|First Quality Art from the Animated Film!
|Celebrating our 38th year in
Cedar Rapids, Iowa!
|Please call or email to confirm availability when making your selection.
Our one of a kind art sells quickly and although we do our best to
keep our website up to date,
all art is subject to previous sale.
526 Bezdek Drive NW ~ Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52405
Disney Affordable Treasures
By John Cairns and Wanda Lunn
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 editions 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 rarity for your collection, not necessarily the perfect moment from the film that you
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 and painters. Also to be found are 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 white.
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 favorites.
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 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. 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 interests clearly to your animation specialist. Are you attracted to multiple character
scenes? Are your focusing 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 for you.
So take the time to sit give us a call and make up that wish list. You never know what they can find for
you unless you ask!
Wanda Lunn and John Cairns have over 35 years of experience in helping collectors acquire quality animation art. They
were instrumental in the success of Gallery Lainzberg - at one time the nations first large showcase of animation art.
They are the owners of First Animation Art in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.