What are Cels?


What are cels? "Cels" is a short form for celluoid, a clear plastic that are used to paint images that are then used create the animation on the screen, but they may also use a cel to make promotional items. Nowadays, cels are printed on a plastic called acetate. The reason behind using the clear plastic is really very simple - this allows multiple characters to be on the same scene without actually needing to paint a whole new set of people with every new frame. Some of the earliest cartoons did have the whole scene redrawn, characters and all. This made the scene look "jittery", as each frame did not quite look like the last one. A typical episode of any series would usually take thousands of cels to create all of the animation. In a series, there are usually twenty-something people who draw this form of art.

Cels usually begin as a pencil sketch of the scene. They do not paint this right away, as touch-ups are usually needed to make the character look as nice as possible. While animating, they use peg holes (attached to the top of the cel) to make sure that the animation does not "move" while the scene is being filmed. Sometimes, the cel is not completely redrawn - rather the company uses a technique called limited animation where they take only the essential parts of the animation that need to be changed and they modify it as such. Some of the limited animation can range from changing the whole head to just the shape of the mouth. It all depends on the animation budget. This type of cel used is called multi-layered cels - cels that overlay previous cels to create the animation.

Types of Drawings

There are several items that are used to create the animation of the cels. With them, they create the whole scene with the animation.


Gengas are, as such, storyboards to show how the animation of the character will play out. Gengas are rarely sold because they usually do not make it out the animation room. They are guides to the people who are about to draw the Dougas.


Dougas are the drawings that will be placed onto a cel and then painted on. These are the animation seen on the cels, though the actual dougas are harder to find (even harder because AIC decided to not distribute the original drawings with the cels).


Timecharts are indicators about how the cel(s) are going to be organized in the scene. They may contain hints on what is changing in the scene, what to replace, or even who made the cel(s) in the shot.

Key Cels

Key cels are aptly named because they are "important". They are used in the first, last, and sometimes middle portions of the animation. The cels usually have an indicator to show what frame they are. Cels usually have a letter and a number representative to what they are. The letters (A, B, C, etc...) are usually indicative of the cel's layering in the one particular frame. The numbers (1, 2, 3, etc...) are usually indicative of the frame the cel represents. Some cels may use multi-layering to animate the scene. The other frames, which are not done by the Key Animators are made so that the animation looks smoother.

Multi-Layer Cels

Sometimes, the animators, rather than draw the cel right over again with a slight modification, take a small portion of the cel and color it in to create the animation. This type of animation is called limited animation, and it involves multi-layered cels. These type of cels are little more than slight modifications to the previous cel. This saves time and money, but if it is not done properly, it can also look fake as well.


Backgrounds are, simply, backdrops for the cels. These backgrounds are interesting for one reason - usually they are not made by the animation team. Backgrounds can be made from other companies for the animation team to use. The backgrounds are rarer than cels for one reason - unlike cels, they are not produced in bulk - rather, the backgrounds are used as needed.

From Animanga and Wikipedia.

Personal tools