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Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Restoration of Animation Cels - A Short Overview

Restoration of Animation Cels - A Short Overview


This is a short overview regarding restoration/conservation of animation cels. The blog entry was prompted by concerns collectors have when purchasing animation cels, due to the possibility of damage. Most animation collectors begin with drawings because they are less expensive and easily understood as works of art. Pencil drawings of a character accomplished on peg hole animation paper represent the first step in the animation process. They are also from the hand of a master animator, and therefore more easily understood as being one-of-a-kind and therefore collectible. Condition issues of drawings are relatively simple; the paper may be darker or lighter or there may be small tears or creases; and most of these imperfections are the result of normal handling occurring over time.

Animation cels however, pose a different set of issues. For all future discussions in this blog entry I will be referring to vintage (1959 and before) hand painted and hand inked original production cels created by the Walt Disney Studios, unless otherwise noted.

Let me start by stating what most people don't like knowing: ALL animation cels will need to be restored/conserved at some point in their lifetime. Gouche (which is a water based paint) was never meant to be stuck to the back of a piece of nitrate or acetate for 50-100 years! The cels were painted by artists in the Walt Disney Ink and Paint Department and all the inkers and painters were women, as Walt Disney felt that women did a much better job than men. The inkers and painters were paid based on their production output. Animation cels were just never meant to last forever and were not created as works of art, but rather a means (1/24 of a second) to an end (the final film).

There a many ways that cels can be damaged, from poor storage conditions to aggressive handling. The types of damage can be divided into either damage to the cel substrate or ink/paint issues. The animation cel can become wavy, which is normal particularly with the older nitrate cels, and there is currently no conservation that is possible. The wavy appearance is simply a result of normal changes due to time. Tears or loss to the cel substrate can also not be corrected. Paint issues however can be addressed, and they should be corrected. If the paint damage is not restored, it will over time continue to get worse and the owner runs the risk of all of the paint falling off the cel. If this occurs, then the restoration process will be flawed, because the original paint colors could never be matched perfectly to the original.

Paint issues can be divided into either sold colors that were hand painted on the back of the cel, or the ink lines that were hand painted on the front of the cel. Restoration of the ink lines is much more expensive than restoration of the paint on the back. This is because the work is much more labor intensive and quite simply more difficult. Line wear that is minor, due to handling over time, is something that I do not recommend be restored.

However, the issue of paint damage of an animation cel, usually seen as lifting, paint loss, cracking, or chipping; needs to be addressed. This type of restoration is relatively easy to repair and the cost is in the hundreds of dollars. Approximately 75% of all the animation cels that pass through my Gallery require some type of restoration/conservation.


Evil Queen cel with paint loss to the far left center of the white fur of her black cape.


Restored Evil Queen cel, also corrected was black paint lifting of her robe that can not be seen in the photographs. (Differences in color is the result of different camera/lighting)

In the 1970's Walt Disney Studios was actively selling original production cels and they decided to laminate the cels (as they had done to some cels in the 1940's) in order to protect the cel paint from damage. Lamination involved heat sealing the cel with other sheets of acetate. Unfortunately the lamination process made things much worse. The lamination did not stop the paint from lifting or bleeding and the cost to restore these lamination failed cels is, in most all cases, greater than the price of the cel itself. For this reason, collectors should be warned about laminated cels and the possibility of high restoration costs if failure should occur. Lamination failure begins by the appearance of raised lines that occur in the cel which is followed by paint lifting, bleeding, and/or cracking.  Lamination is most prevalent in the films from the 1970's such as "Robin Hood" and "The Rescuers."

Although many animation collectors begin their entry into the hobby with drawings, most will eventually take the plunge with a cel or two. With a cel, you are holding a colorful and wonderful product that brought one of your favorite characters to life, and with it a powerful childhood memory. Everything is there on your hands, this was the FINAL image that the animators wanted to create! You now own a piece of Pop Culture history, and as such you have a responsibility to the next generation to protect the work and keep it safe.

Untitled Art Gallery is a full service Gallery, meaning that I deal with all restoration/conservation issues for both animation artwork and fine art limited edition prints. I also employ a background artist who can create custom backgrounds for any animation cel to perfectly match the cel's scene in the original film. In addition, I can assist in museum quality custom framing, and I advise existing collectors on how to better improve their overall art collections.