Collectibles are increasingly popular as a vehicle for investment. It’s not hard to see why: not only do you get an asset that accumulates in value, but you also get something that’s a great display piece too! Really, it’s an outgrowth of the centuries old passion of collecting art. The collecting of animation cels is the purest form of that comparison, as each hand-drawn frame is both unique and a pop cultural treasure. Futher, fewer and fewer movies and TV shows actually use the true “old ways” of animating. This makes genuine, hand-painted animation cels a more limited commodity. But what makes any particular animation cel valuable?
Anatomy of an Animation Cel
To answer that question, we first must look at what animation cels actually are. “Cel” is short for “celluloid”, the plastic material onto which pencil images were inked and colored. These clear sheets are placed over a fully painted background. If there were multiple characters in a scene, or a character was in closeup, different components of the scene might be drawn on different cels. These elements are then layered together to compose the desired scene.
For example, picture a character addressing a crowd. The crowd doesn’t have to move nearly as much as the character speaking, so separating them onto two different celluloid sheets prevents having to redraw the crowd for every single movement of the speaker. Likewise, a character in closeup may have the individual elements of their face drawn on different sheets. That lets the overall head stay the same while the mouth and eyes move.
Those factors result in a great many permutations of animation cels. They are all collectible to some extent, but they are not all equally valuable. What traits make an animation cel notably valuable?
What To Look For
The components of a valuable animation cel are deceptively simple. It should feature a recognizable character, in the foreground, facing the camera, eyes open, in a decent pose, and with the proper background. While that sounds like an easy thing to find, the reason those cels hold value is because they aren’t.
Have you ever been the subject of a bad photo? Maybe you blinked or were caught mid-gesture or weren’t looking at the camera – whatever it was, the camera didn’t capture you at your best. Well, animation requires dozens of frames where the character’s not looking their best to create smooth, naturalistic movement. Further, the reusability of backgrounds means that not every cel can be matched to their background when sold. And that’s before we get into the pitfalls of closeups, which result in many sheets of celluloid featuring disembodied faces!
Collecting Animation Cels
Remember, a cel featuring no background or a slightly off pose isn’t worthless. It’s just not as valuable as one that’s composed akin to an art print. Folks looking to get into collecting animation cels should be sure to keep an eye on all the places Back to the Past sells its wares – we’ve got some fantastic specimens for sale now with more on the way! In fact, we havebrand new virtual gallery, GoBackToThePast.Shop, full of one-of-a-kind art! If you have collection that you’re ready to part with, please get in touch with us – we can help you get top dollar for it.
Got a particular character or cartoon you’re looking for? Let us know in the comments or on social media @b2pcollect – we might just be able to hook you up!