Lion-O from Thundercats.  Clean-Up, Color Key, Hand Trace, Hand Paint.  Done from original Key Frame used in the opening sequence of the series [you know, right before he puts his sword under his eyes and goes “Thunder, thunder etc.”?], which I managed to get my hands on while in Japan.  The original drawings and cels are permanently in storage below this studio in Japan and have never been released to the general public or sold off.  As far as I know, they are still there.  There is no other replica cel art of Thundercats or Silverhawks done from the originals that is out there; all replicas that may be out there are done from screengrabs – i.e., the artist just freezes the DVD and prints a copy of what’s on screen, and traces it.  I sold this cel for over $100 on Ebay, which I was shocked at.

As some of you may or may not know, I never went to school for Fashion.  I actually did my undergraduate degree in Film, and then I went to animation school in Japan for a 2-year program.  I also have two Certificates in Animation and Animation Direction.

I was at school in 2000-2002, at a time when the entire animation industry was undergoing a major shift from 2D to 3D animation here in the U.S.  In Japan, the system is so incredibly different – and the training given to would-be animators at school is in the basics, giving the kids a solid foundation in art and techniques.  Though almost the entire Japanese animation industry now uses a digital paint process after scanning in the drawings, some rare studios still hold fast to the traditional method of using hand-painted cels to create their animations, maintaining that the “look and feel” of hand-painted cels are far more beautiful than drawings colored by computer.  (Most notably as of late, Hayao Miyazaki and his full-length feature film Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea (2008), which was done entirely in hand-painted cels.)

Quicksilver from Silverhawks.  Clean-Up, Hand-Trace, Hand-Paint.
Done from original Key Frame from the opening sequence to the series.  I also copied the original TV framing onto the Clean-Up, since I thought to see that was really cool, even though the Clean-Up artist normally wouldn’t copy the framing onto his work.

And it’s totally true!  Hand-painted cels have a luminosity and vibrance that digital paint can never replicate – the lines have a solidarity and impart a 3D feel to a flat character.  Once you know the telltale differences, you can tell in an instant if you’re looking at an animation made from cels or one with the colors added via computer.

Gundam.  I didn’t include the Clean-Up and Color Key I did for this one.  Hand-Trace; Hand-Paint.  I hate dealing with mecha more than anything!  (Except Doraemon, who is every animator’s worst nightmare.)

Because producing cels is so much more labor-intensive, time-consuming, and expensive than digital paint, cels in the animation industry have gone the way of the Dodo.  Among animation afficionados and collectors there is a small market for original cels used in the cartoons of yore – as well as for replica cels.

Can you find me in this picture? circa 2001 or sumpin.’

After I graduated animation school and couldn’t find a job in the U.S. because my traditional animation skills were already obsolete (and the U.S. market expects you to be able to create your own animation from start to finish, be able to use a variety of software, and be able to market your skills as a freelancer – whereas the Japanese market preps you to do an entry-level job that has a single function at the very bottom of the studio pecking order), I was spending a lot of my time creating and painting replica cels and selling them online.

Gon from Hunter X Hunter from original Key Frame from the series.  Clean-Up, Hand-Trace, Hand-Paint.

I was looking at some of my old work today and remembered how much I loved doing it – the intricacy and painstaking nature of the work; the finished product looking like it was lifted straight from your TV screen.  I was thinking about pulling out all my old paints and doing more of it.

Traditional cel-painting setup.  Though I probably should be using a desk…

So here are some cels that I painted.  I kind of gravitated more towards the macho stuff because we got more of those key frames from school and I don’t like working from non-original artwork, but the shoujou manga (well, technically not manga per se) stuff is so fun and cute and uses so many great colors.

Revolutionary Girl Utena from original Key Frame from the series.  Clean-Up, Hand-Trace, Hand-Paint.
One of the cool things about going to school in Japan was that the animations, key frames, artwork, cels, and exercises that we did were all pulled from past and current Japanese animations and studios – an otaku‘s dream.  We were handed photocopies of the original key frames actually used in the animations seen on TV, in movies, and now on DVDs worldwide.  Though I’d be har
d-pressed to actually find the exact point where the frames were used in each anime and manage to pause the DVD for you guys to show you a screencap!
Songoku; Clean-Up and Color Key of original Key Frame from Dragon Ball Z series; Hand-Trace; Hand-Paint
All the cels and paper I use for my replicas are standard Japanese size (same as what was used in the originals), and the paint is standard-issue Toei brand, which is the only cel paint used in Japan for their animations – which means the colors of the replica cel are exactly the same as those used in the original.  (The West uses Chromacolour brand and the color palette is completely different, as well as the standard size of cel acetate and the shape of the holes at the top.)
21emon.   Clean-Up, Color Key, Machine Trace, Hand-Paint.

For the cels I sold I also did the Key Clean-up and Hand-Traced the lines, which is an extremely obsolete skill given that even the studios that extol the superior nature of cels now just laser-print the lines on the cel acetate and then add the paint.  Before laser-printing there was Machine-Tracing, (seen above) which transferred the carbon from your pencil lines on the cleaned-up frame onto the cel acetate.  You’d have a real hard time finding one of those old carbon-based Machine Trace machines, though back in 2002 they were still alive and well and being used at my school and in Japan.  Clean-Up techniques for cels that will be printed via Machine-Trace are also different from those used for Hand-Tracing; which are again different for the lines on the frames that will be scanned in and colored on the computer.  Hand-Tracing is a BE-otch and I’m sooooo glad that it’s not necessary anymore – but it’s a help having those lines on the cel when painting, since the paint used in Hand-Tracing acts as a little wall around the areas you’re painting and prevents the colors from mixing in different areas.  I hate Machine-Tracing because it’s so messy and the carbon lines fade over time and with exposure to light – you can see how messy the lines are in the cel above.  To see the most horrible messy lines EVER and why Machine-Tracing + Sloppiness in Your Drawing = A BIG MESS check out any Disney animation made before 1988 (like The Aristocats (1970) or the animation in Mary Poppins (1964), for instance.  Well, they were drawing 24 frames per second so I guess we’ll have to forgive;-)



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