Sunday, 8 February 2015


Artwork from The Last Belle - black lines photocopied from ink drawings onto
cel, with hand-inked shirt pattern, and cel paint on the reverse.

Long time - No blogging...

The usual excuses apply: I'm in the middle of drawing a fun, but time consuming job. But the interesting thing about this project is that it could prove to be (possibly?...probably?...) the final traditional pencil-on-paper job I ever get paid to do. The Cintiq, and software like TVPaint, are spreading through the 2D animation world at a rapid pace, and almost all the London animation production companies are now operating paperless.

Of course I'll always have pencils, pens and a stack of paper at home for my personal work - old habits die hard, and I can't think of a more immediate way to connect my imagination to the outside world. But in the working environment the noise of a room full of flapping sheets of paper is being replaced by the low hum of computer fans, and the sound of scratching, swishing pencils is being supplanted by the silence of nylon nib sliding over glass. Only the muttering, sighing, and outright swearing as you try to get your drawing just right remain the same as they always were.

One of the upsides of non-digital work is that you're left with actual, tangible pieces of artwork you can hold in your hand, or stick up on your wall. Over the years I've collected (or rescued from the bin) bits and pieces from various films and commercials (and due to my connections with the Richard Williams Studio, many are from there). Looking at them up close can give you a real insight into the craftspeople who produced them, and how they worked.

So with that in mind, here's a gallery dedicated to an almost lost way of working...

An original cel from a Harlem Globetrotters commercial animated by Richard Williams
and (I think) Tom Roth. Soft waxy pencil on frosted cel, cel paint on the back.

Here's a close up of that head. Bear in mind that this commercial
was mostly animated on ones, so 25 of these 'drawn-paintings' would have
to be produced per second of screen time! 

To see the final commercial (unfortunately very low-res) Press Here!

Another insane amount of work, this time for a commercial animated by Richard
Williams and Simon Wells. The style had to mimic the work of famous
newspaper cartoonist 'Kal'.
Here's a close up of all that cross-hatching. You can almost smell the late nights
spent at the studio producing this commercial!
 Here is the final commercial, once again in appalling ultra-low-res, but better than nothing...
Artwork painted (in guache?) directly onto cel by Richard Williams. I love how
delicate the brushwork is - this really can stand up to being framed and mounted
on the wall!

You'll find this piece of artwork about 47 seconds into these Titles.


Wax and soft coloured pencils on frosted cel, cel paint on reverse. This commercial
(for breath freshener!) was animated by Russell Hall, assisted by Bella Bremner.
Up close, I love the different textures here: sketchy, but controlled, linework;
rendered light and shade; hot and smelly looking smoke, shaded and smudged.  
Here's the final commercial, which I remember being a big success with audiences at the time. 
Personally I'm excited to see where the new technologies will take us. Taking the best of the old, and mixing it up with the best of the new, should open up all sorts of fresh avenues. But I love to have these little fragments of artwork around me. Etched into their surfaces, trapped for all time, are the brushstrokes, penstrokes, and sheer skill of the amazing artists who created them. 
I'll have more goodies from the archive in the next post. Stay tuned... 


  1. cel animation is the best. it even feels and looks better on screen. can't explain it but it does.

    thanks for sharing. :)

  2. Yes, I agree with you - it does have a certain 'je ne sais quoi'... something about it being organic and textured, I guess. I'll have more goodies in the next post - thanks for commenting Alex.

  3. It's really cool to see those cels up close, thanks!
    I'm doing my personal student film on paper (with digital colour) and helping out on a group project that's all digital, it's interesting to see the pros and cons of both first hand. I prefer paper.
    I hope that digitally-drawn animation will allow more styles to come in that the usual cel look (solid lines, flat colours)
    But then looking at those RW commercials, they were doing all sorts of different styles on cels!
    Have you seen how good fake watercolour can look now?
    Even in the few years since Ernest et Celestine, it's come along quite a bit.

  4. Yes, it's amazing to see just how much textural variety you can get using simple cel 'technology'! There's some amazing stuff, going right back to the 1940s, on 'Fantasia', where the final screen images have all the textural sophistication of the conceptual art (unlike the 1970s/80s/90s Disney films where the concept art continued to be beautiful but the final films mostly ended up with the standard dull, flat cel look).

    But great you are getting to work both ways, traditionally and digitally. That's the way to move forward I think: take the best of each method.

    Thanks for your comments Marc!

  5. Hi Neil,

    The digital 2d revolution has been very mixed in my experience. For the most part I find animators work less appealing when they draw digitally, especially in vector based programs. Bad work habits also creep in, cheap limited animation crutches often like puppeting often wreck otherwise good work. There's also the insidious draw it first time it later method.

    Assisting has been a struggle as well. Clean up is slower digitally and often flatter looking. Different artists like different platforms so you end up importing image sequences and you lose the benefits of working in the original program.

    A lot of the better clean up people I know can't afford to get a cintiq or the software that they would need. In most cases I'd prefer artists work on paper, but there is the benefit of no scanning or shipping artwork.

    I think you can achieve more non traditional looks in digital formats but whether or not the animation is done on paper or not doesn't seem to be much of a factor in the finished look. It's usually the follow up/ painting/compositing the make the look.

  6. Yes Aaron, I agree with you - the painting/compositing probably has the biggest impact on the final 'look'... adding textures and 'organic' inconsistencies always helps stuff to feel more hand-made, and less synthetic. Basically, it's the 'flaws' that make us, and our work, human. But I agree even more wholeheartedly with your comment on the "insidious draw it first, time it later" school of animation! Figuring out a basic plan of timing before picking up a pencil is always the way to go! It saves so much stress and wasted effort... Thanks for your thoughts Aaron.

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