The Limited Edition Animation Cel vs. The Original Production Animation Cel.
Updated: Jan 17
Why purchase a limited edition animation cel vs. an original animation production cel?
For the sake of this comparison, we will be discussing Western animation and hand painted cels.
Not serigraphs or sericels or anything not hand painted on a celluloid.
So there are literally thousands of animation shorts and films. Some you haven't heard of, some beyond your generation and some you will never hear about. The use of hand painted production cels started to faze out after Disney's the Little Mermaid movie. Computers started becoming a sophisticated enough medium to produce animation at a lower cost. So as you will find millions of production cels out there, there are a smaller collection of limited editions. The limited edition is mainly focused on characters that are strong enough to test time and recognizable by most cartoon fans. In production cels you will find a smaller percentage of main characters and many obscure characters and scenes that mainly appeal to the hardcore collector.
Casual collectors and hardcore collectors. You might look at it like a music fan that enjoys new music and listens to the songs that make them feel good, jump around with a beat or have deep lyrics they crave. A hardcore music fan might be someone that hunts down old studio tracks or rare
albums/tracks of a specific song artist. Hardcore collectors often get bored after collecting for a long time and look for items super difficult to find. And those items are often for a very small interested group and very pricey.
So, both types of cels have an appeal to collectors. But what makes the limited edition appealing versus the production cel? A limited edition animation cel is mostly designed and originally drawn by the master animator, so you are getting an image straight from the man (or woman). Like the production cel, the limited edition inked lines are serigraph-ed to a celluloid sheet and then hand painted on the reverse side. A production cel will have the serigraph's lines drawn by many different artists working under the Master animator's model sheet guides. So you get an a cel generally drawn in the boundaries set and approved by the director/master animator.
The production cels are produced in mass amounts. Generally 24 cels per second in the early part of last century to 60 frames per second for a smooth effect. So a moment in a cartoon could have had 1440 cels per 1 minute or 3600! There are literally hundreds of thousands in an animation film at times. It's quite an amazing amount of work!
The limited edition is just that, limited. You will find signed editions generally range from 50 to 750 pieces for the most part. Commonly 10-12% additional portions are also made as artist proofs and other specialty editions from that limited edition. While originally, production cels often don't have a seal of authenticity unless a studio handling them applies it later, limited editions cels generally always do and will include the number of the edition size on the front of the cel.
The production cel can come to you in a multitude of ways, without a background, a copy of the original background, the original background, a copy of a different and unrelated cartoon background. Sometimes multiple cels are needed to create the entire picture. You might get 3 cels and an original background (master key set up) or one cel and a black piece of paper behind it. Limited edition hand painted cels are just one cel and have a specific background scene for every piece. There are some in the 80's that didn't have backgrounds, but for the most part, they do these days.
The production cel generally has a size limit. The image for still shots is generally 10.5 x 12.5 inches unless it's a pan cel (same height but a longer width). This is so the camera can take the still shot. After background is added and such, the stacked materials can be also be about 12.5 x 16.5 inches in size. The limited edition hand painted cel can vary to whatever the animator's preference is. Many limited editions were done in a smaller size to mimic production sizes in the early days, but they have since been created in a variety of sizes. The dominant sizes in production cels are called 12 field cels and that is referring to the inches in size.
A production cel is a piece that has been used in the actual animation. That's really it's strongest appeal. It's obviously nice to hold a physical piece from a show you watched and loved. But finding a prime scene from the show is often impossible and very expensive these days. A limited edition is either a representation of a prime and memorable scene or something the animator has come up with that was never seen in a animation show. If you are looking for a majestic production piece of Sleeping Beauty being kissed by the prince, you can conclude now that it was either destroyed, it was archived in a secret Disney vault that you'll never see, or someone out there has one and there and no price they would part with it except something ridiculous you aren't going to offer. But as a limited edition, you may be able to find it, even larger than the original production cel and for a far less ridiculous price.
A limited edition cel has it's limits though in age. Master animators weren't creating them for resale until the 1970's for the most apart. That is because they didn't see a value like people see today. You can find production cels from the 1920's and up. The earliest animation ever was 1908.
When I say you can find them from 1920's...good luck! Because the classics of the early days mostly didn't get saved. Celluloid was considered expensive to replace and the animation crews washed and cleaned the celluloid to repaint for the next animation they made. If not reusable, they
would just be thrown out or made in to slip-and-slides for a little work place stress relief.
So there was a period where a value was starting to be seen in saving them and studios made enough to do that and then animators started having ideas of selling limited editions for a retail profit.
What has more value or what will have more value in the future?
There is personal value and there is monetary value. If you collect what you love, there will always be personal value. You can look them over and reminisce. If you want monetary value, that comes from availability and demand. Demand can change and sometimes availability can also. So if
you ask what Dow Jones stock is going to triple in price in the next 10 years, we all wish we had that crystal ball. Hence, you are just better off collecting what you love, you'll be so much happier when spending your money. I hope this has given you an insight to some degree in the world of animation and hand painted cels. Of course there are people with varying
opinions in the world on literally every issue. but this will at least give you something to gnaw on.
Till next time, that's all folks!
You can always find us at Animation America