Disney Affordable Treasures
By Wanda Lunn and John Cairns
One of the best kept secrets in Disney animation collecting is the variety of original
production available to collectors. Collectors who are introduced to cartoon art by
inexperienced sellers on line or at the theme parks, are often told that ‘originals’ no
longer exist. “...all the cels were washed off.” , “...the paper was mostly reused” are
some of the phrases heard by novice collectors in many stores. This makes the studio
limited edition and modern production art seemingly the only choice for them.
But what the studios don’t want you to know is that we can find many wonderful
original cels, drawings and pre-production materials. These are not acquired through
the studios, but by searching private collections around the country.
Limited edition art is attractive because it can capture an entire scene from films
with multiple characters.In contrast, production art captures a specific moment or
idea and will generally feature a single character.
Be realistic in your search. Remember, an original production cel or drawing is a way
to have a unique rarityfor your collection, not necessarily the perfect moment from
the film that you remember.
But how to judge, and what to collect? First you have to know what art is out there
and how it was used.
Here’s a quick primer:
Production cels are the finished hand painted images on clear acetate or nitrate that
were actually filmed when making the cartoons.
Production drawings will be either roughs of characters - (loose construction
drawings of the characters in motion), or clean-up drawings - (precise finished pencil
drawings ready to be transferred to cels.)
Color model drawings are like clean-ups in that they are precise finished images
used as guides in the ink and paint department to identify colors on the different
parts of the character’s body or costume.
Color Model Cels are the finished painted images used as color guides by the inkers
Concept sketches in graphite or charcoal or pastels - these are the drawings used in
planning the look of the character and sometimes vary widely from the finished image.
Storyboard sketches are small drawings, pastels or charcoals used to plot the
sequences and action in a film.
Pencil Model Sheets are a group of character sketches, either on one paper, or they
are several images cut out and mounted together on a larger sheet.
Ozalid and Lithograph Model Sheets were made in a very small number from the
original pencil model sheets. These were used as drawing guides by the animators
and in between artists.
Background layouts are sketches that will generally be in blue or gray pencil used to
create the final watercolor backgrounds.
Production Backgrounds are the actual watercolor paintings used to film with the
cels. They are especially rare and valuable.
Here are some general points to understand:
Generally, feature film cels and drawings will cost more than short films, and the
older the art, the more well known the character, the more you are likely to pay. Most
cels and drawings from the vintage era will be single character images. You also need
to understand the time periods in which the art was used and what still exists. We
like to think of vintage Disney animation art falling into 6 time periods; all under the
direction of Walt Disney himself.
The Short Film Era : 1928 - 1937
This is the time period when Disney produced hundreds of wonderful short films.
Some of your favorite characters were “born” in this era, including Mickey, Donald,
Goofy, Pluto, the Three Little Pigs and many others. Cels that still exist from this
time period are quite rare for main characters and are very sought after. Concepts,
backgrounds and model sheets will not be bargains, but good values can be found if
you concentrate on lesser characters and scenes. Keep in mind that the first color
Mickey cartoon was in 1935 and most vintage cels before that date are in black and
Best Values: Look for original pencil art of the main characters to get the best bang
for your buck. We've
seen Mickey production drawings from this era in some pretty classic images from his
short cartoons. Some very early films like Steamboat Willie, and Plane Crazy are
very rare and will be more expensive than other 1930’s films. Donald art is more
plentiful from later years, but can also fall in this same price range. For cels, search
for images of secondary and odd characters for lower prices. They can capture the
flavor of this early era and be surprisingly affordable.
1937-1949 The Early Features and the War Years
The release of Snow White in 1937 turned the page on animation art collecting. For
the first time, Disney cels and other forms of animation art were sold as fine art
through a few galleries. Thank goodness the studio decided to do this marketing from
1938 through 1945. This release saved a great number of delightful production art
that might have been reused as cost saving measures or recycled for the war effort.
This is the era that produced many favorite films including Bambi, Pinocchio, and
Fantasia and some of the less familiar such as Fun and Fancy Free and Make Mine
Music. Wonderful artwork survived in the private collections of studio employees and
many of these gems have found their way to the secondary market today. But art
from this time period is not plentiful and time and patience is necessary to find your
Best Values: This is a great time period to look for Donald Duck artwork since he
appeared in many war era films. Cels and drawings can be very good values. Look to
pencil art for main characters from the features. Snow White, Pinocchio and Bambi
can be found for much less than original cels and also in lovely poses from their
classic moments. Remember to recognize minor characters can steal the show in your
collection and are great values. Disney did lots of experimenting in this era. Concept
art can be fun and reasonable. Pencil background layouts from less known features or
shorts can be a delight and very detailed. Keep your eyes and mind open to the
unusual from these years.
The Fantasy Years 1950-1959
Disney returned to the classic fairy tale in this era, releasing such memorable
features as Cinderella,
Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland and Sleeping Beauty. Donald Duck did battle with
the famous chipmunks, Chip and Dale, and Goofy made some delightful films as an
“everyman” human-like character. The studio marketed cels through the Disneyland
Art Corner store for as little as $1.50 and many great images still exist in private
hands. Cels from Cinderella, Alice and Peter Pan tend to be a bit harder to find
since the films were released before the theme park opened in 1955.
This is the era to find great cels from the features. Most secondary characters are
very affordable and even the biggies like Alice and Cinderella are not necessarily out
of sight. Goofy is affordable and fun in this era as well as Chip and Dale. Humphrey
the Bear is always fun! Kings and Queens from the features are fun to collect and
not hard to get in a very reasonable price range for cels! Lady and the Tramp cels of
the sidekick dogs can be found for great values in most cases and even the lead
characters can be great deals. Remember that ideal portrait-like poses will push
prices up, but fun close-ups and action poses can be much more affordable.
Walt’s final films 1960-1967
Disney’s use of the new xerography outline technology changed the way cartoons
were made. 101 Dalmatians was made possible in 1961 with this new technology.
The Disney Sunday television show brought back old characters such as Tinkerbell
and Jiminy Cricket, and introduced some great new ones like Ludwig Von Drake. By
this time Disney was no longer releasing theatrical short cartoons, so some of the
best affordable art survives from television animation. Feature films with animation
include Sword in the Stone, Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book.
Look for some great classic characters in new roles. Jiminy Cricket, Mickey, Donald,
Tinkerbell and even
some of the Seven Dwarfs were used on the Disney Sunday show. Ludwig Von
Drake is a favorite from this era and can be found in cels and drawings. Sword In
The Stone cels are more affordable than 101 Dalmatians and Jungle Book. Best
bets from Dalmatians are the puppies, human and non Dalmatian dogs. From the
Jungle Book, Mowgli and Baloo and Kaa are very popular and can be found! Villains
from this era will be very reasonable compared to the Early Years.
So now you have some work to do and here’s the place to start. If you are collecting
animation art already, make an inventory of your current collection. What do you
already have hanging on your walls? What does your collection tell you about what
you like? The point is that you need to be able to communicate your on one studio,
film, or a specific group of characters? Do you see a reoccurring theme in your favorite
art? Realistic communication with your specialist will open new avenues of collecting
So take the time to sit give us a call and make up that wish list. The art on our
website is just a taste of what we have available. You never know what they can find
for you unless you ask!
Wanda Lunn has almost 40 years of experience in helping collectors acquire quality animation art.
She was instrumental in the success of Gallery Lainzberg - at one time the nations first large
showcase of animation art. She is the owner of First Animation Art in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
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