My Financial Career (1962) - Gerald Potterton. © NFB
What on Earth! (1969) - Kaj Pindal and Les Drew. © NFB
The Cat Came Back (1989) - Cordell Barker. © NFB
Beginnings (1980) - Clorinda Warny. © NFB
The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin (1981) - Janet Perlman. © NFB
Rumors (2003) - Francis Desharnais and le Groupe Kiwistiti. © NFB
Welcome to Kentucky (2004) - Craig Welch. © NFB
Play excerpts of films that use this technique
Getting Started, 1979
Le Tournoi / The Tournament, 1995
By Marcel Jean
Animated drawings were originally done on paper. Pioneers such as Émile Cohl of France (Fantasmagorie, 1908) and Winsor McCay (Gertie the Dinosaur, 1914) of the United States worked with this medium, but there were problems inherent in paper's opacity. First, the artist couldn't keep the static parts of the drawing and change only the ones that moved. Second, there were problems with image stability and unavoidable jitter. Third, the perspective effects were limited.
The experiments done in New York in the early 1900s by Quebecer Raoul Barré paved the way for cel animation. Barré was the first to use a transparent medium, glass. After him, Americans Earl Hurd (1914) and John Randolph Bray (1915) patented the cel animation technique.
But just what exactly is it? After a background (or scene) has been drawn on paper, cardboard or canvas, a transparent sheet of celluloid, or cel, is placed on top of it. Anything drawn on the cel becomes part of the scene. Many cels can be layered, thus saving a great deal of effort—anything that doesn't move doesn't have to be redrawn—and making spectacular perspective effects possible.
All the productions of the big American studios (Disney, Warner, MGM, Hanna-Barbera) were essentially based on this technique, which was later modified (use of three-dimensional sets by the Fleischer brothers, use of multiplane camera, etc.). The method remained essentially the same, however, which means that shapes were outlined in ink and then painted, usually with water colours. Because each frame shot was the result of many stages, this technique lent itself perfectly to the division of labour, a principle that was adopted from the beginning by Bray and the studio heads who followed him.
In 1990 Walt Disney Pictures stopped using cel animation. The Rescuers Down Under was the first film made using a system that could "paint" and assemble drawings after they were digitized. Gradually the other studios followed suit.
Because Norman McLaren had from the outset preferred to view animation as an art, he and his first colleagues at the NFB deemed cel animation an inappropriate technique. It was not until 1952 that Colin Low, in the wake of the aesthetic revolution started by the young American company UPA, made The Romance of Transportation in Canada, the NFB's first effort using this technique. The NFB then went on to produce many films drawn on cel, including those by Gerald Potterton (My Financial Career, 1962), Kaj Pindal and Les Drew (What on Earth!, 1966), Zlatko Grgic (Hot Stuff, 1971), Michael Mills (Evolution, 1971), Janet Perlman (The Tender Tale of Cinderella Penguin, 1981), Richard Condie (The Big Snit, 1985), Cordell Barker (The Cat Came Back, 1988), Alison Snowden and David Fine (Bob's Birthday, 1993) and Paul Driessen (Cat's Cradle, 1974). These cartoons, quite different in terms of graphic style, all share a sense of humour.
Although many animators were working on cels, others continued to draw on paper. Pierre Veilleux, for instance, made Mushrooms (1984) by painting with acrylic on paper, while for Une âme à voile (1982), he used the same type of paint, but on cardboard this time. In 1965 Ryan Larkin made Syrinx from a series of charcoal drawings. Beginnings (1980), a posthumous film by Clorinda Warny, completed by Lina Gagnon and Suzanne Gervais, was drawn on paper, as were One Way Street (1980) by Bernard Longpré, The Hat (1999) by Michèle Cournoyer, Rumors (2003) by the Kiwistiti group and Welcome to Kentucky (2004) by Craig Welch. Work on paper, which accommodates any type of crayon, pen, pencil, pastel, brush, ink and paint, has therefore remained popular with NFB animators.
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