The next time you visit Disney's Hollywood Studios be sure to visit The Magic of Disney Animation in the Animation Courtyard. There is a terrific ten-minute show where Mushu provides some comic relief while you learn about the animation process. After you are entertained by Mushu and have enjoyed some interesting interactive galleries you make your way toward the exit. Watch closely as you pass through the last few galleries on your way toward the gift shop. There are some wonderful animation cels on display. Cels similar to these used to be an integral part of animated film production.
Until recently animated films were produced by photographing a series of hand painted sheets of cellulose acetate; these were referred to as cels. In 1933 Walt Disney Studios developed a unique "multi-plane" camera. This invention dramatically improved the animation process by holding multiple cels in layers and adding three dimensional depth to the animated film. One of these revolutionary cameras is on display in the "One Man's Dream" exhibit at Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's worth a visit to have a look at this interesting device.
Did you know that a traditional animated film used 24 frames per second and most frames were comprised of a background image and four cels which were mounted in the multi-plane camera? An 80 minute animated feature would use 460,800 cels. The outlines of the images were drawn on the front of the cels while colors were painted on the back of the acetate to eliminate brushstrokes and give a clean image. Animators worked in teams comprised of a "lead animator", up to three "in between animators" and several "clean-up animators". The lead animator was responsible for a specific character and would draw about one of every four drawings of that character. The in between animators would produce cells to fill the gaps between the cels created by the lead animator and finally the clean-up animators would touch up the cels wherever necessary to ensure clean lines and smooth motion.
Of course the animators didn't just sit down and churn out finished cels. They made several sketches before deciding on the best and then based the cel on that sketch. They created an average of five sketches for every finished cel so that 80 minute feature I mentioned earlier would require up to 2.5 million sketches. That's a lot of work and it required a highly talented work force. In 1941 when Disney Studios were producing Dumbo they employed over 1,200 people and several hundred of them would have been animators.
After a movie was completed the "production cels" were often sold to collectors. More popular shows and movies demanded higher prices for the cels, with some selling for thousands of dollars. A cel depicting several characters from the finale of Who Framed Roger Rabbit sold for $50,600 at Sotheby's in 1989.
The last Disney movie created using traditional hand-painted cels was 1989's The Little Mermaid. Disney Stores sold production cels from The Little Mermaid at prices from $2,500 to $3,500.
Computers have now taken over the animation process. Today there are only five animation artists who continue to hand paint animation cels, created purely for sale to collectors. These five talented folks work for the Walt Disney Ink and Paint Department and you can often see one of them at work just before you exit the Animation Gallery gift shop. His name is David Rippberger. He's been painting animation cels since 1993 and has plied his art and interacted with guests in the Animation Gallery gift shop for the past sixteen years. Stop and say hello to David; he is always happy to talk about his work and to show you how it is done. He is a wonderful ambassador for Disney and we look for him every time we visit Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Since the Ink and Paint Department was established in 1995 they have created 52 different cels. Some are limited to a specific number of pieces produced while others are produced for a period of time and then "retired".
There is always a new cel in the planning stages and there are enough Disney characters to ensure that there will always be something to appeal to all tastes. You are bound to see something you like.
Cels can be purchased in several different formats. The cels are the same but the framing and accessories are different. At the time of writing (May 2012) the purchase options are:
1) an unframed cel for $125
2) a cel matted in a black frame for $215
3) a cel matted in a black frame with a pin for $240
4) a cel matted in a black frame with a pin and an autographed postcard for $265
5) a cel matted in a gold frame for $290
Carol usually prefers option #4, the "three-way" with cel, pin and a postcard bearing an image of the cel. The postcard is signed by all of the Ink and Paint artists. She has collected fourteen cels - so far! Naturally not every cel appeals to her, but when one does . . . well, she just has to have it! The cels pictured all come from Carol's collection.
So next time you are at Disney's Hollywood Studios be sure to visit The Magic of Disney Animation and say hello to David Rippberger. He provided much of the information included in this blog and he's always happy to show guests how he adds the "magic" to Disney animation cels!
The previous post in this blog was Dining Under the Sea at the Coral Reef Restaurant.
The next post in this blog is Keeping the Disney Magic Alive.