Collecting Animation Art

Collecting animation art has become a highly-regarded and pleasurable way to appreciate a cherished art form, touch one’s childhood and invest in a commodity that not only continues to appreciate in value, but is admired the world over.

People sometimes ask: Isn’t it too late to get into animation art collecting? What if most of the good art is gone? Are prices so high there’s no chance for someone who’s just starting? The truth is, no, it’s not too late. For one thing, 1440 individual cels are produced for each minute of full animation, and this doesn’t include behind-the-scenes art, such as drawings and models. Limited animation produces fewer frames of art, hence the name, but with over 86,000 pieces of art produced for a 60-minute film, a shortage doesn’t seem likely. And, keep in mind, art released today becomes tomorrow’s vintage art. Also, art keeps circulating as collectors buy, sell and trade. The piece that someone else is willing to part with in order to buy something else may be just what you’re looking for.
You can become as much of an expert as you want to be in this fascinating field, but in general animation art collectors are freer than traditional fine art collectors to simply enjoy their acquisitions. They are not encumbered by having to learn layers of arcane information, such as the fine points of different schools of art, cross influences of artists over the centuries or national differences in style. Animation as a film-making process is little more than 80 years old and its fine points are easily grasped by an earnest collector.
Then, too, the world of animation is a manageable one. Disney, Warner Bros., MGM, and Fleischer are the long-time familiars in classic animation, and newer studios are easy to know as you become acquainted with their productions. Television animation is yet another source of art, with not only animated programs to choose from, but commercials for everything from breakfast foods to toys as well. Although studios that produce commercials are less well known, they produce art that is wonderfully recognizable, a lot of fun and highly collectible.
Collections consist of almost all kinds of art. Some collectors prefer to focus on Disney and others favor art from a variety of studios. Some attempt to capture a cel of every major character from each of the films of their favorite studio, while others try to amass as many pieces of art from a single film as possible, or focus on types of characters, such as cats or children. One collector, for example, has an impressive array of Black Pete art, spanning his career from Mickey’s Christmas Carol all the way back to the 40’s. His goal is to one day find a Pete from animation’s black and white days. By focusing on a narrow range, he has been able to build an important and highly individualistic collection.
To add to the mix, there are many different kinds of animation art. Cels, drawings, color models, backgrounds, special effects, character model sheets, the list goes on and on, and offers a rich variety from which to choose. Each one of these types of art represents a different level of investment for the collector. While a collector might not be able to start with vintage production cels, drawings, for example, offer the same artistry, history and excitement for much less money. A well-selected collection of less valuable art offers the means to trade up, too.
Gaining in popularity is the gallery or limited edition cel. Disney, for instance, has been producing limited edition cels using original drawings from classic films since 1973. The poses of the characters are optimal and the look and style of the film is re-created, so that a collector is offered another way of obtaining cel images from classic films. “Limited edition” means the cels are produced in pre-set quantities, such as 275, and as each edition is sold out, the value of the investment tends to increase. Limited edition sets from the beginning of the program already sold out are in great demand today. Disney limited editions are available in the Disney theme parks and Disney stores, as well as through selected dealers across the country.
No matter what interests you, the more you know, the more you’ll be able to enjoy the adventure of collecting. Take time to learn about animation art. Take time to discover your own preferences. Ask lots of questions and get to know everyone. If you’re unsure about a specific aspect of collecting feel free to call. We’re always delighted to give you a hand. And, above all, have fun.
Reading suggestions:

  • Tumbusch, Tom, Tomart’s Illustrated Disneyana Catalog and Price Guide, Tomart Publications, Dayton, Ohio, 1989. While it covers all of Disneyana, the new condensed guide includes an excellent, authoritative section on animation art.
  • Thomas, Frank and Ollie Johnston, Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life, Abbeville Press, New York, 1981. Indisputably the definitive volume on Disney animation. A wealth of information and a treasure house of animation art. This book is out of print and hard to find, but worth it.
  • Solomon, Charles and Ron Stark, The Complete Kodak Animation Book, Eastman Kodak Company, Rochester, New York, 1983. Complete coverage of the field of animation, including history, production, career opportunities, do-it-yourself animation, and animation around the world. Another out-of-print, but worth getting, book.