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. This comment has been removed by the author.

  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.