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About Animation Cels

A cel, short for celluloid, is a transparent sheet on which objects are drawn or painted for traditional, hand-drawn animation. Celluloid was used for animation and film production up until the late 20th century, however, it burned easily and suffered from spontaneous decomposition, and was largely replaced by cellulose acetate plastics.

Generally, the characters are drawn on cels and laid over a static background drawing. This reduces the number of times an image has to be redrawn and enables studios to split up the production process to different specialised teams. Using this assembly line way to animate has made it possible to produce films much more cost-effectively. The invention of the technique is generally attributed to Earl Hurd, who patented the process in 1914.

The outline of the images are drawn on the back of the cel. The colors are also painted on the back to eliminate brushstrokes. Traditionally, the outlines were hand-inked but now they are almost exclusively xerographed on. Another important breakthrough in cel animation was the development of the APT (Animation Photo Transfer) process, first seen in The Black Cauldron. Disney later stopped using cels in 1990 when CAPS replaced this element in the animation process.

Actual production cels are sometimes sold after the animation process is complete. More popular shows and movies may demand higher prices for the cels, with some selling for thousands of dollars. Some cels are not used for actual production work, but may be a "special" or "limited edition" version of the artwork, sometimes even printed ("lithographed") instead of hand-painted. These normally do not fetch as high a price as original "under-the-camera" cels, which are true collector's items. Some cels have fetched record prices at art auctions, e.g. a cel depicting numerous characters from the finale of Who Framed Roger Rabbit sold for $50,600 at Sotheby's in 1989.

With the advent of computer assisted animation production, the use of cels has been practically abandoned in major productions, however, studios still produce animation cels for the collectible market.
Some of the most collectible cels are the original Snow White cels, since that was the first full length animated film.
Snow White animation cel

 

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