Getty and Disney Team Up to Study Cels

Snow White cel

The Getty Conservation Institute and Disney’s Animation Research Library (ARL) division are partnering to study why the plastic in certain cels deteriorates more quickly than others and to find ways of slowing down the deterioration process. The study is expected to take three years to complete. Like the Tim Burton exhibit currently at MoMA, this is another encouraging example of animation artwork receiving serious consideration from an art institute. According to the LA Times which broke the story:

The Getty said the initial phase of research will involve an assessment of the best methods for the identification of the actual plastics used in the cels, and for monitoring the condition of cels made with cellulose nitrate and acetate. Scientists at the Getty will also examine the physical and thermal properties of the plastics. The new collaboration is part of the Getty’s “Preservation of Plastics” project that was initiated to study signs of deterioration in plastic objects in museum collections.

Another take-away from the article is that Disney’s ARL houses 65 million pieces of Disney art. Granted, the drawings and cels add up quickly in animation, but wow, that’s still a whole lot of artwork!

(Thanks, Alexander Rannie)


  • Mark Kausler

    While they’re at it, maybe they can help with fighting deteriorating nitate and acetate motion picture film base! Cels and film are made of the same stuff, after all.

  • http://cowancollectionanimation.blogspot.com/ Robert Cowan

    Sure would love some further guidance on how to prevent the problem of paint separating from the cel material. I’ve seen beautiful pieces turn into a frame full of paint chips. It seems like the cels from Snow White have tended to be more prone to the problem…

  • http://www.warnerart.com Eric

    Will love to hear about what their research uncovers and what preservation options they will recommend.

  • dronon

    I’m no preservation expert, but if material is on either nitrate or acetate then yeah, there are problems. If one compares to film stock, both materials break down over time – depending on circumstances, layers can stick together or outright crumble. Nitrate of course is flammable, and once it starts burning is very difficult to get it to stop. Acetate film was brought in to avoid this problem, only to find that it degrades too, in what’s known as “vinegar syndrome”. Unfortunately it’s an auto-catalytic reaction, so once a little degredation starts to happen, it encourages the surrounding material to do so as well. Metal containers and other types of storage can also be harmful, and ventilation can be a factor.

    I hope their research is fruitful; it’s very difficult to neutralize this sort of thing. Often, at least for now, the best one can do is to store material in very tightly-contained conditions, controlling for temperature, air and relative humidity. But this limits access and research to the original material.

    Preservation can be a very complicated issue. For example, still speaking of film, forget the underlying stock – there’s also the chemicals containing the image itself. Black-and-white is very stable, that’s why the 3-reel Technicolor method was great. Other color dyes… not so much. That pink look from 1950s educational films is an example of color decay.

    And finally there’s the option of digital preservation. But at what resolution? What file format? What form of physical storage for the digital data? The way technology changes so fast, can one guarantee data retrieval 10, 15, 20 years down the road?

    Anyhow, kudos to the people doing research on this!

  • Hans W.

    Besides the cellulose it’s mainly the yellow paint which gives problems in the Snow White cels. Under ideal temperature and humidity conditions, the other colours hold pretty good after 73 years (in the pieces I own and the ones I’ve seen). The laminated cels that were sold in Disneyland can give big problems.
    But it’s great the Getty is doing this research! Many collectors may benefit from what the outcome is. And of course the Disney Animation Research Library.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/ariville Ariel

    Great article.

    I like how animation art is given it’s due attention. Beacause in a way, it is fine art.

    I wish this project the best. Anything, to preserve animated treasures.

  • Lionel

    Snow White cel preservation = 6 comments
    Alice in Wonderland tatoo = 24 comments

    This is really a sad time in History.