Getty Conservation Institute and Disney Animation Research Library team up to save the cels

The Getty Conservation Institute (GCI) and the Disney Animation Research Library (ARL) teamed up in an effort to study the deterioration that can occur in plastics, a material increasingly used by artists over the last fifty to sixty years.

The collaboration is part of a long-term project already underway at the GCI to develop conservation strategies for objects made with plastics.

Plastics research is a key component in the GCI’s major initiative into the conservation issues of modern and contemporary art.

“Knowledge of how best to treat and stabilize artwork containing plastic is relatively new territory for the conservation profession,” said Tom Learner, GCI senior scientist in a press statement.

“The Disney Animation Research Library’s collection of animation cels is recognized as a highly important part of twentieth century culture. However, it also provides a unique and invaluable source of the two types of plastic – cellulose nitrate and cellulose acetate – that are known to be vulnerable to deterioration. Our hope is to work with ARL to better understand the changes that can occur in these materials over time, and to improve ways of preserving not only Disney’s animation cels, but also any object made from the same types of plastic.”

Said Kristen McCormick, ARL’s Art Collections and Exhibitions Manager, “We’re pleased to be collaborating with the Getty Conservation Institute on this important project. It is our strong hope that this research will help us to better ensure the future and integrity of our animation cel collection.”

The ARL’s state-of-the-art storage facilities have extended the life of Disney’s animation art, but in addition to environment, the exact aging process depends on a number of factors, including the composition of the plastics, which vary. A number of cels already are showing signs of deterioration such as yellowing, warping, and cracking, as well as the artist’s paint visibly pulling away from the plastic support, including a cel of Snow White singing to the seven dwarfs from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and a cel featuring the evil god Chernobog from Fantasia.

The initial phase of research will involve GCI scientists assessing the best methods for the identification of the actual plastics used in the cels, and for monitoring the condition of cels made with cellulose nitrate and acetate, as well as examining the physical and thermal properties. The joint project is expected to last through 2012.

The Disney Animation Research Library houses approximately 65 million pieces of animation art created over a period of more than 80 years by the Walt Disney Animation Studios division.

The collection includes original plastic animation cels and backgrounds, as well as conceptual design work, animation drawings, model sheets, layouts, exposure sheets, models, audio and video tapes, reference photographs and books. The ARL is the world’s largest archive of animation art.

The GCI’s “Preservation of Plastics” project was created out of necessity for  conservators dealing with the rapidly escalating number of plastic objects in museum collections now showing signs of serious deterioration.

Modern and Contemporary art has many mediums that require a much greater level of research, discussion and investigation in the art community to better understand how new materials age, and how they can be best preserved.

In its mission to advance conservation practice throughout the world, the GCI has initiated an ambitious program to respond to many of these new needs.


Dwarfs, full. ©Disney Enterprises, Inc.