For fans of animation, collecting artwork from their favorite feature-length or short animated films is a way of bringing their passion for the medium into their homes. Knowing the history of how animation was produced can help you understand the difference between the two primary kinds of animation artwork you’re likely to find on the market—cels and sericels—and why their relative value can vary considerably.
Prior to the advent of digital technology, animated movies were hand-drawn. The term cel is short for “celluloid,” and refers to the transparent sheets that characters were drawn on to create each frame of a movie. The outline of the character or characters in that frame would be hand-drawn on the front and then the colors painted on the back, and the entire cel shot against a static painted background for the scene. Each frame had to be painstakingly drawn and shot, one at a time. A single animated feature usually required around 100,000 cels.
This type of cel, which was used in the actual production of a movie, is known as a production cel. Studios often sold them off as collectibles after animated films were completed. However, the advent of digital technology eliminated the use of production cels—Disney has not used them since 1990, and other animation studios phased them out over the course of the following fifteen years. The worth of these one-of-a-kind items can vary considerably based on the rarity of the image, the popularity of the film or character it depicts, and the condition of the cel, but it’s not unusual to pay thousands of dollars for one piece.
Major studios recognized that demand for cels—a physical memento of favorite films or animated characters—did not diminish because the process that produced them had been left behind. Cels are still produced in limited editions for collectors. While these cels, created with the needs of aficionados in mind, tend to be more affordable than production cels, they can be quite pricey in their own right, depending on the size of the production run, the degree to which they are hand-drawn and -painted, and if they are signed.
Sericels are the most affordable option for collectors who enjoy the look of cels but do not have an unlimited budget. These images are mechanically produced with silk-screened color, which brings the cost for a collector down significantly. Some sericels are produced solely in limited editions, which can increase their price depending on how restricted the run is. Sericels may also be sold without the background that typically accompanies a limited edition cel.
The key to enjoying a collection of animation art is to know what you’re purchasing before you buy, and to prioritize your personal enjoyment of your collection. For savvy collectors, the lvie online auction at AuctionKing.com offers an opportunity to find animation art at a fraction of the prices you’ll see at commercial galleries. Sign up for a free account and check it out today.