artistic value and historical significance.
Origin of the Term 'Cel'
The term cel is derived from cellulose nitrate. This is the original material on which many of the early animated cartoons were painted. Cellulose nitrate is flammable and combustible by nature and over time will turn yellow and shrink. After 1950, cellulose nitrate was no longer used, but the term cel has endured to denote the thin transparent sheet of plastic material used to create animated cartoons and films.
In technical terms, "animation is a medium of caricature based upon exaggerated depictions of actions and expressions. All animated actions are illusions of motion because the movements do not and cannot exist except on film." The main individuals who contribute to the initial creation of animated life are the scriptwriter and the animation director. The writer must develop a story with plot, pacing, structure, and characterization. The director is the artistic head of the project. He is the one who takes the story from the writer and makes the magic happen. The director interprets the script, communicates his wishes to the animators, oversees the day-to-day work of the studio and approves the final designs.
The storyboard was developed to illustrate the cartoon from beginning to end in sketch format. Every crucial scene is drawn in semi-detail form on cards and pinned in sequence on a board to allow the director to visualize the finished cartoon. This is the first level of editing and the most critical. Animation is a very expensive and time consuming process and any scenes or movements that are not critical to the story development need to be removed.
Animating by Sound
The voices, sound effects and music are put on a tape and sent to the animation department where the animation begins. The animators work from a soundtrack by drawing the movements of each character in pencil. The lead animators will do the important, height-of-sequence or extreme drawings, while the assistant animators or in-betweeners will do the additional drawings needed to complete the animation scene.
For each individual movement, a new pencil drawing must be created. A clean-up artist takes the original pencil drawings and smoothes over the lines to give completeness to the drawing. This is where the fine detail is added. However, the lines need to be consistent with and conform to the original animator's drawing. When completed, photographed, and replayed the illusion of movement is created.
The first step in producing the cels is to take the animator's drawings and transfer them to the front of the translucent plastic sheets.
Early in animation history, the animation drawings were traced onto the cels by hand. This was a very time consuming process and had to be checked and rechecked until it was approved. In the 1960's Xerox developed a process by which the original animator's drawings could be photographed and chemically transferred to the cels. This saved time and improved quality.
After the drawings are traced or transferred onto the front of the cels, the cels are sent to the painting department where they are carefully turned over and expertly painted. Animation cels are rare and unique works of art because brush marks must not appear, the paint must just touch the lines without any gaps and the paint cannot go over the lines. Various techniques such as airbrushing and dry brushing are used as well as translucent paints and coloured inks and pens to give the cel the special effect needed for a particular animation scene. When using different types of paint it is very important to maintain consistency throughout the painting process because minor changes in the colour or style are very noticeable to the human eye.
The backgrounds are the animated character's stage. The backgrounds are usually painted by a separate set of traditional artists who are hired for a specific movie or cartoon. The backgrounds are designed to allow the animated characters plenty of movement and must not distract from the main characters. Many of the backgrounds are designed to highlight the cels and must be designed with forethought and special effects to produce the desired scene. The background is usually the bottom most item in the camera set-up or it can be a three-dimensional model which is rotated behind the cels. The characters can either be photographed several times in different positions across the backgrounds or stationary while the background moves.
In addition to backgrounds, foregrounds are used to create the true-to-life aspects of animated movies. Foregrounds also allow the animators to cut back in the detailed drawings, since only a fraction of the celluloid character will be seen behind a foreground. In order to create three-dimensional shots, many cels, foregrounds, and backgrounds are used at different depth levels from the camera to create the desired effect. The multi-plane camera is used for three-dimensional filming.
As they are working on a scene, a key animator will usually prepare a pencil test of the scene. A pencil test is a preliminary version of the final animated scene; the pencil drawings are quickly photographed or scanned and synced with the necessary soundtracks. This allows the animation to be reviewed and improved upon before passing the work on to his assistant animators, who will go add details and some of the missing frames in the scene.
Once the key animation is approved, the lead animator forwards the scene on to the clean-up department, made up of the clean-up animators and the inbetweeners. The clean-up animators take the lead and assistant animators' drawings and trace them onto a new sheet of paper, taking care in including all of the details present on the original model sheets, so that it appears that one person animated the entire film. The inbetweeners will draw in whatever frames are still missing in between the other animators' drawings. The resulting drawings are again pencil-tested and sweatboxed until they meet approval.
Types of Cels
Depending upon the age and origin of the cel, there are three basic classifications of animation artwork.
An original production cel is the actual cel that was hand-painted and photographed for a cartoon or movie. This is a one-of-a-kind painting that holds with it all of the magic that was necessary to bring the still life character to action. The cel can be made of nitrate or acetate and either be hand-inked or chemically inked depending on the studio and the age of the cel. These cels were not created for collecting. Therefore, they are fragile and need to have additional precautions taken to ensure their lasting quality.
A limited edition cel is a recreation of an original production cel or a hand-tailored cel depicting a favourite character in a special scene. They are inked and hand-painted the same as the original production cels. Limited edition cels are created for collecting and a lifetime of viewing pleasure. With the decreasing availability of original production cels, limited edition cels are becoming more popular and highly valued.
Serigraph refers to a silk-screening process by which the original cel is used to create a set of stencils or screens, one for each colour. The screens are placed over a clear Mylar sheet and the paint is spread over the top of the screen. Holes in the screen allow the paint to pass through and adhere to the Mylar sheet. After each colour dries, a new screen and colour are used until the entire image is completed. Once the serigraphed image is finished it is checked for consistency, colour and clarity with the original cel and then approved for printing.
A giclee (ji-CLAY) is an individually produced, high-resolution, high- fidelity reproduction done on a special large format printer. Giclees are produced from digital scans of existing artwork. Also, since many studio's now produce only digital art (For example PIXAR), there is no "original" that can be hung on a wall. Giclees solve that problem, while creating a whole new vibrant medium for art.
Giclees can be printed on any number of media, from canvas to watercolor paper to transparent acetates. Giclees are superior to traditional lithography in several ways. The colors are brighter, last longer, and are so high-resolution that they are virtually continuous tone, rather than tiny dots. The range, or "gamut" of color for giclees is far beyond that of lithography, and details are crisper.