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Animation Art Glossary

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Animation is one of the most exciting art forms created today. It’s a specific type of special effect that synchronizes many flat, still two-dimensional (2D) works so that they seem to come to life, with movement and depth that seem real and three dimensional (3D). Some of the most familiar forms of animation art are movies an cartoons. Classic movies are a series of still frames projected at such a rapid speed that the eye is tricked into believing it’s seeing actual motion. Today’s digital cinematography technologies have advanced the art a bit but the animation it involves works in much the same way.

Before attempting a career in animation, an understanding of some fundamental elements is in order.

Anomalies & Damage

Anomalies are the oddities irregularities that might occur while the piece is being created, edited, or presented. Some anomalies increase the value of the object on the collectors‘ market but others diminish value. Damage occurs during the production phase as well as after. It’s often a result of storage over extended periods of time or storage in an improper environment.

  • Cut-out/Trimmed Cels - Backgrounds, props, and some characters often begin as 2D objects, trimmed to scale and shape, and placed as needed within the frame. Some main characters are made from cut-outs, too. The TV series, South Park, is a recent example of cut-out animation.
  • Chipping/Paint Loss - Over time, paint from original works tend to chip and flake off, especially when mishandled or stored poorly. These anomalies usually affect the value of the piece.
  • Cracking - Cracking occurs when paintings are folded, creased, or crumpled instead of being stored flat or smoothly rolled. Room temperature is also important to prevent cracks from forming, especially when acrylic paints are used.
  • Lamination - Even though it’s often applied as a means of preservation, the lamination process can damage artworks of all genres. The high heat and strong chemicals used to apply the laminate cause damage to many art mediums.
  • Line Wear - When a work of art is in stable, or good, condition (above the line), no restorative work is needed nor is the value of the work diminished due to condition. Below the line, enough damage is evident to warrant repairs and value diminishes according to the extent of the line wear.
  • Sealant - Often used to waterproof a painting, sealants typically darken over time, obscuring vivid colors and important details.
  • Separation, Lifting, or Glassing - Where multiple layers of paint are used, the layers can separate, or lift, with age. Even the best preserved works of art can sustain damage from broken glass, such as would happen if the glass cover of a frame or show case breaks.


Traditional animation is hand drawn on transparent celluloid (cel) film. The cels usually feature the action parts of the frame, which are placed over a static, or never changing, background.

  • Acetate Cels - Original cels were compounded camphor and cellulose nitrate, a combo that is highly flammable and easily decomposes into toxic substances. A newer version, using the acetate ester of cellulose, is more popular today thanks to its chemical stability. It’s sometimes referred to as zylonite or zyl.
  • Cel Levels - Using multiple layers of animation cels stacked together produces a more three-dimensional look and allows the animator more freedom to change details on an individual cel without drawing a large number of very similar cels.
  • Cel Setups - Two or more cels stacked together to produce the final copy or scene.
  • Nitrate Cels - The original celluloid film used for animation purposes, made from cellulose nitrate and camphor.


Fielding refers to the area of the cel on which the actual animation art is drawn or painted. This is the only part of the film that will be seen by the camera. Field paper comes in standard sizes, with holes punched along one edge so multiple cels can be stacked in proper alignment. Standardized fielding is especially important since most animated works require the work of many animators.

  • 12 Field - One of the most-often used sizes of field, the 12-field (12f) cel measures 10.5 inches by 12.5 inches.
  • 16 Field - A 16 field (16f) cel measures 12.5 inches by 16.5 inches.
  • Panning Shots - Derived from the word, panorama, panning shots encompass more of a scene than can be viewed through the lens of a stationary camera. Pan shots provide a wide-angle view in motion, providing views that pan from left to right horizontally, vertically, or zooming in or out for close-up or distance shots.

Ink, Paint Materials, Techniques

There is no one way to accomplish a work of animated art. Many materials and techniques are used today. Some of them are time-tested, honored by decades of use, while others are examples of modern technology evolving the art with each new advancement.

  • Acrylic and Vinyl Based Cel Paints - Paint suspended in an acrylic polymer emulsion (acrylics) produces a very versatile, vibrantly colored paint that dries fast, resists water, and can be applied so the finished piece appears to have been produced with oil or watercolor. Vinyl paints have many of the same desirable characteristics as acrylics but produce toxic fumes. Caution is advised when using vinyl paints.
  • Casein Based Cel Paints - Used since the time of the ancient Egyptians, casein based paint is made with milk and ammonia. This fast-drying paint can be made at home, dries to a matte finish, and is often used for underpainting.
  • Dry Brush - To achieve a scratchy or highly textured finish, dry brush painting requires a brush just damp enough to hold paint or ink.
  • Hand Inking - Before 1960, all outlines in animation productions were done by manually drawing the shapes onto the cel using a quill pen or paint brush. Modern technology has automated the process but some artists prefer hand inking, if only for special effects.
  • Gum Arabic Based Cel Paints - The sap from two species of the acacia tree grown in northern Africa and the Middle East are hardened into a gum, which is then dried and ground to make gum arabic, a binder for water-soluble paint mediums. Gouache is one type of gum arabic based cel paint.
  • Photographic Lines - Very fine, thin lines used to sketch outlines onto a cel for extreme close-up shots. Hand inking produces lines that are too thick to achieve the correct effect so hand-inked drawings are rendered at full size then photographically reduced to the desired size.
  • Xerography - This dry-inking process replaces hand inking of outlines onto animation cels. Invented in 1938, the process was first used in the animated feature film, One Hundred and One Dalmations, in 1961. The process, more commonly known as xeroxing, increases the precision of a large animation staff with multiple members working with the same static elements of various frames.

Production Artwork

Many hands are required to produce a finished animation work of art. Each step of the way, work is created, compared, matched, and edited but it’s not until all the pieces of the production have been completed that the final result is seen. Each sketch or cel developed along the way becomes a part of the overall production artwork. Viewing the individual parts, from sketch, model, or storyboard art through to the finished production provides an evolutionary look at the project as a whole.

  • Animation Cels - These individual cels represent the many layers involved with producing a single frame of an animated production.
  • Background Paintings - An animated work of art is often begun with background paintings, where the same painting is used for the background in multiple frames. This technique saves production time, money, and ensures consistency within the sequence. It also allows for each member of a production team to work on various cels without distorting the final production.
  • Character Models - Because animation is a moving art form, individual characters will be seen in various poses, angles, and actions. Before a final drawing is committed to celluloid, individual characters are drawn in all anticipated activities in order to choose the single look that best meets the needs of the production. These models are then used as templates to complete the rest of the production.
  • Clean-Ups - Clean-ups are required at various stages of the animation’s production to erase/edit flaws; correct alignment, color, and shading; coordinate sound with motion; and streamline motion. Clean-ups also refer to the more refined sketches traced from the rougher, original concept drawings.
  • Color Model Cels - Cels produced during the development stages that help the production staff determine placement, color, contrast, and shading for best visual effect. Animation artists develop the color models and the rest of the production staff uses these color models as examples of how the finalized cels should look.
  • Concept Art - Before detailed work begins, concept art is developed to convey the mood, sequence of events, and other elements of the final production.
  • Layout Drawings - Line drawings that represent characters’ movements and background and are used as reference guides by the rest of the production team.
  • Rough Animation Drawings - First draft drawings of scenes that will be refined and completed by the animation clean-up staff once key scenes are selected. These rough drafts usually represent only one out of every several frames and are often more highly prized as collectors’ items than their cleaned-up final versions.
  • Storyboards - Rough template-like frames depicting timeline of the finished production. Storyboards resemble comic strip drawings but represent just a brief outline of the story. Details, motion, color, and other finishing touches will be added to the separate, finished cels as they are produced.
  • Title Cards - Title cards contain the text associated with an animated production, which usually includes title and cast/crew credits. Traditionally, a text overlay is created on a transparent cel stacked on top of a background painting but today’s digital technologies make this process much easier and quicker.

Non-Production Artwork

The main focus of an animation art production is the final product, of course, but there are lots of other elements of the production that occur along the way that are not a direct part of the final production. Some of the non-production work is directly connected with the production itself but other non-production artwork helps to sell the final product before, during, and after its creation.

  • Inker's Tests & Clean-Up Tests - An inker’s test involves using ink and/or pencil sketches of characters and action against an inked background, the musical score, and voice actors to synchronize all elements before color, clean up, and all other elements are refined and finalized. Clean-up tests are similar, done when the production is in its final phase.
  • Limited Edition Cels - Hand-painted or digitally created cels of finished quality that are created for sale to collectors but not used in the actual production of the final work. Only a limited number of each cel is produced, with number and quantity noted on the piece itself; for example, 10/100 indicates a piece is the tenth of 100 copies of a particular cel.
  • Merchandising Artwork & Book Illustrations - This artwork is used for advertising and merchandising purposes. One common example of this type artwork is the movie poster often seen in a theater lobby. Book illustrations incorporate artwork from the animated production onto covers and internal pages to help illustrate the story in book form.
  • Publicity & Promotional Artwork - High-quality cels or video clips designed to sell the story of the animated production to financiers, movie houses or chains, advertisers, and the general public. This type artwork is often seen as movie trailers and production-based designs on soft-drink bottle and cup labels, candy wrappers, and cereal boxes.
  • Serigraphs - Derived from the Latin word for silk (seri) and the Greek word meaning to write or draw (graphein), serigraphy is a form of screen printing similar to silk screening onto fabric. Some software programs accomplish serigraphy using computers. Serigraph prints are usually printed in lots of 5,000 or fewer and are used for promotional purposes.

Packaging and Merchandising

Without an adequate promotional campaign, even the best animated production would have a limited audience, at best. A good design for packaging and merchandising strategies that truly promote the production are essential elements of any successful animated work of art.

  • Art Corner Setups - From the mid-1950s until the early 1970s, Disney animation art prints with lithographic backgrounds were sold in a gift shop in the Tomorrowland section at the Disneyland theme park. These inexpensive prints represented soon-to-be-released films still in the production phase of development and each one sported a distinctive gold authentication sticker on the back side of the frame.
  • Courvoisier Setups - The Courvoisier galleries of San Francisco developed this style to display works from the Disney studio during the 1930s and 1940s. It’s a simple presentation, employing a simple frame and cream-colored matt with a simple inscription of the character or production name.
  • Presentation Setups - This type setup provides instructions to the projectionist as to how projection equipment needs to be assembled, readied, and calibrated to provide the highest quality presentation to the viewing audience.
  • Recent Art Packaging - Since 1973, Disney art bears the name, “Walt Disney Company.” Each piece is laminated and bears an embossed seal of authentication on the topmost cel of the work.
This was written by, your home for printer inks and laser toner.

Published - December 2011

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