered with a single character performing a variety of actions; standing, sitting, running. This is to assure that the character will look the same from every angle, no matter how many artists are employed to draw the finished product. Now we’re ready for the cels. Great studios like animation studios in Singapore are now using high technology and modern methodologies to create some amazing and awesome animation videos.
Cel is short for cellulose which is the plastic the art is painted on. Clear plastic allows for layering of the pages so that the moving characters can be separated from the backgrounds. Basically, one artist outlines the character on the cel then another hand-paints the colors. With up to 12 cels per second (with each cel being filmed twice to create smooth movement, 3 or 4 times for cheaper, jerkier cartoons) that’s a lot of hand work and with it comes the high price of true animation cels. An Original Production Cel is a one-of-a-kind piece that was actually used in a cartoon. Limited Edition Cels are works that are duplicated for the purpose of sale to collectors. They are still hand-painted cels but they have never been used in a film. Often they are contemporary adaptations of beloved characters such as Woody Woodpecker and Bugs Bunny.
The newest item to reach the market is a Sericel or Serigraph cel. These are made by silk-screening the colors on to the cels. This is a much cheaper process than hand-painting so cels can be produced in a large quantity (up to 5,000 of one style) and still be sold at a reasonable price. These are still beautiful pieces of art, but since they are designed for collecting, not actual cartoon use, their intrinsic value is much less. (For more information on how cels are made, visit The Cartoon Factory at www.cartoon-factory.com.)
The first Techincolor cartoon was Flowers and Trees by…you guessed it…Disney. It was made in 1932 and won the first Academy Award for an animated short. Making the jump to color was a risky business. Up until that time, Disney’s cartoons were painted with black, white and gray ink. This ink would be washed off after each use, so the plastic could be used over and over. When you think about all the work lost it’s enough to make one ill. When Disney moved to colored paints, they found that they stuck to the cel and stained the plastic so it couldn’t be reused. While this was bad financially for Disney it was the saving grace for the future generation of collectors.
In the 30’s, Disney was the place to work. Top animators made salaries that allowed them to have several cars, a nice house and servants and they were given bonuses for exceptional work. With this as a draw, Disney was able to hire the best artists in the business. No other studio was turning out the volume of work that Disney was with their Silly Symphony’s leading the way. With a studio full of young creative minds, a day at work could include a ‘push-pin’ throwing contest and a dead fish under your light board or the development of a revolutionary idea in animation. Original cels from Disney’s early works sell for upwards of $8,000 dollars. The actual price is dependent upon the condition of the cel, and the subject matter. A prominent character will generally sell for much more than a secondary character or background piece. Sketches with hand-written notes sell for $5,000 and up. Sericels and Limited Editions can be cheaper to buy but they’re not always a better deal. A Sericel is usually under $1,000 dollars. Limited Editions run between $1,000 and $5,000 dollars and as a rule don’t go up in value the way an original cel does. But that brings up another good point; don’t buy cels as an investment.
If you want guaranteed return, put your money in the bank. There are too many factors that determine which cels are more valuable than others. Artists go in and out of vogue with movie releases, licensing deals and the death of an artist all being factors that could make a market spike. Buy cels because you love them. If they go up in value, consider it a bonus. Protect your investment. Have art professionally framed with plexiglass instead of glass (to avoid cutting the cel if the glass breaks) and insist on acid free papers. If you’re very concerned about increasing values cels should be protected from sunlight and 50% humidity is considered perfect to prevent drying and cracking. The other side of the coin is this….a cel isn’t worth the plastic it’s painted on if you hide it in a special temperature controlled vault. Hang your art in the living room. Take obvious precautions and if there is damage let an expert do the mending. But in the end remember that at 12 frames per second or a single frame on the wall animation art was made to entertain.