A job being an animator was something I once fantasized about. The appeal of handmade drawings and traditionally painted scenes with related characters I always found comforting. As I stemmed from favorite creations of Don Bluth, Disney, and Miyazaki, however, I rolled right into anime concerning my interest in the animation industry. After I found out all the work animation entails, however –IN DETAIL—I decided to stick to more static creations. I’m an illustrator after all. (
Even if it took me 15 years to realize this ^^;)
Cels & What they’re made of
Things Have Layers
Cels in particular have always fascinated me. The mere thought of all my favorite scenes from iconic animations once started out from hundreds-of-thousands of single sheets nearly makes my head spin. That’s what cels are: thin transparencies each with a picture hand-painted onto them. The first time I dappled in painting my own cel was during my first anime convention. I was given a projector transparency with a pre-drawn, previously-inked girl from a nondescript anime show. I grabbed a row of plastic pods filled with primary colors and set to work. It was a simple exercise but I wasn’t Picasso OR Nagel. Heck—I even painted on the WRONG SIDE! Technically with cel animation –American, Korean, Japanese or otherwise –the inked line art is on the top of the transparency while the painting details are on the reverse side. One of my sources described it like a window sticker; when looked at from the outside, the image you see isn’t backwards where the details are “behind” the glass. The glass in this case is the group of inked lines.
A piece of trivia that surprises me is the fact that cel animation technically began to simplify an even earlier animation process –one that entailed redrawing the background scene as many times as say the characters or rustling foliage. Yeesh! Apparently introducing cels also aided more consistency throughout scenes. It even saved time, if that’s believable. And here I thought cel animation was the start of it all. Nope. I’m starting to doubt if even the flipbook was the first of its kind. I mean if indoor plumbing is technically ancient, then who really animated first?
Traditionally most cels, like that of Disney, were made of various plastics and the quality of production for these plastics changed over time. Some might say the quality improved over the decades, starting around the 1930s or so. One source I read stated that if not for the plastics industry, animation may not have boomed at all or at least garnered as much success as it has. Thank you, Tupperware?
Getty’s website I featured in my list of links following this post if anyone wants a further in-depth look at what different processes entail, but for the sake of this post alone, I’ll stick to bullet points. Disney, for example, during the days of creating over-budgeted, HIGHLY-expensive feature films, used cels of varying plastics. Technically four, it turns out. Types included: Cellulose nitrate, cellulose diacetate, cellulose triacetate and the all-purpose polyester. Chemical compounds and names can get confusing. You don’t have to memorize them. The POINT is that each plastic type keeps under different climate conditions. Disney used these types interchangeably. Not to mention the quality of these plastics also varied. Then there was the painting process to deal with and when pigment hit plastic, inkers and painters alike had to know how to avoid whatever chemical reaction underway that could undo long hours of hard work –and money.
Disney got cheap at times, I think, but if actually so HOW could I blame him. Big dreams? Big budget? No money? The man had a resolve that made him a friend to some and also an enemy to others –but that’s a post for another day. PRESERVING CELS! Due to these plastic types and different combos of paints, light exposure and time to name a few challenges, researchers, scientists and art collectors alike deal with these hassles all the time. And all for the voyeuristic eye. It amazes me that museums exist at all when technically nothing lasts forever. But like many things, animation holds collective memories in a lot of ways. Memories are relatable, precious and interestingly people will spend money on memories.
I honestly don’t know if the animation industry, worldwide is doing better or worse. Sure, it’s not nearly as traditional, if at all, compared to say the year 1993 or 1945. I don’t think it’d be fair of me to say it’s gone down the tube. I’m a 90-liner and because of that I got to witness a cultural transition of sorts where animation is concerned; as I mentioned in my post about Kpop and pop culture^^! If anything, critiques aside, the use of computer generated images (CGI) has increased tremendously! I still think it clashes horribly with 2D, hand-drawn images overall in many cases, but I’m an experimenter at heart. I appreciate good effort to push creative boundaries and have seen amazing work featuring both 2D and 3D graphics. I mean, not everything is about appearances, right? Perhaps the challenge of computers taking over a long-time art form means that creators can’t afford to be lazy about details or storylines? But then, can anyone afford to offer more than that?
One of my sources mentioned how the 3D animation industry and animation in general is increasingly relevant as time goes on. As far as who produces the most content internationally, I’ve no idea, but it seems Disney pumps out triple the 3D content now for children’s shows alone than it did with 2D feature films during the 90s; yearly! And since the movie industry has joined the bandwagon since then, I’m glad to see animation and artists still finding places to shine despite the changing times and mediums.
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