What is an Animation Cel?
If you’re an animation buff, then you will know that “cel” is short for “celluloid”. In the days before computer animation, objects were drawn or painted on these celluloid sheets as part of the process of animation. This practice is known as cel animation (also known as frame-by-frame animation) and is highly labor-intensive, with a feature-length film requiring tens of thousands of hand-painted cels. As cels are created in layers, this style of animation was cost-effective and allowed creative animators to produce some stunning special effects.
While most anime studios in Japan have moved to computer-based methods for animation, anime cels are enjoying a renaissance as collector’s items. Some of Japan’s most iconic anime series used cel animation, including the likes of Neon Genesis Evangelion, Sailor Moon, and Dragon Ball. If you want to dip your toes into anime cel collecting but have no idea where to start – look no further! In this post we’ll be guiding you through cel care, where to buy anime cels, giving you the low-down on commonly used terms, and more. Enjoy!
Anime Cel Care Tips: Storage and Handling
While there is debate about the best way to store cels safely, one thing all cel aficionados agree on is to keep cels out of direct sunlight. The black lines of a cel are very sensitive to bright light and especially to UV rays, so make sure to keep your cels out of direct sunlight to ensure your cels don’t get damaged.
When it comes to storing your cels, you shouldn’t stack too many together or place anything heavy on top of them, as this damages the paintwork. To avoid this, make sure to stack your anime cels upright rather than in a pile. We suggest you use a specially made folder designed to keep cels safely stored.
As the paint typically used for cel animation is designed to stick well to the celluloid sheet, cels will get stuck together if there is no barrier between them. It is very difficult to avoid damage once two cels are stuck together, so make sure your cels are stored with at least a clean piece of paper between them.
Just because cels are delicate, doesn’t mean you can’t show them off to the world! The most important thing when framing cels is to take the proper precautions to avoid UV damage. This is why you should make sure to use a frame with anti-UV glass. Not all types of anti-UV glass filter the same amount of UV rays, so be sure to check! Even if your cels are safe in a UV-protected frame, you should never put the cel under direct sunlight!
Anime Cel Glossary
- Celga (セル画) – The Japanese term for animation cels.
- Genga (原画) – Sketches of important scenes drawn by senior animators. They are the base for other animators to create “douga”. As they are essentially first drafts for the final animation, genga are usually not available for sale.
- Douga (動画) – Blueprints that are used to create the final animation cels. They often have notes instructing the animator for the next steps of animation. Some douga have simple outlines, while others have more detailed shading.
- Key Cel – Key cels are cels drawn by “key animators” – the artists who draw the pivotal moments within the animation sequence. You can identify key cels by a circle around the sequence number (often A1) accompanied by the words “key” or “end.” As key cels are created by experienced animators, they tend to be of better quality and more sought after by collectors.
- Laser Copy – Machine-made cels. Laser copies are not hand-painted and therefore are not as valuable on the second-hand market.
- Sericel – Sericels are promotional cels which are created as a collector’s item and were not actually used in the animation process. Sericels are more affordable than cels that were used in the production of an anime. Sericels are often produced in limited runs, meaning popular sericels can sometimes fetch a pretty penny!
- Doujin Cel (同人セル) – Fan-made cels. Artists are commissioned to reproduce a particular scene in a cel-style, or sometimes create their very own images. It’s best to double check whether or not a cel is a doujin cel before buying as they are not considered “official” items by collectors.
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