Collecting Animation Artwork

Collecting animation art is the main Disney thing I do. I primarily collect original (production) and limited edition (reproduction) cels of Disney heroines (or "cute Disney chicks" as my wife calls them). You can see my collection.

How I got started collecting animation art...

In the Fall 1993 issue of the Disney Magazine (then the Disney News) I read an article about collecting the artwork used in the production of the animated films. Something became unhinged in my brain and I started down the path of no return. The article, A Suitor for Snow White, or... Memoirs of a Devoted Collector, by and about Steve Ison, described Steve's growing obsession with collecting artwork from Snow White. From this article, you'd think Steve was a normal guy who got sucked in a little too far. Only much later was I to learn that Steve was one of the pre-eminent collectors, that he built an entire gallery just to house and display the hundreds of Snow White pieces he had, that when Disney's Hyperion publishing house brought out the book Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - An Art in Its Making (by Krause & Witkowski, 1994) its 200 pages (of mostly just artwork) was drawn solely from Stephen Ison's collection, and that Steve Was Not Normal. Since I unwittingly adopted him as my role model at an early stage, this explains a lot. :-)

Types of animation art

Animation art comes in two basic forms: original and reproduction. Original refers to artwork actually used in the production of a film. Reproductions are done after the fact, usually in a limited edition run.

How production animation art is created:

Prior to the (continuing) adoption of computers, animation was done entirely by hand in the following fashion:

Belle & GastonConcepts were worked out first in concept art which gave a flavor of the characters & backgrounds, then in rough storyboard sketches which depicted key scenes throughout the entire story. These sketches were posted in order on a large cork board to work out the flow of the picture. Each scene would then have a layout drawing that shows the scale, perspective, and elements of the background; the size of characters and their path of action are also indicated. From this a watercolor background drawing was made.

Each character was assigned an animator who would do rough drawings in pencil of the key frames for that character in each scene (the frames that depicted extremes in action or expression). Assistant animators then rework these by removing the extraneous lines the animator used to help layout size & proportion, resulting in clean-up drawings. Additional drawings for the frames between the key frames were drawn by assistant animators or by inbetweeners.

Each frame's clean-up drawing was then transferred to a cel, a clear sheet of celluloid. First the inkers would trace the outline of the characters onto the front of the cel. Then the painters would paint the character colors onto the back of the cel. Frequently each character in a frame appeared on a separate cel; multiple cels were layered ontop of the background (called a cel setup) and the frame was photographed.

Starting with Beauty and the Beast, computers are used to produce almost all of Disney's new animation movies. Humans still draw (most of) the characters and backgrounds, but the drawings are scanned into a computer and then colored. Each frame of animation is then composited (characters onto background) and rendered by the computer directly onto film; cels are no longer created.

How reproduction animation art is created:

There are three types of reproduction cels:

Purchasing Animation Art

Picture of Mickey MouseOriginal (production) animation art is available only on the after-market, through galleries or auctions. Prices range from $500 for TV series production cels, through $5,000 - 15,000 for movie cels, up to $20,000 - 50,000+ for movie cels with original backgrounds.

Reproduction animation art is available directly from the creators (Disney, Warner Bros., etc.), their outlet stores, as well as the after-market. Prices range from $250 - $500 for sericels, through $1500 - $3000 for xerographic-lined, hand-painted cels, to $3000 - $5000 for hand-inked, hand-painted cels.

Animation Art Bibliography

Newbies: So you're thinking about starting to collect animation art, but you don't know where to start. What is it? How can I buy it? How can I sell it? How come prices seem to vary so much? How are prices determined? How can I be sure the artwork is genuine? Where do dealers get this stuff? You need to run out and get a copy of one or both of:

The Happy Art - A Collectors' Guide to Animation by Ken Veit, 1996. Order from: 8021 North 68th Street, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253. 1-888-MRMAGOO (toll free). $11.95 at the time of this writing.

Sotheby's Guide to Animation Art by Christoper Finch and Linda Rosenkrantz, 1998.

Then you need to subscribe to:

CELMAIL is a free weekly Internet mailing list publication consisting of postings from cel collectors & galleries. A great place to ask questions, learn, or share your experience & enthusiasm.

After that you should investigate the following resources...

Animation Art Glossary of Terms.

The care & handling of animation cels.

The International Animated Film Society is for those who make and/or enjoy animated films.

Walt Disney's Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs - An Art in Its Making by Martin Krause & Linda Witkowski, Hyperion, New York,1994.

This describes animation art in general and in the context of creating the movie Snow White. It's collection of animation art photographs from the movie is wonderful.

The Illusion of Life: Disney Animation by Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston, Hyperion, New York, 1981.

Written by two of the "nine old men" (the original Disney animators), this describes the animation process in detail. Useful to train animators and enjoyable for the rest of us to read.

For general `Toon knowledge, check out Don Markstein's Toonopedia.


Animation Art Collections

If you want to see some examples of animation art, you can view the following personal collections:

Learn more about my Disney Obsession.

More about me.

Problems? Feedback? Send me e-mail.