Painting the cels at Cosgrove Hall

Lorraine Thomas, Supervisor of Paint and Trace talks with Ken Clark.

KC: How many people work in this department?

LT: We have eight cel painters and are about to employ three more, in another room we have two artists who do the airbrushing, and two who choose the colours and do the colour mixing.
I’ve been here nearly five years. I started off painting cels and doing a little bit of tracing (that was when we hand traced everything), although now we’ve had machines converted for our purpose and we Xerox 90% of our work. For the moment we still hand ink panning cels but we have just received a large format copier to take panning cels. Hopefully, the new copier will take over that task. Obviously, when they’ve been through the machine they still need to be checked and matched against backgrounds. It will help us a lot because it is also capable of reducing or enlarging the images.

Lorraine Thomas.

What paint do you use?

We use a film paint – it is designed to go on cels very flat and opaque without cracking. Our colour mixers decide the colours to be used and swatches are sent off to the paint manufacturer who match them for us.

Cel painting.

And do they grade the paints to take account of the different layers of cel?

No, they are not graded in pots. However, we do have three different sets of colours on The BFG, for daytime, night-time and cave time. Actually, we don’t go to too many cel levels, for the BEG it has been something like two and three, although on the series we have sometimes gone to six levels. For Alias and Dangermouse we used to animate separate parts of the bodies moving, very limited animation, but the feature being fully animated does not need so many. Any slight change in colouration is taken care of during the colour printing grading process. We also use black matt cels for shadows.

That’s a boring job for someone?

A very boring job! If you have 400 cels within a scene you’ll have 400 shadows to paint, as well. They share the job quite well, really. I keep the cels here in this rack in sequence order and they take them from the top down. We’ve reached sequence P at the moment and it is going very well.

Roy Huckerby, Airbrushing artist. Interview by Ken Clark.

KC: What does this department do?

RH: We are responsible for airbrush and special effects. All the specialised cel finishing work is done here. The animators may do drawings which require effects, such as back-lighting, to be added to the cels. Recently I had a complete sequence to render on frosted cels, with airbrush work etc, to give it a three dimensional appearance. We flip the cels, as an animator would his drawings, to check the smoothness and consistency of the rendering.

What form of masking do you employ when you airbrush?

We cut masks from paper. We cannot use fast drying liquid masking material on cel as it would leave behind marks and be very difficult to remove completely afterwards. It is not like working on paper, as the BEG artists do, we are restricted to paper masks. We cannot even use the self-adhesive film. We get a little curling at times but for the most part standard animation paper masks work quite well. If it is repeated over and over again in a sequence we may cut out the protective shapes from a piece of cel – it depends on the lob. We used to use acrylic cel paint but recently we’ve been using special airbrush ink which works quite well on cel. It comes in many colours, and a range of retoucher’s colours: white, black and shades of grey. They are less likely to scratch and have a finer texture. The other colours, when used in the airbrush, are rather coarse and tend to ruin your needle.

For transparent colours we use a clear varnish as a base and then add a small amount of enamel paint. It dries fairly flat and does not cause the cels to cockle when used over small areas, but it is primarily thinners so you cannot take liberties. We also use it for shadows rather than resort to percentage shadows, where we would paint them black and then control their transparency by choosing the appropriate exposure. Unfortunately the latter technique takes up a lot of camera time.

Printed in Animator Issue 17 (Autumn 1986)

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