A cel, short for celluloid, is a transparent sheet on which objects are drawn or painted for traditional, hand-drawn animation. With the advent of computer-assisted animation production, the use of cels has been all but abandoned in major productions. The last Disney animated film to use cels in animation production was The Little Mermaid, after that Disney Studios stopped using cels in 1990 when Computer Animation Production System (CAPS) replaced this element in their animation process. Whereas the last Studio Ghibli animated film to use cels was Princess Mononoke in 1997. However, TV series animation producers kept using cels until early 2000s.
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 front of the cel while colors are painted on the back to eliminate brush strokes. Traditionally, the outlines were hand-inked but since the 60s they are almost exclusively xerographed on.
Production cels were sometimes sold after the animation process was completed. More popular shows and movies demanded higher prices for the cels, with some selling for thousands of dollars.
Some unique cels have fetched record prices at art auctions. For example, a large “pan” cel depicting numerous characters from the finale of Who Framed Roger Rabbit sold for $50,600 at Sotheby’s in 1989, including its original background.
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