Collecting Animation Cels

Few Tolkien collecting sources refer to the collection of animation cels from the movie versions of Tolkien's stories. The movies consist of The Hobbit and The Return of the King by Rankin/Bass, done for television, and The Lord of the Rings, a movie by Ralph Bakshi. Since I have never seen a cel for sale from the Rankin/Bass movies, this introduction will only cover the Ralph Bakshi movie. The following is a brief introduction to cel collecting that includes purchasing sources for the cels.

To start, a production cel from an animated movie is an original painting on acetate of one small segment of the movie. The animator draws, in pencil, the numerous segments of a character in motion and these are combined to form a motion picture. The production pencil drawings are transferred to acetate and colored by another set of technicians. These are photographed one by one and the movie is constructed. Every animated movie uses thousands of cels. Although special edition reprints of selected cels from Disney and Warner Brothers movies have been recently produced, all of the cels available from the Lord of the Rings are production cels. They are one-of-a-kind paintings actually used to make the movie.

Although thousands of cels make up a movie, only a relatively small number are available for sale now. There are numerous stories about Disney cels that were thrown in the trash because they were not appreciated as valuable by the studios at the time they were made. There were even children who picked cels out of the trash that are now worth $5,000-$10,000 each. Cels that were sold in the Disneyland gift shop for $5 back in the 1960's are now worth thousands. Indeed, there was no animation cel collecting interest at the time most of the movies were made. Only in recent years have animation cels prices reached such astronomical levels that Disney itself is interested in meeting the demand with special limited edition hand-painted cels, and special reprints called, sericels. These are the cels available for sale in the Disney retail stores. Virtually all the production cels from Disney movies are sold by dealers or individual collectors.

In addition to the fact that many cels were destroyed, at least half of the remaining cels are uninteresting because of the scene depicted. Very few collectors are interested in images of characters in awkward positions or with their eyes closed. Also, many cels are constructed by only changing the facial expression of the character. The image of the body is one cel on which the changed heads are placed when the cels are photographed. This results in sets of disassociated heads. In the end, these factors leave relatively few desirable cels. Since the background of a scene might be used for hundreds of cels, there are also very few cels with original backgrounds. Backgrounds often command far higher prices than the cels.

Fortunately for the Tolkien collector, there are two kinds of animation cel collectors: 1) people who collect Disney and 2) people who collect Disney and Warner Brothers. Once you are outside the Disney and Warner Brothers areas, the prices drop dramatically. An average Disney production cel costs at least $2,000; some fetch prices as high as $20,000!. I have yet to find a cel from the Lord of the Rings priced over $800.

Although the field is dominated by Disney and Warner Brothers, Ralph Bakshi has a strong following among the animation art collectors. He has done some remarkably great animated movies, such as Wizards, Fritz the Cat and the Mighty Mouse cartoons. However, he has always innovated and he will be remembered for bringing adult themes to animated movies. Since he has a following, the prices for cels from The Lord of the Rings are moderately priced for animation cels. The prices range from $75 for a picture of Boromir standing alone, to $500 for a picture of Sam and Bill the pony, signed by Ralph Bakshi, with the original production background. The latter is about the best you will ever find. Any cel from The Lord of the Rings with a painted background will cost at least $300.

In addition to the cels, there are also production drawings that correspond to each cel. These are the pencil drawings actually made by the animator that are copied onto acetate and colored. Many cels will also include the production drawing corresponding to the cel. This brings up the price about 10%. Many of these drawings are sold separately. They range in price from $20 to $100.

Although many people in the Tolkien community do not like the Bakshi film version of The Lord of the Rings, the cels stand alone as imagery depicting the characters and events of the story. Some of these cels are just as remarkable as the best illustrations done for the Tolkien calenders and books. In particular, Bakshi's depiction of the most difficult character, Gollum, is as close to perfect as any illustrator will come. When I read Tolkien's description of Gollum in The Letters of J. R. R. Tolkien, I found it matched Bakshi's depiction in every detail. The depictions of Galdalf, the Hobbits, Boromir, Gimli and the Ringwraiths are also excellent.








  A very high quality, beautiful sword. This would make a great decorative gift for the shield maiden in your life, or someone who just loves equestrian design.


  Now that the movies have largely run their merchandising course, this may be the best time to purchase high quality jewelry at discounted prices. Use these as gifts for years to come.


  It appears that any game that could possibly have a Lord of the Rings theme has been produced. These include Monopoly, Trivial Pursuit, Backgammon and Dominoes.



  Figures from the movies include a large action figure series. There are separate figure sets and color schemes for each movie. The highest quality figures were made by Sideshow WETA. Although these are expensive, they sell out quickly and will likely keep their values.

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