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Animation Art Brings Characters to Interior Decor

August 24, 1991|JAN HOFMANN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Of all the sticky situations Wile E. Coyote (Carnivorus vulgaris) has found himself in over the years--falling off cliff after cliff, blasted and singed by batch upon batch of mail-order TNT, betrayed by malfunctioning catapults, rockets and guns--even his creator never dreamed of this one.

But there he is, trapped in a picture frame on a bathroom wall in Orange, frozen forever motionless just inches away from his ever-elusive quarry, the Road Runner (Accelerati incredibilus).

His captor, a mild-mannered psychiatrist and father of three, never intended to cramp the Coyote's style. He just wanted a piece of the action.

Pieces of animated action are everywhere in Glen McFerren's sprawling hillside home in Orange Park Acres. Mickey and Minnie Mouse hang out with Daffy Duck and Bugs Bunny on one wall of the rec room, while Roger Rabbit and his sultry wife, Jessica, brighten up the walls at the bottom of the stairs. Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan live in the children's bedrooms, and every Christmas, the Grinch comes out of the closet.

The same artwork that once brought those cartoon characters to life now add color and a sense of motion to the walls of the home, carrying the cartoon theme from room to room. In McFerren's home office, for example, Mickey Mouse struggles with desk drawers on the wall just above a set of real-life drawers, and an image of Minnie Mouse cooking highlights the kitchen decor.

Most of the art, like the image of Coyote and the Road Runner, is in the form of cels--paintings on clear plastic that are photographed in sequence to create the illusion of motion in an animated cartoon. Hundreds of cels are necessary to produce even a few minutes of animation.

But cels are only one part of the animation process. The McFerrens also have a hallway display of colored pencil drawings, on which the cels are based, as well as some of the painted backgrounds that serve as the setting for the characters' actions.

The demand for animation art has become so great that some artists--such as Chuck Jones of Corona del Mar, creator of Wile E. Coyote, Road Runner and Pepe Le Pew as well as director of many classic Bugs Bunny and other Warner Brothers cartoons--are producing limited-edition cels expressly for sale to collectors. Six months ago, Jones' daughter Linda, one of the nation's foremost animation art dealers, opened the Chuck Jones Show-Room in Corona del Mar to showcase the work of her father and other cartoon artists.

On Thursday at 7 p.m., the famed animator and author will be at the Show-Room to meet guests at a champagne reception commemorating the opening of a new exhibit.

Some buy cels strictly as an investment, one that has paid off well in the past several years. Cels that were sold for little more than $1 as Disneyland souvenirs in the '50s are now worth hundreds, and a few key images from such classic films as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" have been auctioned by fine arts dealers for more than $100,000.

But to many collectors, the true value of animation art is simply the joy of having it around the house. For aging baby boomers, it's a way to hold on to enjoyable moments from childhood. For young parents, it's a colorful way to set a theme in a child's room or family room.

"A lot of people say they're getting it for the kids, but really it's for them," McFerren says.

Jones sees nothing wrong with that.

"Adults shouldn't make excuses for enjoying cartoons," he says. "We made them originally as short features to be shown in the theaters before a full-length movie. They were always intended to be entertaining for adults. Nobody even thought of it as being for kids until Saturday morning TV came along."

What Jones still has trouble understanding, however, is why anyone would be interested in an individual cel in the first place.

"The whole thing seems kind of foolish to me," he says, not entirely tongue-in-cheek.

"What if a live-action director suddenly found out that the individual frames of his picture were valuable?" Jones says. "We seldom thought about the cels themselves, any more than a musician would have thought about an individual note.

"But I suppose it's like a picture of a favorite uncle. It has meaning to you , and that's what's important. You can look at the cel and remember the things that were funny about the character. I doubt that anybody who had never seen our work in film would have any interest in them," Jones says.

Animation art was once considered nothing more than recyclable garbage, Jones recalls.

"I started out as a cel washer," he says. "When you finished a picture, you washed the cels off so they could be reused. Obviously, nobody put much importance on them."

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