Cel Animation: Classic Technique of Bringing Characters to Life

June 07, 2023. 8 min read

Cell animation

Cel animation is a traditional technique that creates hand-drawn or painted images on transparent celluloid sheets called cels. The cel animation process has been widely used in film and television for decades and is still popular for creating animated content. In this article, we will explore the step-by-step process of cel animation and how it has evolved.

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What is Cel Animation?

Cel animation, also known as traditional animation or hand-drawn animation, is a technique used in the production of animated films, cartoons, and TV shows. It involves creating each frame of the animation by hand on transparent sheets of celluloid, known as cels, hence the name “cel animation.”

Process of Cel Animation

Cel animation is a complex and time-consuming process that involves several stages. Here is a quick overview of the different stages of cel animation;


The first step in the cel animation process is planning. It involves creating a storyboard or animatic to plan out the different shots and sequences of the animation.


The next step is sketching, where the animator creates rough drawings of each animation frame. These sketches are known as “keyframes” and are used to establish the timing and movement of the animation.


Once the keyframes are complete, the next step is inking. It involves tracing over the keyframes with ink to create clean and precise lines.


After the inking is complete, the cells are ready to be painted. It involves filling in the colours and details of each animation frame.


Finally, the backgrounds are added to the animation. These can be hand-drawn or digitally created to provide context and depth to the animation.

Techniques Used in Cel Animation

There are several techniques used in cel animation, including:

  1. Straight-Ahead Animation

This technique involves drawing each animation frame in sequence, from beginning to end. This technique is used for fast-paced action sequences.

  1. Pose-to-Pose Animation

This technique involves creating keyframes for the most important poses in the animation and then filling in the in-between frames later. This technique is used for more complex animations with intricate movements.

  1. Limited Animation

This technique involves animating only the most important parts of a scene and leaving the rest static. This technique is commonly used in television animation, where time and budget constraints are a concern.

  1. Rotoscoping

This technique involves tracing over live-action footage to create a more realistic and lifelike animation. This technique was popularized in the early days of animation and is still used today.

Can We Do Cel Animation digitally?

Yes, Cel animation can now be done digitally using software programs that simulate the traditional process of drawing individual frames. Animators can use tools like brushes and pencils to create and manipulate images, which can then be sequenced together to create an animation. Digital cel animation offers greater flexibility and efficiency, as changes can be easily made, and multiple frame versions can be saved. Additionally, it eliminates the need for the physical storage of cells. Digital cel animation is becoming increasingly popular in the animation industry.

Use of Cel Animation in Modern Animation

While digital animation has largely replaced cel animation in the mainstream animation industry, cel animation is still used today in certain types of animation. Independent animators, for example, often use cel animation because it allows for more creative control and flexibility than digital animation.

Impact of Cel Animation on the Animation Industry

Cel animation has played a crucial role in shaping the animation industry and has served as a foundation for developing other animation techniques like stop-motion, claymation, and computer-generated animation. Additionally, cell animation has contributed to recognizing animation as a legitimate form of art and has inspired countless animators and filmmakers.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Cel Animation


  • Hand-drawn look: Cel animation has a unique, hand-drawn look that can be difficult to replicate with digital animation techniques. It can be especially appealing for certain types of animation, such as those aimed at younger audiences.
  • Creative control: Animators have complete control over the look and feel of each frame, which can result in a highly personalized and unique final product.
  • Cost-effective: Cel animation can be more cost-effective than digital animation techniques, especially for smaller productions.
  • Faster production: Animators can work faster with cel animation than with digital techniques, involving complex software programs and lengthy rendering times.


    • Time-consuming: Cel animation can be time-consuming, as each frame must be hand-drawn and photographed.
    • Limited flexibility: Making changes to a cel animation can be difficult and time-consuming, as it often requires re-drawing entire frames.
    • Physical storage: Cel animation involves physical cells, which can take up a lot of space and be difficult to manage.
    • Limited post-production options: Once a cel animation is photographed, it can be difficult to make changes in post-production.

    Overall, cel animation has its advantages and disadvantages, and its usage depends on the specific needs of a given animation project.


In conclusion, a cel animation is a fascinating form of traditional animation that has significantly impacted the industry. While digital animation has largely replaced cel animation in the mainstream, it is still used today by independent animators and hobbyists. The cel animation process offers unique creative control and flexibility, making it a valuable technique for those looking to create hand-drawn animation.


1. What is cel animation?

Cel animation is a traditional technique that involves drawing individual frames on transparent sheets called cels, which are then photographed to create the illusion of movement.

2. What is the difference between cel animation and digital animation?

Cel animation involves hand-drawing each frame of an animated sequence on transparent sheets of celluloid, while digital animation is created using computer software.

3. How long does it take to create a cel animation?

The amount of time it takes to create a cel animation varies depending on the complexity of the animation and the resources available. A simple animation could be completed in a few days, while a feature-length animation could take years.

4. Is cel animation still used today?

While digital animation has largely replaced cel animation in the mainstream animation industry, cel animation is still used today in certain types of animation.

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