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In 1872, the Celluloid Manufacturing Company opened in Newark, New Jersey, where the first man-made plastic, called Celluloid, was commercially produced. The revolutionary product made the movies possible in so many ways. And it gave us animation cels.

It Was Wonder Stuff

Being a marvelously moldable substance, Celluloid was used to create an entire array of products, including toys, jewelry, vanity sets, mirror handles and frames, powder boxes, hair brushes, eyeglass frames, toothbrushes, rhinestones, dice, billiard balls, detachable shirt collars and fronts, and was even used as a base for airplane dope. Back then airplanes were fabric-covered, wooden-structured vehicles. The fabric was coated with collodion, a liquid form of Celluloid, making it stiff and sealing it so wind would not pass through. During WW1 what did pass through was bullets, and it was the friction of the bullets passing through that ignited the collodion-coated fabric, causing the planes to burn and crash.

Kodak Becomes A Household Word

It wasn’t long before George Eastman introduced his first great consumer invention: the Kodak Camera. In 1888, the innovative little black box camera, with its tiny Celluloid lens and safety windows, was disposable, When all the shots on a roll of film (also Celluloid) had been taken, customers sent the entire camera back to Kodak, to receive, weeks later, their film, photo prints, and a new camera loaded and ready for use. There is much more to the ins and outs of how Celluloid made the film industry possible, but suffice it to say here the strip film Kodak sold in their box cameras was first made in large rolls and could be slit into ribbons and perforated like 35mm film or cut in to sheets like those used for animation cels.

Animation Cels Were Never Insulted

The strip film used in movies was made of cellulose nitrate and was notoriously flammable. The camphor used as a plasticizer for the material was adversely affected by the developer, wash, and fixing baths to which it was subjected in the film-making process, causing movie films to become brittle and inflexible, hastening their deterioration. Many silent movies have been lost because of the nature of the film process at that time.

Cels for animation, also made of cellulose nitrate in the same way as strip film, were “raw” nitrocellulose. While they were also flammable, the difference is that after manufacture they never sustained any chemical insult, as their movie relatives did. Hence, cels are living proof of the durability of cellulose nitrate or “nitrate” cels as we call them today.

At Disney, for instance, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, the Silly Symphonies, and pre-production work for Fantasia were created on nitrate cels. Other studios used nitrate cels as well. By the early 1950s, however, cellulose acetate, a non-flammable cousin of nitrate had taken its place industry wide.

Today, nitrate cels are, we are happy to report, still with us, but despite their durability they require special handling, special consideration in display and special care in order to help them last as long as possible.

Who You Gonna Call?

You’ll be fascinated to learn that Disney used four different types of cel in their history: nitrate, di-acetate, tri-acetate and polyester. While superficially similar, they are all quite different. No two are the same and each has its own distinct conservation requirements.

What kind do you own? Being able to tell what cel material your art is rendered on is possibly one of the most important things you can know about your collection. Would- be restorers unaware of the danger of misidentification can ruin a fine piece of film history with as little as one drop of water or a lack of understanding of the needs of the particular material.

S/R Labs celebrates its 41st year of service to the motion picture and animation art community. In this time, we have supplied materials, inks, paints, technical information, and assistance to studios, museums, galleries, conservators, framers, film storage vaults, and collectors world wide. That includes you! Please feel free to call us at any time. Your art is our concern. It always was.



Disney, unlike other studios, made their own animation paint until 1985, when The Black Cauldron was released as the last film to be made with the original Disney animation paint. Why the change? Because Disney attempted to make the switch to newer acrylic-based paint colors, only to discover it would require an entire refitting of their paint lab. So, as change would have it, the decision was made going forward to purchase commercial paint.

While the paint lab didn’t survive in its central importance, what did remain was the idea that Disney original paints were, like Disney itself, somehow imbued with a kind of magic. Well, guess what? They were. It came from a deep sense of product purity that existed in Walt’s time that those of us at S/R labs would never have understood without the help of the chemists at Consolidated Film Industries, Eastman Kodak, and Disney’s last working Chemist, Emilio Bianchi. Others have since contributed to this notion and reinforced the concept, but the insight came from these important sources. How the concept applies to everyday operation or a product as pedestrian as artists’ paint is fascinating.

Discovering Disney Color Magic

It’s said that everything has a purpose. In this case it sure did. You see, Ron Stark, long before he created S/R Labs, began his career in the early 1970s at Consolidated Film Industries. In its time, CFI was the largest motion picture lab in the world, consuming more film than any other entity anywhere. Stark had the remarkable fortune to work with film engineer Eddie Reichard and lab director Leonard Sokolow, both of whom were recipients of more technical Academy Awards than anyone else at CFI. What Ron learned about film, film processing and how movies were made after the film was exposed was enormous and would prove to be exceptionally valuable when the time came to create SR Labs. In that time he learned about how film “sees” color versus what the viewer sees on the screen. With co-author Charles Solomon, he wrote the Complete Kodak Animation Book, putting much of his first-hand knowledge to use.

“I loved seeing the film timers work,” Ron recalls. “It is the timers who, much like sound engineers working at a control board to fine tune a recording, work to bring the raw color of the film footage into final balance. They would sit in a tiny room the size of a closet with two screens: one for a color slide to serve as the template to which they would refer as a gauge for true color and the other which turned the film negative to a positive image. The process required great skill. With a small set of controls they would move from scene to scene adjusting what appeared to be the color of the film. But it wasn’t. They were specifying the film’s color with the controls, and those specifications were translated to a punch tape. There was no such thing as digital information transfer at the time. When the negative was conformed and edited it would be used to make an interneg, or an exact copy of the original. The original was shelved for safekeeping while the copy was used to make the finished film. The interneg was used to make the finished movie as a special light filter, sort of like a prism, moved back and forth, according to the punch tape, exposing the new film positive in the light specified by the timer. Taking mere fractions of a second, as the film moved past the light filter, the color of the film is adjusted so it is consistent from scene to scene.”

It’s the Paint That Made the Difference

So, when it came to cels, it was no surprise to Ron that certain paint colors would be timed differently, depending on how the film would register the pigment. He explains,” some colors do not register correctly in Kodak’s film system, even though, like RGB in digital imaging, the color spectrum is the widest possible.”

The Girl with Green Hair

Suffice it to say that animation paint colors aren’t always what they seem to be. For instance, there is no green in Peter Pan’s jerkin. Not a drop. The color is created by the combination of two earth tones seen as green on the film. The same goes for Alice. Her Wonderland tresses are not blonde, as they appear in the film. The apparently yellow color is actually a combination of three paint colors that are a light chartreuse on the production cel. It is the film timer who magically translates the green-haired girl to a lovely blonde.

The latitude given the film timers was the gift of the Disney paint lab’s purity of color and the simple combinations they created. Film does not “interpret” color as the human eye does. It registers the color closest to what its dye capability is. The timer can only come as close to a color as the film dye will allow. Original Disney paint was magical because it was clean and vibrant and was created to reflect a depth of color not found in commercial products.

One of the jobs of the Disney color lab was doing screen tests for new colors to establish what they might look like in a finished film and how far a film timer could push the new colors from “one side to the other.” The color stylists at the studio were specialists who knew what color to specify for a character based on those screen tests.

S/R still makes inks and paint from Disney original formulas. When Disney needed paint for a limited edition, it was created in the S/R paint lab. Some of S/R’s pigments, like many of the browns found in films like Lady and the Tramp, are supplied by the same manufacturer that supplied Disney for the original film. In fact, S/R labs digitally mastered the entire Disney paint palette for Disney Consumer Products.

“Emilio taught us well,” Ron explains. “He was always being asked by the color stylists to expand the Disney palette, but the film process couldn’t register such new colors. Even though he helped us keep the number of colors we make to a minimum, we still have more than 10,000 paint colors in our S/R palette.

S/R Labs is proud to be the only animation art conservation center in the world, keeping the old values at the forefront of what we do and your art looking vibrant and alive for years to come.

Lamination failure? This one’s for you!

A lot of cels had been laminated in 70s and 80s as part of the Disney Original Art Program and they were beginning to have problems as early as the 90s. Dumbo and Bambi cels, laminated some 40 years earlier, lasted longer but were suffering from lamination failures just the same.

Early in 2003 we received a call from Roy E. Disney. He was VP of the Disney animation department at the time.

He asked Lab Director Ron Stark to come to his office the next time he was in the Studio and pick up a cel that was in need of repair.

When Ron arrived, about a week later, he learned that Al Kosnetzni, an ad and marketing artist who’d been been recognized as a Disney Legend, had been given a laminated cel as a retirement gift. Al sent Roy his cel with a note saying that he wanted Disney to fix it. It had, as you might guess, lamination failure. Ron never saw Roy that day. Barbara Wilcox, Roy’s administrative assistant, gave Ron the cel and said “Good luck.” The odd smile on her face said it all. She thought it a fool’s errand or, worse, that Stark didn’t know what he was getting in to. Lamination problems were not new at the Studio, but no one at Disney had been able to fix them. What was S/R Labs gonna do?

The truth is S/R had been working on various systems to cope with what they foresaw would be an onslaught of lamination failures. The problem and its answers were complex and the manpower to accomplish removing the lamination required more than a single conservator, no matter how the treatment was organized.

When Ron returned to Roy’s office a few weeks later, Roy was in and eager to see what S/R had accomplished. He put the cel on his desk and looked at it, stared at it really. Then looked at Ron and back at the cel. He really didn’t say much about the cel but offered Ron an easy chair and took the one across from it. Roy was quiet a moment, then said, “You do know we must have laminated a gazillion of these things, right?” Ron nodded, but didn’t bother saying he’d preached against the practice for what seemed like forever.

As a point of interest, some employees in the Studio told Ron they had taken their vintage art—cels, drawings, and so forth—over to Ink & Paint to be laminated, thinking it was the new and best way to preserve their art. They were told it couldn’t be done because their art hadn’t been released through the Disney Original Art Program and there was no budget to cover the cost of lamination. Looking back, given what we now know about lamination, they were very fortunate.

Roy continued, “A lot of people purchased our laminated art believing we know what’s best. They bought in to the Disney name and, in time, they are going to be disappointed. Looking at what you’ve accomplished here gives me hope. Will you tell me how you did it?”

Ron looked hard at Roy in return and said, “Only on the condition that it remains our proprietary treatment. We own it. We worked very hard for it. Get what I mean?” Roy nodded and crossed his heart. He listened. The procedure is complex, and Ron wondered if Roy understood it at all, then decided it didn’t matter.

As he finished his explanation, Roy smiled at him and said, “I think I get it. What’s more important, I hope people find you when they need you. Because they’ll need you all right. Let me give you a letter so that if you ever need anything from anyone in the Studio they’ll know I approve.” Roy dictated a brief letter and signed it. He thanked Ron for sharing with him and trusting him. Oh, and Mr. Kosnetzni was delighted with his art as well.

Ron left Roy that day knowing Roy knew S/R Labs was doing good things. Now in their 40th year, S/R Laboratories Animation Art Conservation Center in Westlake Village, California is still doing good things and are way better at it than they ever imagined.

Update; 8/31/16

We recently completed a delamination for Ira Rubenstein, Senior Vice President at PBS.

Ira’s comments on his experience is below as are his Before and After photos. We always appreciate hearing from our clients and thank Ira for his kind words.

“I have known Ron Stark and SR Labs for well over 20 years now. I have been to his office several times where I saw his team working carefully on restoring animated cels. The paint room itself is remarkable. The level of detail and accuracy that Ron has invested in for Disney Animation is truly remarkable. I collect animated cels from the three Winnie The Pooh featurettes; “Honey Tree”, “Blustery Day”. and “Tigger Too”. Unfortunately,  most cels you can purchase with the Disney seal from “Blustery Day” come laminated. You all know that this was the worst thing that could have been done to the art because eventually all laminations will fail.

I have a large Christopher Robin cel from Bluster Day and it was probably the worst lamination fail you have ever seen. The entire lamination failed and the cel looked like someone had crunched it all up. Now I could have said, well that is that, but I showed it to Ron and he said his team could fix it.

If you look at the before and after pictures you will be blown away. The restored cel is amazing.
I would say it looks just like it did they day they used it to shoot the scene in the film. The colors are amazing and the framing that Ron did makes it truly one of a kind. I could not be happier.

I am so grateful that Ron has invested so much time and energy in the historical preservation of Disney Animation. There is no one else in the world who I would trust with a restoration job on any of my other animation cels.

Thank you Ron and the team at SR LABS.”

–Ira Rubenstein

Restoration of Christopher Robin with Lamination failure for Ira Rubenstein in 2016.

Restoration of Christopher Robin with Lamination failure for Ira Rubenstein in 2016.

Who Says So?

What determines that a work of art is authentic? Oh, go ahead, take a stab at it. Did you say the paint? Good. How about the brush strokes? Or the style? Well, there is something else and you’d never guess what it is.

Regardless of its nature, period of manufacture, or maker, there is only a finite amount of vintage artwork in the world. Once in a while, though, something new turns up from some long forgotten place that sends curators, conservators, historians, museologists, and collection managers scrambling. Who found it? Where has it been? Why wasn’t it found before? And, on and on. Eventually the object’s authenticity will come into question.
It is usually when something unexpected surfaces that everyone asks the magical question: What makes it what it is purported to be?
Depending on the importance of the object, you would be amazed at the potpourri of answers. What is interesting is that within collecting circles of 20th century objects lots of people are willing to give lip service to what they believe are the object’s origin. But usually only a few are professionally responsible and capable of basing their evaluation on fact and scientific information. What frequently happens is the object becomes recognized as a “something or other” by consensus. I’ll discuss authentication by consensus in a moment, but first a diversion.
I think it’s important to stop and address what I have dubbed the “Limp Wrist Sellers Network.” You see, there is a little-recognized group of dealers across the country who consistently claim they are only representing artwork as a “seller” and don’t know-and don’t have to know-what it is. In other words, when challenged, they simply go limp and shrug. “Hey,” they say, “I didn’t know it wasn’t real. I just sell this stuff.”
Consumer protection agencies and the Federal Trade Commission have begun to hold “professionals” up to a higher standard than the casual collector. What that means is that if you hang out your shingle as a dealer-even if you work out of your home but tout yourself as a service or source-you are considered by law to be a professional and must show due diligence in representing the goods and wares you offer. You’ll need good records to substantiate your claims. The collecting community, however, should not need nor wait for a governmental agency to clamp down on our activities. It is the responsibility of every seller and buyer to establish authenticity before money is exchanged. Okay, back to my main theme.
Authentication is a delicate and often controversial endeavor. Conservators traditionally decline to authenticate because their focus is not on artists but rather on artist’s materials-how those materials perform over time and how to prevent the stuff of which the object is made from succumbing to further structural degradation from insults of many different origins. Curators, museologists, and a great many dealers also decline to place their name on the dotted line and refuse to get involved.
So, who says it’s authentic? In the past, famous and highly respected analysts like Dr. Walter C. McCrone have been asked to establish authenticity of various art objects. But the job has proved to be pretty risky. It’s the messenger who gets shot. This because even though the analyst is not the one who decides what the artwork is-the art itself does that-he or she must interpret the data and communicate the findings with the lay person.
“I established that the Veil of Veronica is nothing more than a barber’s towel,” said Dr. McCrone to his class at the McCrone Institute “but the Catholic Church would not accept my evidence. Many miracles have been connected with the object and the church refused to acknowledge my findings. I did much the same for the Shroud of Turin. The pigments [on the Shroud] come from a quarry not far from where the Shroud was found. The church, regardless of scientific findings, believes it to be a holy object.”
Dr. McCrone has another tale even more interesting. “A gentleman brought a painting to me that was obviously done by a famous artist,” McCrone said. “The paints are right, the canvas is right and the style is right. Even the signature is clearly that of the artist. But the experts who gather around the known works of the Master denounce the piece as done by one of the artist’s students and merely signed by the master artist. In short, they will not allow the painting into the pantheon of known works.”
Authentication ought not to be bestowed upon an object just because someone says so. But, all too often, something is considered real because the experience of the “old timer” is respected. This was never more evident than when I was faced with an authenticity question that turned out to be more than it first appeared. The owner said, “Why, you can see it’s real. Look at the details and the style. Not only that, but all my friends think so, too.”Oh, so here we have several collectors who have banned together to corroborate each other’s hypotheses without any scientific inquiry or evidence. In the world of fine art many a collector has been fooled, some to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, by what their associates thought was real.
So, what’s the moral of this story? When in doubt, check it out. Ask lots of questions and ask for evidence. Hard evidence is not based on whim, favoritism, or friendship. In the end it will be you who says so, because you know-for sure!

The Silver Button

Sooner or later someone, quite often a child, will ask about the mysterious silver button in the museum case. What is it? What does it do? What would happen if you touched it?

I admit to having been one of those kids who spent most of my time in the museum fantasizing about the silver buttons as my parents oohed and aahed over objects that were pretty uninspiring to a seven year old. If I twisted that one over there just so, perhaps some secret wall would open, leading me into a far off land of orcs, witches, and wizards. Or, if I rubbed that one in the case next to the sword, a knight might step forth, inviting me to visit his enchanted castle on the edge of the forest.

It would be more than thirty years before I would really understand the importance of what I called the Silver Button. You see, the Silver Button was none other than a thermohygrometer turned upside down so you couldn’t see its face. And, indeed, it would be the magical world of conservation to which the instrument would ultimately take me.
Simply, the thermohygrometer measures the temperature and relative humidity within the environment in which it is placed. Some, like those I encountered as a child in the museum cases, are silver-like disks with dual hands and gauges. Recording thermohygrometers are large appliances that actually record the humidity and temperature on a minute-by-minute basis day in and day out. Here, graph paper rotates on a drum while a stylus puts down tiny markings as it moves.
Conservators have learned to be closely mindful of the relative and often dramatic effects a rise in either temperature or moisture can have on a given object. A dramatic reduction in either area can have equally disastrous effects, depending on the objects being conserved.

Typically, microorganisms enjoy a free reign in high temp/high water environments. And, when they themselves fail to do harm, it is their waste products that do. In addition, water, being composed of oxygen and hydrogen, oxidizes metal surfaces.

The reverse side of the spectrum is no rosier. Total absence of water in the environment promises dehydration-especially if the temp stays high-and embrittlement or friability. While this state isn’t always destructive in itself, any shock or dramatic disturbance can cause fracture or total disintegration.
By now you’re probably thinking it’s a good idea to purchase a thermohygrometer. Knowing as much as you can about the environment in which your collection is kept is the first step to extending its longevity or its chances for survival. No matter what you collect, whether it’s art, china, ceramic, toys, teddies, Indian baskets, or bear rugs, a thermohygrometer is a necessity.

There are dozens of different makes and models. Usually the price is a clue to the accuracy, but not always. The Silver Button type of my childhood is still manufactured in England but, while the temperature is easy to adjust, the RH or relative humidity is not. Warning . . . Red Alert . . . You cannot adjust the RH of a thermohygrometer yourself without another, much more expensive instrument. So, forget this type for home use unless you know what you’re doing.
The nicest wall instrument features a digital thermometer with an analog needle controlled by a natural hair bundle. The hair bundle responds quickly to the changes in humidity and its quite reliable.
Then there’s the little gray cube. That’s what I call it, and it features three scales: two analog dials, one for temp and other for RH, and a humidity strip you read by color. And, it’s small, measuring about one inch high by two inches long by three-quarters of an inch deep. This one comes pre-adjusted for RH too.
If you write to me here at the magazine I’ll be pleased to let you know where to get a reliable and economical thermohygrometer.

One rather usual compliant we hear is: “I have a huge collection. It’s all over my home. Now what do I do?” The obvious answer is the best you can. This is tougher than it seems. There are conservation scientists who specialize in environmental issues and even they say there are many ways to achieve optimum results. Here are some things to think about;


  • Ascertain the vulnerabilities of the objects you collect. It’s good to think about the basic materials that compose the objects.
  • Keep all like objects together. That way if you keep one room cooler than another similar objects will benefit.
  • Large collections often present several obstacles to good hygiene. The main problem is that once you’ve finished cleaning all the things you own it’s time to start over. So, if your favorite things are, say, teddy bears recognize they attract dust and other airborne particles. This can be compounded if they are handled frequently, because oils transfer from hand to fur.
  • Measure the temperature and RH in different parts of a room before you hang pictures or store objects. You’ll discover the higher up on the wall the dryer and hotter the environment. Can your art or artifact withstand such rigors?
  • Keep good records and photos. Learn to spot problems by reading about the things you collect.


The Silver Button will be your passport to wonderful places. The best being where your collection lives happily ever after.