Thursday, March 3, 2016

Disney Cels

 Ever since I was a child, watching Disney animated films, I was in awe not only of the animation but also the characters' colors. I loved the muted palette of the early features, but also the vivid color choices during the 1950s. Color model artists at the studio were geniuses, they knew color theory and how color can support personality. They also knew what the cels would look like on film. In the end each Disney film became a Techicolor extravaganza, a feast for the eyes.
That's Flannery above, the station master, from the 1954 short film Pigs is Pigs.

A full figure cel of Pinocchio, 1940. Much warmer color tones, even the blue areas are muted.

A great cel from Three little Wolves from 1936. Amazing Fred Moore animation.

A cel produced as a book illustration by the ink and paint department. That's transparent paint used for the shadows.

The finale from Dance of the Hours. Beautiful contrast between the brown hippos and the green alligators. Very little original artwork survived from from Fantasia, and you can see problem with cel paint.

1953's Toot, Whistle, Plunk and Boom's colors remind me of a refreshing fruit salad.

Nice combination of muted and bright colors on this group cel from Alice in Wonderland, 1951.

Even miscellaneous characters get outstanding color treatment.

As I mentioned before, animator Marc Davis was never happy with Maleficent's final colors. He would have much preferred a combination of black and red, instead of purple.

Most images Heritage Auctions.

More on Disney cels and the ink and paint department here:


  1. The colors are very difficult to combine?

  2. I miss cel animation so much. It saddens me that so much animation nowadays looks the same and studios aren't willing to take risks on art. One day it will come back and I cannot wait to see it.

  3. I love the cel look, but I don't think I'd ever go to the trouble of using them myself.
    I wonder if the background painters and stylists chose the colours for the characters too, as the standard colours would change depending on the scene's lighting.
    For example, I've read that Maurice Noble would choose slightly warmer or cooler greys for Bugs Bunny, to suit the scene's palette better, but I wonder if Disney's BG people had the same influence.

  4. Fantastic post. Do you have any Three Caballeros cel?

  5. Hello, Mr. Deja. I love your site and I am a huge fan of your work.

    I am an independent filmmaker based in Los Angeles, and I am currently making plans to shoot a documentary about the making of The Fox and the Hound. I've already talked to several people who worked on the film, and some have expressed interest in doing interviews for the documentary.

    Part of the reason why I think a documentary on the film's production is necessary is because so many people who worked on the film went on to become legends themselves. I also doubt that Disney will ever make their own in-depth documentary on the film because one person who currently works for Disney has actually told me that the studio has never considered The Fox and the Hound to be a "triumph" in their history.

    As a longtime fan of the film, I believe the production behind it is a story that is very much worth telling. My hope is that after I shoot all the necessary interviews for the documentary, Disney would want to use it for future Blu-Ray releases of the film. I've told an executive at Disney about the idea, and he's sent a letter about it to the Home Entertainment department, but he has warned me not to be too optimistic and that the studio probably won't be interested.

    Did you work on the film? Do you think it would be okay for me to shoot a making-of documentary about it and then try to entice Disney with all the footage later on -- even if Disney isn't interested for the time being? I would love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

    Best wishes,
    Adam Zanzie

  6. What a joy to see such wonders! The colors of Alice and Maleficent are something stunning! Ciao, Andreas!

  7. Yeah, I can see why Marc would have wanted a different color scheme for Maleficent, but the current one works pretty well.

  8. At least you got to use the black and red for Jafar later, Andreas. I presume that the choice of black and red was primarily motivated by design priorities intrinsic to "Aladdin", but even accidental homages are nice.

  9. It begs the question: how would Jafar look with a black and purple ensemble instead of black and red? I've drawn this myself, and I'm happy to report that the result is pretty damn fine, if you don't mind me saying so. Purple flatters Jafar, though perhaps not as much as red.

  10. Apparently the last company in the US that produces the vinyl paint for cel animation is going out of business.

  11. Thank you for preaching the gospel, Andreas. The new guard has to keep traditional animation alive lest it fade away into history. I, for one, don't think that is a fate worthy of one of the true American artforms. Thank you for putting this stuff out there.