Living Cels: Tracing the Narrative of the Animation Art Object From Production to Collection

May 2023
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Analyzing the developmental and production art that survives from Walt Disney Studios’ 1959 animated feature Sleeping Beauty, as well as subsequent limited-edition collector’s cels and other made-for-display objects, this thesis seeks to apply narrative theory to the realm of animation art and its practices of collection. Animation as an art form evolved quickly throughout the course of the 20th century, with the creation of thousands of physical objects such as conceptual paintings, animation drawings, and painted cels necessitated by the production process for every cel- animated feature until the late 1990s. Practices of collecting “animation art” gives way to unique methods of display, conservation, and restoration – creating new art out of the by-products of existing work by changing and recontextualizing immaterial animation through their static, physical objects. The visual style of Disney’s Sleeping Beauty (1959) takes influences from narrative medieval artwork and combines it with modern illustrative styles while employing some of Disney’s most iconic artists, giving way to distinct and historically significant animation art pieces that survive today. These vestigial artifacts are sought after due to their scarcity now that the industry has turned primarily digital; however, animation art is much more than artifact. Its allure stems from a combination of different narratives – the macro-narratives of the films they represent, the micro-narratives that the objects visually depict, and the historical narratives of the production process they took part of, implicit in their material qualities and marks of authenticity. By considering how narrative is carried and transformed in Sleeping Beauty, the works that inspired it, and the animation art that remains after its production wrapped, this thesis exemplifies how story makes otherwise disposable objects appealing as art and suggests a layered narrative imbued in animation art that simultaneously acknowledges its content, materiality, and provenance to interpret the artform through the lens of narratology.

Art History