4,000 images in just 30 minutes! Cels are the powerhouses that bring anime to life.
"Anime cels" refer to the images drawn on transparent sheets made of celluloid. Before anime production was digitized, multiple layers of cels were overlaid on hand-drawn backgrounds, and only the cels for moving parts were replaced during filming to create the animated work. In Japanese anime, 8 to 24 cel frames are displayed per second with a 30-minute animated TV episode consisting of up to 4,000 frames total. For this, skilled artisans would hand-draw each of these numerous cels using specialized paints.
Specialized paints are the lifeblood of cels.
Cels are painted using special vinyl-based water-soluble acrylic paints that are applied to transparent sheets of acetate film. It requires a high level of skill to paint with a single flat brush and not cause any color variations or leave behind any visible brushstrokes. Painting cels is an extremely challenging task that can only be mastered through experience. What is more, since a large number of cels need to be painted simultaneously, the artisans must calculate the drying time while harnessing their expertise for the work.
For the production process of anime, studios commonly kept around 400 colors of cel paint on hand at all times. However, following the digitization of anime production, these paints are no longer available to the artists. That is why CEL LAB has embarked on a significant challenge to mix paints and create new "colors" in collaboration with paint manufacturers as part of its effort to revive cels.
2003 saw a sad farewell to the cels that helped anime flourish.
Techniques for creating animation using cels are said to have originated in the United States in 1914. These techniques eventually spread worldwide and became key to creating a world where animation was enjoyed as a part of people's daily lives. However, as time passed, digitalization also descended upon the field of animation production. As countries around the world transitioned to digital, Japan, which had cherished hand-drawn cels up until the 1990s, also embraced this digital revolution, transitioning completely away from cels in 2003. As a result, both cels themselves and their production techniques began to disappear entirely.