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IS IT WORTH RESTORING?

“Is it worth restoring?” That is the single question we are asked with increasing frequency about all types of animation art. The answer isn’t as easy as you think.

Those in the “know” have, until now, thought only about current value vs. cost of restoration as a rule of thumb. The issue has amounted to: If the cost of restoration exceeds the current value of the art, then forget it.

Armed with a solid history to look back upon, that approach is badly flawed and damning to the collecting experience going forward.

IT ALL STARTED IN 1984

The golden age of animation ended in 1969 or thereabouts. It wasn’t until 1984 that the art form gained serious public interest and collector preferences began to mature. At the same time, studios were making the slow transition from the analog age of cel animation to the digital age. The use of cels in the production process was slowly disappearing. Interestingly, the same kind of transition occurred about 20 years earlier when studios left hand inking behind and changed to the now-customary xerographic system of transferring drawings to cels. Today, studios no longer use cels except for making limited editions, if they make them at all. Cels, drawings, backgrounds and the other products from the hand drawn era are now the tangible antiquities of animation’s history.

Prior to 1977 studios were able to make or remake any artwork they wanted. The value of animation art remained modest, as it had not yet begun its stellar climb in interest and collectability. The small number of collectors that existed at that time could select from literally thousands of pieces of art in the marketplace. The public’s discovery of animation art wouldn’t happen for another seven years. So, even the idea of conservation or restoration was hardly of interest, let alone something collectors would be concerned with. To put this in perspective, studios donated art to the animation society to raise money, and the society in turn sold production cels, backgrounds and matching drawings for $5 a box.

In fact, conservation of the entire realm of 20th Century objects was not a concern of most museum conservators. There were simply too many objects much older demanding their attention to be concerned about newer items. For animation art, the first conservation effort happened with the creation of the Search & Rescue Team project of the animation society in 1977. The S/R project was originally conceived as a peripheral service to help members locate art to acquire, “Search,” and to restore the Society’s tiny art archive, “Rescue.” Within a few years the project would become S/R Laboratories Animation Art Conservation Center. Forty years later S/R is still the only animation art conservation center in the world.

RESTORATION FOR TODAY AND TOMORROW

There are two ways to view restoration: “restoration for today,” wherein your artwork is as valuable or more valuable than the cost of service, and “restoration for tomorrow,” keeping your art in good condition so it will accrue in value as time passes and will be worth more in the future. I am not addressing here the many ways to determine “value.” Sentimental value, historic value, and personal preference all play a part in the decision to extend the art’s longevity.

HISTORY TELLS US MUCH

If the past is any clue, we know that if your artwork is in good condition and is maintained, its value will accrue or go up. Perhaps it won’t become more valuable as fast as you’d like, but it will increase with time. The opposite is true as well. Allowed to deteriorate and your art’s value will decline even faster. Deterioration feeds on itself. The longer one waits the more difficult it is to effect a satisfactory restoration.

We also know the truth of the old adage that what’s old will become new in no time at all. Longevity is the key to value, the key to longevity is condition, and the key to condition is conservation.

IN THE MIDST OF IT ALL

As the studios cast off their unwanted and tired production materials and methods, we thought about those materials and methods, much as collectors think about the art made from them. Some cast-off studio techniques were obscure, some impossible to replicate without, say, the right kind of airbrush. Making some paints or inks required vintage or expensive equipment to replicate or pigments no longer obtainable. The passion for the past was our present and it became the gift of our future. As it turns out, that’s now what’s important to you and your collection. We have the airbrushes thanks to our long-time sponsors at the Paasche Airbrush Company. We have the actual wood veneer used to make the beautiful backgrounds for the Snow White art Disney created as lobby cards and the Courvoisier Galleries® art sold to the public, and so very much more. We have it all.

SHE WILL JUST KEEP TRYING

As cels slowly began to fade from the production process, so did the inkers and painters who created them. As they retired, there have been some very skilled and experienced artists who have attempted to service the art they or their predecessors created. But here is the catch: the art that was created is not what the art has become over time. The environment, mishandling, and a host of other issues figure into how any object ages. What it once was is in no regard to what it is today. The well-intentioned craftspeople have always worked on new art. They have no experience with vintage art. To put it in everyday terms, you can’t treat a Model T automobile as you would a new car.

Here is a true story that might throw light on a myriad of issues. An older woman called S/R Labs not long ago and asked to speak to a conservator. I took the call. She said, “I have a Snow White cel. It has some dirt on it and I would like to have it removed. Can you do that?” I responded, “We usually can. Do you know what the ‘dirt’ is? She said she didn’t. I invited her to make an appointment and bring in the art for exam. She demurred, saying, “I am a retired painter. I am trying to restore the cel. I figure if you can get it off then it’s possible. I will keep trying. Thank you.” She abruptly hung up. Trying? Trying with what? She had no way to determine the composition of what she thinks of as dirt and was not even thinking about the condition of the cel itself and how it would respond to treatment. She was clearly well over her head in knowing how to address the problem. I wanted to say, “don’t try this at home” but she was gone.

GOING FORWARD

We are proud to be the depository of the many special techniques, materials, and unique methods of animation’s golden age. In fact, we still make Disney inks and paints, using original techniques and materials, just as they were made every day back then. Covering every base, we digitized the entire Disney color system for the Walt Disney Company, so the knowledge would never be in danger of being lost again. Historic Courvoisier Galleries® of San Francisco and all its secrets is now part of S/R Labs. And, we are glad to report, S/R is the only source in the world that can repair or delaminate previously laminated cels. Lamination was a nice idea at the time, in the 80s and 90s, but like nail polish on cels and all the other home remedies that should never have been tried but were, it turned out to be just the opposite. What’s more, we work with art of all of the golden age studios: Warner Bros., Fleischer, MGM, Lantz, Schlesinger, Hanna-Barbera, Filmation, MGM, 20th Century Fox, Ruby-Spears, DIC, and all the others. In recent years, we have made Anime a specialty, as well.

At S/R Labs, the technical history of animation, from its golden age on into the digital age, is well remembered and fully documented, as is how the art that defined it was made, and remade, over time.

So, is it worth restoring? We think you know the answer.

What are you waiting for?

©2018 SRL-all rights reserved.

Can you? WE CAN!

It’s no secret that since 1977, S/R Laboratories has been renowned for out expert in animation art, restoration, and conservation. But you will be delighted to know we are also famous for our skill in taking care of all your other conservation needs as well.

  • PORCELAIN, ACRYLIC, AND CERAMIC
  • WORKS ON CANVAS OR PAPER
  • OIL, PASTEL, OR WATERCOLOR PAINTINGS
  • POSTERS AND HALF SHEETS
  • PHOTOS and PRINTS OR NEGS AND POSITIVES
  • DIGITAL IMAGING AND GICLÉE PRINTING
  • CUSTOM FRAMING AND MOUNTING

 

All of you conservation, restoration, and appraisal needs met in one place!

For more information, call (818) 991-9955.


WHAT WAS WAS AND, CONTRARIWISE, WHAT ISN’T ISN’T

The oldest cels we were focused on in 1976 and 1977, when S/R began, were already more than 50 years past their prime. It wasn’t until the 1984 animation art boom that we were beginning to ask the hard conservation questions, but at that time we really had no answers.

When I started the Search and Rescue project of the Animation Society, which became S/R Labs, no one had even begun to take notice of how animation art was aging. In fact, almost all 20th Century objects were ignored in deference to antiquities of earlier centuries. The 20th century was barely old enough to command attention.

Now, with the 20th century solidly behind us, conservators everywhere are turning their attention to its concerns. Contemporary art, mod-style furniture like bean bags, radio and television housings and cabinets, and just about any “modern” object you can name, including telephones and kid’s toys, are made of unique plastics and materials previously unheard of and posing questions conservation is just beginning to answer.

Many manufacturers of 20th century objects were small businesses. They left no legacy except the products themselves, which were made and sold for a very short time. Larger companies have proven to be worse in many ways, as their production methods and materials are often claimed to be proprietary. Revealing such “trade secrets” that might expose the use of, say, toxic materials, could potentially leave the company open to a liability lawsuit.

JUST GO AWAY

Closer to home, all too many suppliers of inks, paints, and cels to the animation industry have fallen by the wayside, adding to the difficulty of addressing some conservation issues. Hanna-Barbera’s paint manufacturer, for example, sold his company to a father/son team. When they, in turn, saw the end of hand-painted cels in sight, due to the advent of the computer, they decided they would rather “pack up and go away” than sell their formulas. We know because we made an offer. Not interested in selling or licensing their formulas, they, indeed, packed up and went out of business. In the event, S/R managed to purchase ample supplies of their paint.

A similar thing happened with the long-established Duel-Clean Cloth used by Hanna-Barbera to clean cels and reduce surface static electricity. Bill Hanna called S/R one day and said Dual-Clean was going out of business and wanted to know if we knew how to make the product. Good question. We called the president of Dual-Clean with an offer to license the rights to produce it. “Nope,” he said. “For now, no one is getting or licensing anything from me.” In short, we were told to go away. We did go away, and created the Genie Wipe©, which essentially did everything the Dual-Clean cloth did, with some added features. It’s still available today and sold in the art and framing market. Of course, we produce the Genie Wipe for our own in-house use as well.

As with the Genie Wipe, S/R also makes its own inks and paints. Colors once seen only in cartoons and animated features are made here from the original formulas for conservation purposes.

We try many different kinds of products to achieve our results. The old studio chemists were clever chaps who used unconventional methods to create the many techniques we think of as Disney, Warner, or Fleischer special effects, and we had to be clever in turn to re-create them for conservation purposes. As with shadow paint, a Disney specialty, knowing what’s in a paint doesn’t guarantee knowing how its applied.

SORRY, YOUR SUPPLIES AND EQUIPMENT ARE NO LONGER AVAILABLE

Even the airbrushes used to create such visual effects as smoke or steam are no longer available. Not long ago our long-time sponsor, the Paasche Airbrush Company, called to say their historic AB airbrush would soon no longer be made. It is a unique turbo airbrush used by famous airbrush artists such as Vargas and Bill Lane, and was used exclusively by Disney. It is such a fine and unique instrument that it is made as both right-hand and left-hand models. We were fortunate enough to obtain enough airbrushes to do our work well into the future.

You may know that S/R Laboratories is home to Courvoisier Galleries® of San Francisco. Courvoisier, the first name in Disney art, released some of Walt’s finest art ever created to the public, beginning with Snow White in 1938. The Courvoisier unit at the Disney Studio is famous to this day for the unique and innovative backgrounds they created for their cel set-ups. While cels are plentiful in a film, the hand-painted backgrounds are not. One background was often used for several scenes in a film, serving literally thousands of cels. To fill the gap the artists created fanciful backgrounds using everything from decorative wrapping paper to genuine wood veneer. The wood veneer was made in Japan. And, while the original seller has been known to us for years, the Japanese supplier is long gone, making it virtually impossible to re-create a wood background on authentic material. Or so we thought. And, if you’re wondering about the wrapping paper? We have that too!

A RACE AGAINST TIME

There are literally hundreds of wood types that theoretically could be adapted for Courvoisier-style backgrounds. The key word is theoretically, as most are no more than wooden planks, as opposed to the beautifully-produced, paper-thin wood veneer used at the Disney Studios in the 1940s. And, as we found out, even if the wood is available as a veneer, knowing the correct type of wood is the key. For over 25 years we searched for the exact wood used. It wasn’t until a veteran of the decorative wood industry took an interest in our needs that we were able to locate the precise variety. Miraculously, it is still produced as a veneer almost exactly as it had been 80 years ago. Last year, in 2016, that fellow retired. The time window closed. Such matters are truly a race against time.

TIME CHANGES EVERYTHING

The point; when an answer finally seems right for the conservation questions at hand, it is often achieved late in the game. Even when we know exactly what is needed, it frequently is no longer available. And, while some things can be substituted, there is no substitute for the real thing. And when that happens we make it.

In short, time changes everything, and we, as conservators, must make changes in how we approach our work. The artwork itself changes, too, and presents challenges that are often unexpected and cannot be foreseen.

HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO

Keeping tabs or tracking the condition of your artwork is vital, and you can do it by keeping your art where you can see it. Keeping it in a closet or, worse, the garage, is neglect, plain and simple. Keep a notpad with the dates you last checked your art. Every three or four months is ideal.

Thanks to our sponsors and more than 40 years of continuous hard work we are best equipped to answer the needs of your art collecting now and in the future. We will continue to seek answers to the tough questions and when you ask them we’ll do our best to have real answers for you.

 

 

THANK YOU, JUNE FORAY

If I hadn’t met June Foray there would have been no Search and Rescue Team project of the animation society. And, if there had been no Search and Rescue Team there would be no S/R Laboratories today. Here’s how it happened.

I was the radio/TV/film producer for the American Heart Association from 1976 until three months before the 1984 Olympics. Heart relied on a strong volunteer base to help accomplish its mission of saving lives. Part of that effort was teaching CPR to anybody and everybody who wanted to learn it. June Foray, one of Heart’s valuable volunteers, had taken and passed the CPR class.

IT WAS A CRAZY IDEA

It was part of my job to come up with ideas to further Heart’s programs. That year, inspired by the “Emergency,” one of the popular fire rescue shows on TV at the time, we decided we would stage a simulated heart attack emergency at the upcoming annual 1976-77 Volunteer Awards Luncheon. A VIP would come to the podium and feign a heart attack. Sirens would go off, red emergency lights would flash, and two fire department paramedics would miraculously appear and revive the speaker, who would get up restored and resume the program. It was intended to be dramatic, memorable, and underscore the importance of CPR, but it was a crazy idea. What were we thinking? The stricken VIP was to be, John C. Argue, the attorney who was instrumental in bringing the 1984 Olympic games to Los Angeles. He too was a volunteer. And, yes it was his real name and, yes, it always got comments.

HE FELL OVER PERFECTLY

I went to John’s offices a time or two to rehearse his heart emergency. He was enjoying the part he was to play and was practicing in earnest. His secretary said he was falling off his chair quite nicely several times a day.

On the day of the event, we all were at the grand ballroom of the Los Angeles Bonaventure Hotel early and everything was in order. The siren sound effects were appropriately loud, the red emergency lights were installed at just the right angle, the podium had been padded so that John wouldn’t injure himself in the fake fall, and the paramedics, who were quite real, were ready to react. It was a genuine Hollywood-style show, staged to perfection. But to June Foray it would be all too real.

“I COULDN’T SAVE HIM!” SHE CRIED

Once the event was smoothly underway, no one needed me, and I’d seen John fall so many times that I knew he would do fine. So, I stepped out into the foyer of the ballroom to have a cigarette and a glass of water.

The drama proceeded as planned. On cue, John clutched his chest and dropped to the floor. The lights dimmed, red light filled the slits in the door, and the sirens went off. The audience gasped.

I was standing just outside the doors when they suddenly swung open and a small woman ran out in near hysteria. She was crying uncontrollably, couldn’t catch her breath, and was frantic to leave the ballroom. It was June, though I didn’t know her at the time. She ran right into me. I asked if I could help her. She looked up, fell against my shoulder, and sobbed. “I couldn’t save him!” she cried. “I did CPR until they came, but they told me he died instantly. He died in my arms.” What I didn’t know then was that June’s husband, Hobart “Hobe” Donovan, had died in her arms only a few months before. The shock of the “show” was too much, too close. She finished my water and thanked me for rescuing her.

Of course, I had done nothing of the kind. I reacted in the moment as she had and was glad I had been there at the right moment.

When she had somewhat collected herself, she asked me, “Do you work for Heart?” I said I did. She then introduced herself, saying she was a volunteer. Hearing her name, I instantly knew who she was and tried to think of something to say that she could relate to. “I’m working with Frank and Caroline Morris to create an animation of the Heart logo,” I told her. The Morrises were Oscar-winning animators whom June knew well. She lit up. “Well, then,” she said, “you simply must come to the animation society meeting.” I said I would look forward to doing that some day.

“Oh no,” she said. “It’s next Wednesday and you must be there.” She gave me the time and location. By this time luncheon was being served and I suggested she rejoin her table. I assured her there would be no more emergency re-enactments.

COMMAND PERFORMANCE . . . SORT OF

When my boss, Carol Waters, heard of my encounter with June she told me I had an obligation to go to the meeting. People volunteer at Heart and Heart people should volunteer elsewhere, was how she put it. I had no choice.

When Wednesday came I dutifully went to the meeting. I knew nothing about the animation society, but I learned quickly. The board of directors was a who’s who in the animation industry. Along with June and many other well-known people was her partner in the famous Rocky and Bullwinkle Show, Bill “Bullwinkle” Scott, who was to become an important figure in my future, and whom I will write about another time.

Cutting to the chase, when the meeting ended I thanked everyone for making me feel welcome. At the door Bill Scott turned to me and said enigmatically, “We’ll see you soon. You’ll be back next month.” Confused, I asked what he meant. “Why not? You’re on the board,” he said, smiling. When I said, “Isn’t there supposed to be an election or something?” he said he thought I would be a great asset and asked for agreement from the rest of the board members as they were collecting their things. “Well, there you go. Everyone voted. You’re in. Welcome to the animation society”.

And that is how it really happened; First the Search and Rescue Team project and later S/R Laboratories. Oh, there were a few details along the way I skipped over, but you’ll have to wait for them another time. What I wanted you to know is that it has all been because of June Foray, a valiant little lady.

Thanks, June. We’ll keep up the good work. Promise.

 

P.S. Yes, I did quite smoking. No, it wasn’t easy but I did it.

 

 

HOW DO WE KNOW OUR COLORS ARE ACCURATE?

Color is a fascinating and sometimes confounding subject. Colors come from many sources. Some are derived from minerals found in the earth, some from chemical reactions, and some are made using the skeletons of insects. Duplicating a color takes understanding and craftsmanship, and a little help from friends.

 

ENTER THE COLORIMETER

 

A colorimeter or spectrophotometer, as you can likely guess, is a tool for measuring color. We have three of them at S/R Labs, thanks to Konica Minolta, one of our sponsors. Each reads a different-sized field, but all operate basically the same. The meter reads in several different color spaces, i.e. RGB, CMYK, LAB, and so forth. Each is defined a little differently and the color is expressed in numeric values. The result is an accurate color reading that can be conveyed to anyone in the world allowing them to achieve the precise color as read by the colorimeter.

 

Okay, we use a colorimeter. But is it a big deal? Can it tell us how to mix to the precise color or just give us an indication of which direction to follow? The answer depends on the sophistication of our equipement. Without boring you to tears, suffice it to say we know which direction to travel.

 

But it gets better. You see, S/R Labs digitized the entire Disney color library spanning its entire history. We provided Disney with a fully working color program so any Disney artist can specify any Disney color in one of several ways and utilize that information anywhere around the globe. A digital representation of the color together with its color space is ideal for any application from filmmaking to printing T shirts. Mickey’s shorts and Donald’s sailor suit will be the same color worldwide. And, we have the complete Hanna-Barbera color reference in both wet and dry samples, the Warner Bros. color samples, the Filmation color references and much more.

 

So, do we have the correct color? We are proud to say absolutely. But wait! There’s more!

 

PINHEADS COUNT

 

Matching colors accurately is one thing. But what is the true color of, say, Snow White’s skirt. Now you might think yellow is yellow is yellow. And, to be sure, yellow IS yellow. But which yellow? There are many different yellows such as Hansa yellow, toluidine yellow, Arylide yellow, one of many of the cadmium yellow pigments? Which one is it? Not the shade, but the actual pigment that makes the shade. Some yellows are redder and some greener. And, regardless of what the colorimeter tells us, we need to know the pigment that makes the color.

 

In the case of cels the pigment is right there if you know how to look. The paint visible to the camera on the front of the cel is faded and, to complicate the matter, the viewer or camera it through a cel that has changed its color over time. In the case of Snow White, the cel is at least 80 years old as I write. No meaningful color measurement can be performed from the front of the cel. The back of the cel is usually dirty and often has paint or glue or some other substance on it making a color reading difficult or near impossible.

 

We developed a technique to read the color at the center of the paint layer. Yes, the layer is thin, but the only place the true color of the paint layer can be registered or measured. Besides being able to read a pinhead-sized field with our colorimeter we can see the color in even a smaller sample thanks to our friends at Olympus Instruments. So, the color is accurate and our references of pigments available through history, thanks to the National Paint and Coating Society, makes honing in on the pigment actually used to make the color itself possible.

 

Thanks to the generosity of Morehouse Industries, our high-speed paint mill is able to produce the finest animation paints and inks, surpassing even the Disney Studios in quality. As far as we know, S/R Laboratories is the only facility in which Disney animation paint continues to be made. And, of course, we make paints that are consistent with the colors of other studios as well. There are about 10,000 standard colors in our color library.

 

IN THE END IT’S ABOUT CRAFTSMANSHIP

 

Knowing the correct pigment to get the correct color to make the best paint or ink is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to animation art conservation and restoration. It’s all about craftsmanship. The formula for our brand of craftsmanship includes a hearty amount of passion—passion to get it right and to get it right every time. Our craftsmanship has never been duplicated. In the end it’s all about the “color” of our craftsmanship. Do we have the correct color? You know the answer. What are you waiting for?