Posts Tagged ‘disney’


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.





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.