Animation Art Terminology & Definitions

The heart, the hand and the soul of Animation comes from the great animators who “breathe” life into a character with a simple pencil…this is, essentially, the Art of Animation.

The process itself occurs when a pencil drawing, full of expression and life, is transferred to a sheet of clear plastic, (or celluloid-cel for short) which is then colored in by a “painter.” When dry, the cels are placed on a hand-painted background and photographed one at a time to create the individual frames of the animated short or full-length feature.


A broad term that encompasses most types of animation art. In its strictest interpretation, a cel is the plastic sheet, either cellulose acetate or cellulose nitrate, that animated characters are painted on. In practice, the term cel has come to mean that plastic sheet in combination with the outline and coloring of a character, object, and/or special effect. Outlines can be either hand-inked or Xerographically transferred to the sheet of plastic. Those outlines are then filled with color, either by hand-painting or a serigraphic process, to complete the cel.

12 or 16 Field

These terms are used to describe the size of a particular cel. They come from the size of the “field” of view of the camera photographing the artwork. For rough use, consider a twelve-field cel roughly 10″x12″, and a sixteen-field cel approximately 14″x16″. The actual framed size may differ.


These are the cels actually used in the production of a cartoon. They can have either Xerographed or hand-inked outlines, and are hand-painted at the studio. These cels are one-of-a-kind pieces of art, and their rarity makes them highly sought after by collectors. Because these cels were created to make an actual cartoon, each cel is a component part of a larger movement. Different cels from the same scene may be more or less desirable depending on a variety of factors: size, profile and expression of the character, any damage to inking or paint, and overall visual appeal.


As with production cels, limiteds can have either hand-inked or xerographic outlines, and are also hand-painted. The major difference, as its name implies, is that the limited editions are created in limited quantities, generally in runs of 250 to 500 cels. Because of these small edition sizes, limiteds can also be very collectible. Some limiteds are exact reproductions of the frames of the film they represent. Others are based on contemporary interpretations of classic characters or scenes by their animators- Chuck Jones limiteds, for instance. Limited editions are always hand-numbered on the cel, and many are signed by the artists.


Sometimes called serigraph cels. The serigraphy process involves silk-screening each individual color to the cel, one at a time. Every distinct shade is a separate screen, and a separate pass in the procedure. As a result of this fine art operation, each color is flawlessly reproduced. Sericels are also created in limited quantities, typically 2500 to 5000 pieces. Because of their larger edition size, sericels are the most affordable type of animation art, ideal for the beginning collector.


A cel, usually hand-painted, not actually used in a film or created for collectors, but made for publicity or promotional purposes.


A combination of cels presented together. If the combination of cels match exactly, it is referred to as a key set-up.


These are the original, one-of-a-kind drawings, penciled by the animator, that cels are eventually made from. Drawings can be rough, or the more refined CLEAN-UP drawings. Sometimes, set-ups are available with matching drawings and the cel that was made from it.


A drawing or story sketch made for the storyboard, which conveys visually the plot and action of a scene or shot. The storyboard serves as a preliminary guide for the artists.


Drawings, or studio reproductions of a character in a variety of actions used as reference by the animators during production.


Boy, is this a can of worms. We will try to cover the major types of Backgrounds you are likely to encounter, and what they mean.


This covers a wide range of backgrounds that are original paintings, and were used in the production of a cartoon. It is important to note that it does not necessarily mean it is the same production that the cel is from. It may not even be from the same studio as the cel. If you see this term used, you will want to know what production the background is from.


This is the ultimate set-up, and the most rare. A key master set-up combines the original cel, or a key set-up of cels, with the background they were originally photographed over. When framed, this will look exactly as it did in the actual film or short.


This type of background was specially prepared to complement the cel by an independent artist. Generally, it will be in the style of the original. Although it may enhance the visual appeal of the set-up, it adds little value or collectibility to the cel (unless the artist is famous in his or her own right).


This is the most common type of background. It is, as the name implies, a copy of a background. The reproduction can be by color Xerox, lithography, serigraphy or photography. In many cases, it is a reproduction of the original background.


Lithography owes it existence to the chemical principal that oil and water do not mix. The artist draws the image to be printed on a flat slab of limestone, metal, or plastic using a greasy crayon. The surface is then chemically fixed and wet with water, which does not adhere to the greasy image areas. When the surface is inked with a roller, ink adheres only to the greasy areas and not the wet area. Paper is then positioned over the plate and the press is manually operated to produce one impression. The process must be repeated for each color. It is not unusual for fine lithographs to be printed from 15 or more plates.


Serigraphy (“Seri”, the Latin word for silk, and the word “grapho”, a Greek term meaning “to write or draw”), was first recognized as a fine art medium in the late 1930s. Serigraphy utilizes a color stencil printing process, involving the direct transfer of an image when a squeegee is used to push ink through a screen onto a substrate. Each color requires a stencil. Using extreme pressure, the image is pressed onto paper. Passes or colors can range from 10 to 200 plus colors, depending on the complexity of the original that is being reproduced.


Stone lithography is one of the most prestigious traditions in the history of printmaking artistry. Pioneered in 1796 by Aloys Senefelder, the process is a highly skilled combination of a careful chemical mix and the masterful application of the image in a greasy medium to the face of the printing stone.


Perfected by Rembrandt, the etching process was originally developed over 300 years ago using copper plates and wax. It is a time-comsuming, hand-worked process, with the product being hand pulled and embellished by hand. Each etching is a work of art in and of itself, a creation of the combined efforts of the original artist’s vision and the skilled mastery of the craftsman whose job it is to make that supreme vision a reality.


Creating Giclée fine art prints requires the utmost care and attention to detail. The French term “Giclée”, literally meaning “spray of ink,” is used to describe these prints. Four precision nozzles spray up to a million microscopic droplets per second on to fine art paper. Then, each piece of paper is individually hand-mounted. Displaying a full color spectrum, the prints are lush and velvety, capturing the subtle nuances of the original artwork.

Since 1986 Animazing Gallery has been a leader in the animation industry, hosting memorable events with famous animators directors and historians. Our reputation for excellence in customer service is second to none, and our showroom walls have never been outdone. We have the very best vintage and contemporary cels and drawings from all major studios, and are proud to be the exclusive authorized Walt Disney Art Classics gallery in New York City. A full service gallery, Animazing does beautiful custom framing with museum quality materials.

STOP-MOTION (Text by Heidi Leigh)

Stop-motion animation is a film-making process that utilizes fully animatronic puppets and props to create action in a film. The repeated starting and stopping of a camera allows individual images to be captured frame by frame. Between each shot, the character is moved by animators incrementally, so each frame varies slightly from the last. The resulting images are then compiled in succession, which brings the puppet actors to life. The process is similar to traditional animation, in which thousands of cels are photographed, one at a time, to create the illusion of movement. In both genres, each frame of the finished film is a building block, and a full day’s work for a team of animators might accomplish only a minute of footage.

The first step is in the film-making process is to imagine the story and its characters. In the case of The Nightmare Before Christmas, the story was Tim Burton’s brainchild for years before Disney agreed to produce it. Burton’s concept sketches of the characters and setting became the heart of the film. The drawings you see at Animazing were inspired by the his vision, and established the aesthetics and mood for the entire film. Upon approval, these completed model-drawings were pinned to a bulletin board as reference for the most involved artists, such as Joe Ranft, who then story-boarded the film with ellaborately detailed paintings depicting every scene and act. These storyboards served as essential guides for the pre-prodcution and production teams, and were vital tools for everyone, including musicians, writers, voice actors, set designers, puppet makers, and the crew.

After the puppets and sets are completed, the filming begins and the stop-motion animators spend their days physically manipulating the 3-dimensional puppets and models, a little bit at a time. Production on Nightmare lasted more than two years. 227 puppets were constructed to represent the characters in the movie; Jack Skellington alone had around 400 heads, which enabled his every possible emotion to be expressed!

A portion of the artwork in The Art of Stop-Motion exhibition came from the personal collection of Henry Selick, a Stop-Motion director, producer and writer with an extensive career. Selick wrote and directed Coraline, and directed Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.

Others pieces from the exhibition came from the collection of the late Joe Ranft, one of the top animation artists of recent years. His artistry and imagination can be admired via movies such as The Nightmare Before Christmas, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Lion King, Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and Corpse Bride, which was dedicated to him by Tim Burton.

John Canemaker, a Disney Historian and NYU Professor of Animation, wrote a book entitled The Two Joes, which is set to be released in August of 2010. It is about the lives and artistic careers of two legendary animation artists, Joe Ranft and Joe Grant. The author will attend a book-signing event in September of 2010 at Animazing Gallery. Some of the storyboards from the collection of Joe Ranft, which were acquired by Animazing Gallery, will be published in this highly anticipated book.


Armature [ahr-muh-cher]– noun: Sculpture. A skeletal framework built as a support on which a clay, wax, or plaster figure is constructed.

Customized professional armatures used in full-scale Stop-Motion films are amazing functional sculptures. Each one is built from the ground up at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars to the studios. These bendable robots become puppets only after a labor-intensive process, managed by skilled artists and engineers who must provide their director with fully animated performers. The finished creations must be capable of singing, dancing, winking, holding a popsicle and biting it, and jumping for joy while their hair blows in the wind!

The studio/laboratory where a precision-engineered Stop-Motion puppet is created requires many unique items. For any artist wishing to build one of these creatures, here is a typical list of must-haves:

A miniature machine shop with laythe, drills, sculpting tools, casting plastic, liquid laytex, foam, rubber, paint, hair, fur, hardening clays, rubber masks, make up, polyester resins, air brushes, paint brushes, gadgets, wire, self-skinning polyfoam, joints, nuts, bolts, eyeballs, miniature screws, brass tubing, miniature tools, and of course soldering metal and a tiny flame gun!

Armaverse Armatures, the makers of customizable Creation Kits, have loaned Animazing Gallery some Armature samples. In order to fully understand how durable the puppets’ skeletons are, we encourage visitors to handle the robots. They’re exactly like the Terminator, except smaller!

The Corpse Bride puppets were all used in the film, and are fully animatronic. They were acquired from the Warner Bros. archives.

The Disney props from The Nightmare Before Christmas were acquired through a ‘94 Sotheby’s auction.