Thursday, October 12, 2017

Using Cel Vinyl Paint

Nasan Hardcastle asks: "Have you ever experimented with cel-vinyl paint before? Do you know much about the process of using it in a more painterly application?"
Establishing shot for Fire and Ice by James Gurney
Yes, when I worked as a background artist on the animated movie Fire and Ice, we used cel vinyl paint. This is the same paint used for the flat colors used on the back of the animation cels.

I painted about 600 paintings for the film at a rate of about 11 a week. Not all were highly finished or detailed, though.

This spooky forest background consists of two layers. The segmented trees and mushrooms are painted on a foreground layer of acetate. That way those foreground elements can overlap the animation layers.

Cel vinyl is very opaque, with strong adhesion and and a tough emulsion. It's formulated to work well on acetate. Regular acrylic will generally bead up on acetate.

Cel vinyl is still made by the Cartoon Colour company. It comes in liquid form in bottles. The colors are premixed and consistent. We squeezed them out onto a butcher tray and painted mostly with sable and synthetic round and flat brushes.

I used cel vinyl here in a very painterly way. I started with big brushes and used the airbrush to help separate the foreground from the background. In this case the layers are all part of the same painting on illustration board. The figures (lower right) are registered on top of the painting.

Cel vinyl tended to clog the airbrushes, and it destroyed the Winsor and Newton Series 7 brushes that we used.

Most of the backgrounds are remarkably small, about 9x12 inches. This establishing shot of Nekron's glacier was a little bigger, about 11x14 inches.

This gargoyle  spews out animated lava. Each sequence needed a different color mood: in this case red light from below and blue light from above.

James Gurney, Establishing shot of Fire Keep, about 16 x 20, cel vinyl.
Although we had a wide range of colors available, we restricted the palette for each sequence, and that probably got me started thinking about gamut mapping and color scripting.

James Gurney and Thomas Kinkade at Ralph Bakshi’s animation studio in 1981.
Here I am working on that volcano painting. The other background painter was Tom Kinkade (misspelled Kincade in the credits). Later in his career he returned to cel vinyl paint for his cottage scenes, though I haven't gone back to it.

Of all the paints I use now, I'd say Holbein's Acryla Gouache is most similar to cel-vinyl, in that it's an opaque, water-based medium with a closed, matte surface when it dries.


Nasan Hardcastle said...

Thanks for the post!

I remember you sharing posts about Fire and Ice several years ago, but I guess I glossed over the part where you mentioned the kind of paint you were using.
The backgrounds are gorgeous and vibrant. It's too bad not many of them survived.

How well does Cel-Vinyl hold up against fading? I read elsewhere that they handle similar to Acrylics, but can be a little tricky to use.

James Gurney said...

Nasan, I don't know what pigments Cartoon Colour uses for its various pigments, but the fade properties would depend on the pigments. The handling is like any liquid opaque acrylics. Takes some getting used to, but really nice if you like fluid, opaque paint without a lot of texture.

Luca said...

"Each sequence needed a different color mood"

I'm curious about this thing. Were you free to choose the color palette for each scene, or did you have a guideline to follow, for example a colored storyboard, a color script or similar things?

James Gurney said...

Luca, the layout drawings were done in pencil by Tim Callahan over a rough template based on the live action. The color was something that Tom and I developed with small color thumbnails. We got those approved by the director, Ralph Bakshi, and then it was up to us to control the palette to keep to that mood.

Michael Syrigos said...

What was Frazetta's input if any during the creation of the movie (cause I'd guess the backgrounds would be somewhat where he'd give input) and, about the backgrounds, how were they developed, I mean, strictly from imagination or was reference used at all?

Incredible how small they were and how many you produced by the way.

Bill Marshall said...

Hello James,

This post takes me back to when I worked as an "inker & painter" for a small, SanFrancisco animation studio (Imagination Inc.) that produced Sesame Street films in the early '70's. As I remember we were instructed to just "push" the paint around up to the inked outline on the back of the cell to get total coverage and preserve he inked line, instead of brushing it on like you would on any other support.

(Loved that job, and it helped pay my tuition for the SanFrancisco Art Institute).


Luca said...

Thanks, James! :)
I will re-watch the movie paying more attention to the color palettes of backgrounds!

Anyway, thanks to Youtube powerful resources...i found a "making of" video of Fire & Ice

At 6:27 there's a familiar face... :D

David Apatoff said...

"600 paintings for the film at a rate of about 11 a week..."

I guess that means you weren't sitting around waiting for the muse to waft in on an errant breeze.

Bug said...

Somebody had hair when he worked with Bakshi.

aswin said...

Are there any alternates to Cartoon colours cel-vinyl? They seem to have gone out of business.

Chris Sobieniak said...

I did notice on their website something seems to have happened (possible death in the family?). I will say I'm pretty sadden if they can't make it anymore, or allow the patents or IP to be sold to someone else who could take over manufacturing it.

Michael Igafo-Te'o said...

It's a shame that the company that made Cartoon Colour Cel-Vinyl paint (for long since 1947) had abruptly went out of business (due to CGI animated feature films being more popular and/or a loss of a company family member?) but, luckily, I already found my own back-up alternatives to even make up for the death of Cel-Vinyl! These "Cel-Vinyl"-type alternatives that I found are known as Holbein Acryla Gouache, Apple Barrel Acrylic Paint, Americana Acrylic Paint, Folk Art Acrylic Paint, Michaels Craft Smart Acrylic Paint and, yes, Chromacolour UK Animation Cell Paint! I can easily but Americana/Folk Art/Apple Barrel/Craft Smart acrylic paints from my local Michaels in Jackson, Michigan, USA and, yes, the only way to buy Acryla Gouache paint and Chromacolour UK Animation Cell Paint is only online thru Blick Art Materials (for Holbein Acryla Gouache paint) and Chromacolour UK (for Chromacolour Animation Cell Paint) for goodness sake!

Michael Igafo-Te'o said...

Hey, aswin and Christopher Sobieniak. The best alternatives to Cartoon Colour Cel-Vinyl paint I found are... Holbein Acryla Gouache, Chromacolour UK Cell Paint, Apple Barrel Acrylic Paint, Americana Acrylic Paint, Folk Art Acrylic Paint and, if you have a Michaels art supply store in town, Michaels Craft Smart!

Chris Sobieniak said...

Thanks for the suggestions Michael, I would think Ceramcoat would be a good brand to go with given how much that typical sells for against other craft paints.

Frank said...

This is so cool. I think Cartoon Color went out of business. Have you tried Flashe paint?