“We are eager to build a better Mouse sanctuary, not a better mousetrap. We want to keep Mickey around for a very long time.” – Theo Gluck, Director, Walt Disney Studio Library Restoration & Preservation
The Walt Disney Family Museum and The Walt Disney Studios are both dedicated to preserving the art of Walt Disney and his artists. The Walt Disney Family Museum works to preserve animation cels from the classic films in its collection and The Walt Disney Studios is working to restore and preserve its film library.
Example of a restored scene of Sleeping Beauty. Image courtesy of The Walt Disney Studios.
The patent for creating animation cels was awarded on December 19, 1914. Walt Disney did not create cel animation, but he raised it to an American art form.
Martin Salazar, Art Conservator for The Walt Disney Family Museum, recently held a class on The Conservation and Preservation of Animation Cels. Cels deteriorate with time, but can be preserved. If the cels cannot be preserved, facsimiles are created.
In the late 1930s, the Guthrie Courvoisier Gallery in San Francisco approached Walt Disney saying the animation cels from his films are works of art and requests to sell them in their gallery. Disney gave them a 10 year exclusive contract to sell the cels. Single character cels sold for $5 with more complicated scenes selling for up to $75. Prior to this, a studio janitor cleaned the cels for re-use. In the 1940s this stopped as it became cheaper to purchase new cels. Now the cels are preserved like other historic works of art.
The Walt Disney Family Museum accepts the aging process and only preserves cels. They do not restore unless the restoration can be undone. For example, if blue paint is missing from a character they may put blue paper of the same color behind the cel and document the change. This can always be undone by removing the blue paper.
The museum stores cels in specially built microboard boxes which absorbs pollutants, fumes, moisture, etc. The boxes have to be replaced every few years. Character cels may have to be stored separately from their backgrounds.
Theo Gluck and the Walt Disney Studio have been in the forefront of preserving its film library. 50% of films made before 1950 are lost due to the nitrate negatives that deteriorate and turn to dust. The Walt Disney Studio spent 16 months scanning all the negatives in their library and will make new black and white negatives of each film containing the color record that will not decay like nitrate negatives. As a result, they will have the original nitrate negative, a digital copy of the negative and a new negative of each film and ultimately release it on Blu-ray and DVD so there is a revenue stream. Disney is the only studio that works with the original film negatives. No other studios will touch their original negatives.
The original Steamboat Willie film has been lost due to decay. Image courtesy of The Walt Disney Studios.
The original Steamboat Willie Negative. Thanks to the efforts of the Walt Disney Studio Library Restoration & Preservation Department, the film has been restored and a new negative created. Image courtesy of The Walt Disney Studios.
To determine the original colors of a film, they go into the archives at the Animation Research Library to view the animators’ original drawings with their notes to the Ink and Paint Department on colors. If any original Technicolor reels of the films exist, they will view those to see how the colors were originally intended.
With the current projection resolution technology, after restoring Bambi you can now see all the white dust on the original negative that was photographed as the film was made. You can also see blue scratches indicating damage and even fingerprints left on the cels when they were photographed for the film. The restoration team can now digitally clean up all the dust, scratches and fingerprints.
Thanks to the efforts of The Walt Disney Family Museum and The Walt Disney Studios Library Restoration and Preservation Department, new generations are able to experience and enjoy the artistry and magic of Walt Disney and his animators.
If you would like to hear more about The Walt Disney Studio’s restoration work, its live-action film project and what the future is for Song of the South, please listen to my segment on The DIS Unplugged Podcast: Disneyland Edition.
Does any cel animation artwork hang in your home?
What is your favorite Disney classic animated film?
Is there a Disney live-action film you are looking forward to seeing restored and adding to your home film collection?